IBM Needs Your Help Studying the Human Microbiome

iStock
iStock

Humans have been to the Moon and the deepest part of the ocean, but when it comes to understanding what goes on in our own bodies, there's much that still needs to be explored. The human microbiome, for instance, is made of up of trillions of microscopic organisms that dictate everything from our gut health to certain chronic diseases. Now, Boston Magazine reports that IBM is attempting to study the human microbiome like it's never been studied before, and they're calling on the public to help with the effort.

The goal of the initiative, dubbed the Microbiome Immunity Project, is to decode the genomes of the many bacteria living inside the human body. Scientists know that the micobiome is linked to some diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. By analyzing the proteins these bacteria produce, researchers hope to get a better understanding of how these diseases happen and how to treat them at the microbial level.

To do this, scientists plan to study the proteins related to the 3 million unique bacterial genes of the human microbiome. For comparison, more than 20,000 genes were mapped for the Human Genome Project, and that undertaking lasted 13 years.

Technology has come a long way since that project was completed in 2003, but IBM will still need all the help they can get to make the Microbiome Immunity Project happen. In addition to collaborating with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California-San Diego, and the Flatiron Institute, IBM is calling on members of the public to donate their surplus computing power.

If you're interested in contributing to the citizen science project, you can sign up to join IBM's World Community Grid. From there, you'll be able to download a software program that detects when your computer has extra processing power to offer and uses it to run virtual experiments for the project. "Had World Community Grid not existed, we wouldn't have even contemplated this project," Rob Knight, director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC-San Diego, said in a press statement. "By harnessing the efforts of volunteers, we can do something that exceeds the scale of what we have access to by a factor of thousands. For the first time, we're bringing a comprehensive structural biology picture to the whole microbiome, rather than solving structures one at a time in a piecemeal fashion."

IBM's software won't be able to access anything on your computer other than its processing power, and the company assures users that the system will be tested regularly for vulnerabilities. The crowdsourced computing program has been used to conduct research in areas such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Zika, clean water, and renewable energy in the past. If IBM can get enough people to take part this time around, they plan to share their data publicly with other scientists working to study the microbiome's role in disease.

[h/t Boston Magazine]

A Low-Carb Diet Could Shorten Your Lifespan

iStock
iStock

The Atkins, Paleo, and Keto diets may have different gimmicks, but they all share a common message: Carbs are bad and meat is good. Yet a new analysis reported by New Scientist suggests that anyone who buys into this belief may later come to regret it. According to the paper, published in The Lancet Public Health, people who eat a moderate amount of carbs actually live longer than those who avoid them.

For their study, researchers analyzed data previously collected from 15,400 participants in the U.S. They found that people who received about 50 to 55 percent of their calories from carbohydrates had the longest lifespans, roughly four years longer than those who got 30 percent or less of their energy from carbs.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the key to a healthy diet is to stock your pantry with pasta and croissants. The study also showed that people who got up to 70 percent or more of their energy from carbs died one year earlier on average than subjects in the 50 to 55 percent group. A closer examination at the eating of habits of people who ate fewer carbs revealed another layer to the phenomenon: When people avoided carbohydrates in favor of meat, their chances of early death rose, but the opposite was true for people who replaced carb-heavy foods with plant-based fats and proteins, such as nuts, beans, and vegetables.

These numbers point to something dietitians have long been aware of: Eating a diet that's based around animal products isn't ideal. Getting more of your protein from plant-based sources, on the other hand, can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Nonetheless, fad diets that forbid people from eating carbs while letting them eat as much steak as they want are still popular because they're an easy way to lose weight in a short amount of time. But as the research shows, the short-term results are rarely worth the long-term effects on your health.

[h/t New Scientist]

Why Is Pee Yellow?

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Your body is kind of like a house. You bring things into your body by eating, drinking, and breathing. But just like the things we bring home to real houses, we don’t need every part of what we take in. So there are leftovers, or garbage. And if you let garbage sit around in your house or your body for too long, it gets gross and can make you sick. Your body takes out the garbage by peeing and pooping. These two things are part of your body’s excretory system (ECKS-krih-tore-eee SISS-tem), which is just a fancy way of saying “trash removal.” If your body is healthy, when you look in the toilet you should see brown poop and yellow pee.

Clear, light yellow pee is a sign that your excretory system and the rest of your body are working right. If your pee, or urine (YER-inn), is not see-through, that might mean you are sick. Dark yellow urine usually means that you aren’t drinking enough water. On the other hand, really pale or colorless pee can mean you might be drinking too much water! 

Your blood is filtered through two small organs called kidneys (KID-knees). Remember the garbage we talked about earlier? The chemicals called toxins (TOCK-sins) are like garbage in your blood. Your kidneys act like a net, catching the toxins and other leftovers and turning them into pee.

One part of your blood is called hemoglobin (HEE-moh-gloh-bin). This is what makes your blood red. Hemoglobin goes through a lot of changes as it passes through your body. When it reaches your kidneys, it turns yellow thanks to a chemical called urobilin (yer-ah-BY-lin). Urobilin is kind of like food coloring. The more water you add, the lighter it will be. That's why, if you see dark yellow pee in the toilet, it's time to ask your mom or dad for a cup of water. 

To learn more about pee, check out this article from Kids Health. 

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios