WHITE MOTH SUSPECTED OF CAUSING BLINDNESS.
In Nepal, the end of the monsoon season marks the onset of a mysterious eye infection known as seasonal hyperacute panuveitis (SHAPU), primarily affecting children. Symptoms include a painless red eye and pressure loss, which can lead to blindness within 24–48 hours if untreated. In 2023, Nepali researchers are utilizing environmental surveys, genomic sequencing, and a new reporting system to investigate SHAPU, despite funding difficulties and changing disease patterns. Historically observed to spike biennially since 1975, SHAPU’s cause is elusive, with treatments varying in effectiveness. The recent outbreak has expanded beyond its usual mid-hill region to areas including Kathmandu. Anecdotal evidence points to a possible link with white moths swarming post-monsoon, supported by statistical correlation in a survey. Researchers are now examining this lead, collecting environmental data, and analyzing genetic material from affected individuals, aiming to uncover the cause behind SHAPU’s selective infection and the puzzling increase in varied symptoms. (Nature)
MORE TAINTED FOOD POUCHES.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is intensifying its investigation into apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches following reports of illnesses and high lead content. Seven illness reports from at least five states have been associated with these products. Schnucks Markets and Weis Markets have recalled their cinnamon applesauce offerings, joining WanaBana, which had already recalled its apple cinnamon fruit puree. The FDA warns of “acute toxicity” from consumption and advises against purchasing or serving these products, available at various retailers including Amazon and Dollar Tree. They recommend testing children who have ingested these products for lead poisoning. The probe initiated in North Carolina identified “extremely high” lead levels in multiple lots of WanaBana’s product, confirmed by the FDA. With the CDC and state and local health authorities involved, the FDA stresses that lead, which can contaminate food through environmental sources, poses a severe risk to children, potentially causing brain and nervous system damage, among other health issues, with no safe level of exposure. (Associated Press)
TOBACCO USE DROPS FOR U.S. TEENS.
In 2023, 10% of U.S. middle and high school students reported using tobacco products, totaling 2.80 million young individuals. Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey indicated a significant decrease in tobacco use among high school students, with a drop from 2.51 million in 2022 to 1.97 million in 2023. Particularly, e-cigarette use declined from 14.1% to 10.0% among high school students. E-cigarettes remained the most popular, with 7.7% of students using them, followed by cigarettes and cigars at 1.6% each. Nearly half of the students who tried e-cigarettes continued to use them, and among current users, a large majority favored flavored products, with a quarter using them daily. Top brands included Elf Bar, Esco Bars, Vuse, JUUL, and Mr. Fog. The persistent use among youth underscores the importance of prevention initiatives and cessation support to combat youth tobacco product use in the U.S. (MMWR)
HELLO CANNABIDIOL; GOODBYE OPIOIDS.
A report in the Southern Economic Journal found that legal access to cannabidiol (CBD) is linked to a reduction in opioid prescriptions. The study, conducted by economists from Wofford College and California State University Bakersfield, revealed that legally purchasing CBD resulted in 6.6% to 8.1% fewer opioid prescriptions. The decrease is contingent on states having open and legal dispensaries, as regulations such as mandatory ID or personal info registries mitigate the benefits. The research also highlighted the necessity of supply-side access to CBD for managing pain and combating the opioid crisis. Data from the study, which spanned 2010-2019, indicated that over-the-counter CBD use grew substantially, particularly after industrial hemp programs were widely established post-2016. The study suggests policymakers should consider the implications of regulating CBD access, as restrictions may affect its potential to serve as an alternative to opioids. The DEA remains cautious, upholding a dismissal of an agent advocating for CBD over opioids, and is deliberating on rescheduling cannabis to recognize its medical value. (High Times)
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X IS CLOSED TO RESEARCHERS.
