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Pooping on Airplanes Could Contribute to Public Health Research

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Pooping on that 12 hour flight may be a public health service. Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark are siphoning off the sludge from international airline flights and using it to study the spread of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. 

In a study in Scientific Reports, they break down their analysis of 18 different airplanes that arrived in Copenhagen from nine different cities around the world, looking for the presence of things like Salmonella and Clostridium difficile

The team found that Salmonella was more prevalent in poop arriving from Southeast Asia, while the sludge from planes arriving from North America was more likely to contain C. difficile (a bacteria that causes a nasty drug-resistant infection). Planes arriving from Asia had higher rates of DNA from drug-resistant bacteria strains overall. 

The study indicates that planes could be a prime place for analysis on global health trends, including tracking the spread of infectious diseases—before an epidemic makes its way into doctors' reports and onto the radars of governmental disease control organizations. However, analyzing bacterial DNA for the presence of disease can be tricky: Scientists recently revised a widely reported study that mentioned the potential presence of bubonic plague bacterial DNA on the New York City subway, clarifying that the genetic evidence of the bubonic plague on the subway doesn’t necessarily correspond to organisms that would get people sick. But researchers might be able to learn from sudden upticks in different genetic material in plane waste. So the next time you are locked in a cramped airplane bathroom during turbulence, think of the public service you’re doo-doing. 

[h/t: Wired]

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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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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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