C. Diff Is Evolving Into Superbug in Response to Western Sugary Diets
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One of the most widespread bacteria known to cause serious gut infections is evolving to take advantage of high-sugar diets in the West and resist disinfecting methods used in healthcare settings.
The diarrhea and colitis-causing bacteria Clostridioides difficile, or C. Diff, is common throughout our environment and results in nearly 500,000 infections in the U.S. each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, which can be fatal for elderly and very sick people who have been hospitalized or given antibiotics.
According to Mayo Clinic, C. Diff spores are often spread orally by contact with feces, which makes its way to food and other surfaces when an infected person fails to wash their hands thoroughly. The spores damage the lining of your intestine, potentially leading to severely dehydrating diarrhea, inflammation of the intestines, toxic megacolon and sepsis.
C. Diff is so common in our surroundings that even some healthy adults will carry it in their system but are protected from severe symptoms by their healthy gut bacteria, The Atlantic reported. But antibiotics used to treat other infections can unintentionally eliminate the healthy bacteria, allowing C. Diff to thrive, cause an infection and spread to the environment when passed in diarrhea, NBC News reported.
Recent research has shown that C. Diff can spread to and exist for months on disposable hospital gowns, stainless steel and vinyl surfaces often found in health facilities, even after being hit with concentrated chlorine disinfectant. A new study by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine might have revealed why.
The study found that C. Diff has been evolving into two species over thousands of years, one of which is adapting into a superbug primed to spread in hospitals.
"The study shows how the pathogen C. Difficile is evolving in response to the Western sugary diet and common hospital disinfectants," study author Nitin Kumar, a senior bioinformatician at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, told Popular Science.
For the study, published this week in Nature Genetics, the researchers sequenced the DNA of 906 different C. Diff strains from humans, other mammals such as dogs and pigs, and the environment. Kumar told Live Science that groups of organisms must share 95 percent of their genomes to be considered the same species, and based on the sequenced genomes, C. Diff is "on the verge of speciation."
The researchers found that one of the emerging species, C. Difficile clade A, was found in 70 percent of samples taken from hospital patients. A common trait of the new species was a mutation developed over thousands of years to improve sugar metabolism. When exposed to mice, the new species was more likely to flourish if the mice were fed diets enriched with simple sugars, like glucose and fructose, commonly consumed as part of the typical Western diet.
The New York Post reported that common hospital foods, such as pudding cups and mashed potatoes, could become hotspots for this new C. Diff. species.
The new species also had genetic mutations that changed how it formed spores, making it more resistant to disinfectants used in hospitals.
"Our study provides genome and laboratory based evidence that human lifestyles can drive bacteria to form new species so they can spread more effectively," senior author Trevor Lawley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute said in a press release.
"We show that strains of C. Difficile bacteria have continued to evolve in response to modern diets and healthcare systems and reveal that focusing on diet and looking for new disinfectants could help in the fight against this bacteria."
Writing for @EcoWatch: An analysis looking for more than a dozen common antibiotics in 711 rivers in one-third of the world's countries found that concentrations in some rivers were more than 300 times higher than "safe" levels.https://t.co/gXaBeASQeQ— Madison Dapcevich (@madisondap) May 29, 2019
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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