Social media research has been significantly impacted by Elon Musk’s changes to Twitter, now referred to as X. Over 100 studies have been altered or halted due to limitations on data access, which impede analysis of misinformation spread. The discontinued free academic access to Twitter’s data API has caused particular concern. Researchers fear legal action by X following a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) for its critical reports on content moderation on the platform. Musk’s first year as the owner of X has seen a sharp decrease in U.S. ad revenue and a flight of advertisers. Studies on hate speech and child safety on X are among those affected. EU regulators are also scrutinizing X’s handling of disinformation. The lack of data hinders independent research on social media’s societal impact, with researchers now seeking alternative methods and platforms for study. (Reuters)
FUNCTIONAL ROBOTS HAVE A-WAYS TO GO.
The engineering dream of building human-like robots has seen renewed interest with investments in humanoid robotics, yet most current prototypes are more theatrical than practical. Companies like Agility Robotics, developing the warehouse robot Digit for Amazon, focus on functionality in human environments rather than human resemblance. Digit, which moves tote bins, has a human-centric design with bird-like legs. Meanwhile, Figure AI aims for a versatile humanoid robot to address labor shortages, though it’s yet to market a prototype. Elon Musk’s Optimus and Apptronik’s Apollo are also in the race, with various stages of development. Pioneers like Boston Dynamics have found that humanoid research can lead to practical non-humanoid robots. Sanctuary AI emphasizes the challenge of developing robots with hand dexterity and the ability to understand and interact with the world, moving towards artificial general intelligence. Despite fears of robots replacing jobs, companies like Agility Robotics see their development as an exciting step towards robots being a ubiquitous part of human life. (Associated Press)
AFGHANISTAN’S HERITAGE IN PERIL.
Despite the Taliban government’s promises to safeguard Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, looting at archaeological sites persists, reveals an analysis by the University of Chicago’s Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation. Utilizing AI to analyze satellite imagery, researchers found that over three dozen previously targeted sites are still being plundered. The analysis, part of the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership, has identified more than 29,000 archaeological sites, with AI detecting some that had been overlooked by humans. Evidence of looting since the Taliban’s 2021 rise to power was found at 37 sites, indicating the government’s struggle to enforce protection and penalize violations. Although the Taliban has condemned looting and expressed willingness to collaborate on archaeological projects, international isolation hampers these efforts. Local Taliban leaders are suspected of profiting from artifact smuggling, with some reports suggesting they receive commissions for such illicit trade. The government’s actions, such as reopening the National Museum and restoring monuments, show a conflicting stance towards heritage protection. (Science)
BENNU ON DISPLAY.
The Smithsonian introduced a fragment of asteroid Bennu to the public, a highlight from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission which returned samples to Earth. An event at the National Museum of Natural History, attended by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and others, celebrated the display of the pebble that had journeyed 1.4 billion miles. Tim McCoy, the museum’s meteorite curator, expressed his long-held dream of showcasing an asteroid sample. The tiny rock, encased in a nitrogen-filled bottle for preservation, is accompanied by scale models of the mission’s launch rocket and spacecraft. The display prompts questions about the solar system’s origins and life on Earth, with the rock’s components providing clues to ancient water-rich minerals and carbon-rich molecules. Scientists selected this particular sample for its representativeness, durability, and visual appeal from several candidates. Alongside the exhibit, the Smithsonian is also examining another Bennu sample, with additional fragments set for display in Arizona and Texas. (space.com)
RED VELVET GOODNESS.
Magnolia Bakery, famed for its appearances in “Sex and the City,” is venturing into the cannabis edibles market in partnership with incredibles. They’re introducing THC-infused chocolate bars in Illinois, Nevada, and Massachusetts, inspired by their signature banana pudding and red velvet cupcakes. These treats will be available in limited edition, but cannot be shipped nationwide. Magnolia’s entry into the cannabis product market starts with these bars, as New York, their home state, faces regulatory challenges with licensing THC retailers. The bakery, collaborating with Green Thumb Industries, offers two types of edibles: one with vanilla pudding flavor and 10mg of THC per piece, and another resembling red velvet cake with 10mg of THC and CBD per piece. Priced between $18 to $30, they represent a foray into legal cannabis markets and a nod to customers’ munchie preferences, as Magnolia acknowledges the potential for broader legalization and the ease it would bring for distributing such products. (High Times)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Andy C.