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11 Things Germier Than Toilet Seats

People are understandably squeamish about public restrooms. But the same people are probably regularly interacting with surfaces that have far more germs and overall icky-ness than your average public toilet seat. For example...

1. Hotel/Motel Bedspread

Unlike the sheets, hotels and motels do not change or launder the bedspreads on a daily basis. It's actually more of an annual thing. And if you don't think there are various bodily fluids lingering in those coverings, let us remind you that when the bedspread from an internationally ranked five-star hotel was introduced as evidence in boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial, investigators found it coated with the DNA of so many different men that it took some significant time to finally isolate traces of Tyson's contribution.

2. Purse Bottoms

Many women who fear the germs of public toilet seats don't think twice about placing their purses down on the floor of the bathroom stall. Not only that, they also set them on the floor while riding the bus, or while dining at a restaurant, or while dancing at a nightclub, or on the bedspread at a hotel (see above). And then, when they get home, they set that same purse on the kitchen counter or the dining room table while they rifle through the daily mail or check their phone messages.

Nelson Laboratories of Salt Lake City tested a random selection of ladies' purses: those belonging to moms, executive types, and swinging singles. What did they find? Pseudomonas, staphylococcus aurous, salmonella, and e-coli. Many of the handbags had fecal contamination, and those belonging to the women that frequented dance clubs also had traces of vomit. In layman's terms, the pocketbooks were infested with harmful bacteria, the types that can cause all sorts of infections.

3. ATM Keypad

Studies have shown that the various keys on your average ATM serve as a cozy nesting place for Bacillus Cereus, a bacterium that can cause symptoms in humans similar to those of food poisoning. Yet folks casually punch those buttons and then go about their business without a second thought, touching their eye area to assuage an itch or holding the Egg McMuffin that they're munching during their morning commute.

4. Office Telephone

Have you ever used a corporate telephone other than the one on your desk? Who knows what evils lurk on that communal device... other than the 25,127 germs found in a square inch on the average telephone receiver as discovered in a 2004 University of Arizona study. Think about it... the person who used that phone before you might not have the same fastidious hand-washing habits as you, and he/she may have answered a call immediately upon exiting the bathroom...

5. Restaurant Menu

Servers barely have enough time to take an order from table 11 and then rush to tables 14 and 17 to deliver that extra side of Ranch dressing and a round of beverages, respectively. Do we really expect them to wipe down the restaurant's oft-handled menus with anti-bacterial wipes in their "spare" time? The Journal of Medical Virology has reported that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for as long as 18 hours. Think of how many hands have touched that bill of fare before you browsed over it and then immediately used your fingers to transport dinner rolls or breadsticks directly to your mouth.

6. Condiment Containers

Speaking of restaurants and germs living on hard surfaces, how many of you disinfect your hands in between handling the ketchup bottle or salt/pepper shakers and your food?

7. Grocery Carts

So you're afraid to set your naked hindquarters on a toilet seat that is routinely cleaned with bleach-infused products, but you push a grocery cart through your local supermarket bare-handed? The handle of which has been touched by folks who've coughed or sneezed into their hands and have also handled packages of raw meat? And those of you who place items in the fold-out children's seat – does it not occur to you that many a child's diapered bottom has previously occupied that space? A four-year study conducted by the University of Arizona at supermarkets in Tucson, San Francisco, Chicago, and Tampa revealed that shopping buggies were rife with such bacteria and viruses as E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus.

8. Steering Wheel

As mentioned above, public toilet seats are washed on a regular basis, but when is the last time you scrubbed down the steering wheel of your vehicle? During a typical day you might touch things such as a gas pump dispenser, cash from the bank drive-thru window, and your crying child's runny nose in the back seat, and then use those same hands to grip the steering wheel after every transaction without any disinfecting in between. Oh, did I mention that some of us also eat food and apply eye makeup while driving with those same hands that are gripping the germ-laden (mainly with bacillus cereus and arthrobacter) steering wheel?

9. Kitchen Faucet Handle(s)

Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental biologist at the University of Arizona, once declared that if an alien from another planet landed in an average Earth household, he would determine (after a careful bacterial count) that he should wash his hands in the toilet and use the kitchen sink as a commode. Yep, our kitchen sponges and faucet handles are that contaminated with nasties, mainly because we tend to touch these items many times in the midst of handling raw meat, eggs, and poultry while preparing a meal.

10. Gym Equipment

How many of you who work out regularly at a gym grip the handrails on the treadmill or the handlebars on the stationary bike without a second thought? Or perhaps you grasp a series of different free weights during your strength-building workout. Odds are that at sometime during your workout you'll swipe a sweaty fist across your eyes or scratch an itch some place on your person (an innocent, unconscious activity that might break the skin and unintentionally place a virtual welcome mat inviting infection). You might be interested to know that the nasty "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA), which can survive on non-host surfaces for up to a month, has been found on various gym machines in studies done across the U.S. That's in addition to the sarcinia, candida specie, and staphylococcus epi that was also harvested from the various standard gym apparatus. And don't get us started on what was found on the floors of the showers...

11. Swings and Monkey Bars and Such

OK, this particular hotbed of germs might affect your offspring more than you, but it's certainly worth a mention, especially if you allow your child to munch on snacks while they romp. If your child ever frolics on the monkey bars, jungle gym, swings, ball pit, etc., of a communal play area, then his hands are a virtual Petri dish of disgustingness after each and every play date. Besides the traces of human fecal material found on such equipment in many studies, there is also the fact that kids with runny noses tend to use their hands as handkerchiefs while playing, and various birds in the area use playground equipment as their personal comfort station.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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iStock

Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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