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NYC's Subways Are Even Grosser Than You Thought

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The 5.5 million people who use New York City's subway system every day don't need to be told that the subway is gross. But new research conducted by the Weill Cornell Medical College has revealed just how nasty subway stations are—and even New Yorkers might be surprised by what was found lurking there. Researchers spent 18 months swabbing subway stations and trains along the entire system for DNA, and according to the Wall Street Journal, found germs that can cause bubonic plague uptown, meningitis in midtown, stomach trouble in the financial district and antibiotic-resistant infections throughout the boroughs.

WSJ also created a fun (depending on your version of fun, I guess) interactive map that provides a look at the bacteria discovered in each of the city's 466 subway stations. At 42nd Street-Bryant Park, the closest subway to the mental_floss offices, scientists swabbed two benches, a turnstile, and a stairway rail. They found 69 unique bacteria that are associated with things like heart valve infections (Enterococcus gallinarum), food poisoning (Bacillus cereus), radiation resistance (Acinetobacter radioresistens), and urinary tract infections (Aerococcus viridans). Gross. They also found bacteria associated with mozzarella cheese and Italian cheese.

Bacteria DNA accounted for 38.99 percent of DNA collected at the Bryant Park station, while 2.73 percent of the DNA collected belonged to non-bacteria like insects, green plants (which makes sense; there's a small flower shop in the station), humans, and rodents. The rest of the DNA couldn't be identified.

Interesting finds at other stations include Leuconostoc citreum, a bacteria associated with the making of kimchi and sauerkraut; Pseudomonas putida, which is used in oil clean up; and Shigella sonnei, which causes dysentery (riding the subway just got a little bit more like Oregon Trail).

The scientists—who hope they can use their research to discover new ways to track disease outbreaks and fight antibiotic resistant bacteria—discovered 562 species of bacteria. Thankfully, most are harmless, and the scientists said the levels in the system pose no significant health threats. “I don’t want people to be terrified,” Weill Cornell researcher Christopher Mason told the WSJ. “I want them to be intrigued.” Still, if you're traveling on the New York City subway system, you might want to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer—and use it often.

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
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There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

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