You basically live here. What else does?
Refrigerators, indoor pools, airplanes, daycares, public bathrooms, shower curtains, water heaters, pillowcases—these are just a few of the places swabbed by enterprising biologists looking to understand the microbes that live with us. By identifying the bacteria, archaea, molds, and other creatures picked up on their swabs (and there are plenty—we live in a sea of mostly harmless, possibly beneficial microorganisms), microbial ecologists have started to describe the indoor ecosystems in which we spend most of our lives. The latest study to probe this, published in PLoS ONE, looks at the place where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours: the office.
About three months ago, otherwise healthy girls at a high school in LeRoy, NY, started stuttering, jerking, and making odd noises, among other symptoms similar to Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder. The number of people affected has grown now to more than a dozen, though a more specific count is difficult to nail down, and seems to include one boy and one 36-year-old woman in addition to the teenage girls.
What could be causing these symptoms? Health officials have inspected the girls’ school and found no environmental contaminants. A variety of other causes, including the Gardasil vaccine and strep throat, have been investigated as causes of the uncontrollable tics (neither of those panned out, as in each case only some of the girls had had the shots or been sick). The pattern of cases doesn’t suggest an infectious cause. The current best guess comes from a pediatric neurologist who has examined eight of the girls and has given a diagnosis of conversion disorder, which is defined as the development of tics, paralysis, or a variety of other neurology-related symptoms as a result of stress. Read More
Crystals of smashed cement, the perfect size for lodging in lungs,
made up most of the dust rising from the World Trade Center.
When ten million of tons of building, mixed with 91,000 liters of jet fuel, collapse into a smoking heap, an incredible variety of pulverized materials rise into the air. Though no one took samples of the plume that rose up from the World Trade Center on 9/11, samples of the dust that filtered down in the following days and gas emanating from the pile have given a glimpse of what rescue workers and others breathed in: heavy metals from computers, cellulose from paper, shards of metal and stone from the buildings’ walls, calcium carbonate from the tons of smashed cement, fibers from rugs, fragments of glass and burned hair.