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Tuesday Watercooler


In tonight’s video, Minute Physics explains “Why Are Stars Star-shaped?”

A dog with a muddy muzzle

Researchers recommend a dog for introducing children to a diverse microbiome (really).

Many of us perceive hotel rooms as full of other people’s germs. The reality is they are actually full of our own germs, according to a study of human microbiomes outlined in a recent article in the Washington Post.

Our bacterial signatures are so persistent and so unique, a new study published Thursday in Science reports, that they could even be used in forensic investigations — and eventually become more useful to police than an old-fashioned fingerprint. And the same research that could track down a serial killer could also help you raise healthier kids.

[…]’Everyone thinks hotels are icky,’ said Jack Gilbert, corresponding author of the study and environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, ‘but when one young couple we studied moved into a hotel, it was microbiologically identical to their home within 24 hours.’ […]What’s more, the researchers were able to determine how much individuals in a family interacted, what rooms they used, and even when they’d last been to one part of the house or another. This has obvious applications in forensic science. ‘We could go all J. Edgar Hoover on this and make a database of microbial fingerprints of people all over the world,’ Gilbert said, ‘and it’s far more sophisticated than a standard fingerprint, which is just a presence or absence indication. We can see who they are, where they’re from, the diet they’re eating, when they left, who they may have been interacting with. It gets pretty crazy.’

[…] The Home Microbiome Study has more immediate applications, too. Gilbert, a father of two, hopes that fellow parents will use these and future findings to raise their offspring in healthier microbiomes. Before the age of two, the human microbiome remains in flux. Different species of bacteria compete to gain permanent spots — and once the race is run, you’re basically stuck with the winners. Research in animals has shown that bacterial exposure in youth can impact physical and mental development and health for the rest of an organism’s life.

[…] We now know that most bacteria are beneficial to us — and that some can even prevent allergies. ‘Imagine if we could engineer our home environments, optimize our carpeting and air conditioning systems, to bring in the really good bacteria,’ he said. ‘If we could allow all children to be exposed to that bacteria that prevents food allergies, that would be amazing.’ A better bacterial eco-system during childhood could set us up for happier, healthier lives.

Bonus: How the Kung-Fu Fighting Melody Came to Represent Asia” from NPR’s Code Switch

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Photo by CavinB released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and