We Can't Prevent Cancer Until We Prevent Exposure to Cancer-Causing Chemicals
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An editorial in Nature this week—one of the top scientific journals in the world—criticizes the U.S. National Breast Cancer Coalition for setting an unrealistic and unscientific public promise to beat breast cancer by 2020. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would do almost anything to be able to prevent cancer, and also, learning disabilities, reproductive impairments and birth defects. Who wouldn't? I’ll tell you who, the American Chemistry Council (ACC). ACC is the trade group that represents its chemical manufacturer corporate members by defending the toxic chemicals that cause cancer and other health harms. My colleague Daniel Rosenberg blogged about a recent report by Common Cause, Toxic Spending: The Political Expenditures of the Chemical Industry 2005-2012 that documents the hundreds of millions of dollars the chemical industry spends on lobbying, political advertising and campaign contributions.
Here's some evidence that show that the ACC defends cancer-causing chemicals that you and your family are exposed to. A scientific study out this week found that the foam in our household furniture like couches contains detectable levels of many harmful chemicals, including ones like chlorinated-Tris long-known to cause cancer, placed there on purpose as a flame retardant. Chlorinated-Tris was banned from children’s pajamas in the 1970s because of its health risks, but it is still frequently used in the sofa’s that children sit on, and ends up in the house dust that children touch, along with other harmful and unnecessary chemicals made by ACC member corporations. ACC is reported in a news response saying that there is no evidence that the levels found in the furniture would cause health problems, and the chemicals provide valuable escape time from house fires although this claim was proved false by government studies of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Defending cancer-causing chemicals is standard operating procedure for the ACC, acting on behalf of some of the biggest chemical companies in the world including Dow, DuPont, BASF and Exxon. Some of the ACC's recent cancer-promoting activities include the following:
ACC efforts to derail the congressionally mandate Report on Carcinogens issued biennially by the National Institutes of Health have been reported in an op/ed by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, The Cancer Lobby.
This past spring the Chicago Tribune reported that large chemical manufacturers including ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical and BASF Corp. were blocking the Environmental Protection Agecny (EPA) from listing their toxic products as “chemicals of concern,” going so far as to tell the White House rules office in closed-door meetings that “the chemicals they make are safe” despite increasing scientific evidence to the contrary.
And, in a five-part investigative expose titled, Chemical companies, Big Tobacco and the toxic products in your home, the Chicago Tribune pulled the curtain back on dishonest and manipulative tactics of the chemical industry to defend the continued use of toxic flame retardants in household furniture and other consumer products. Their tactics include generating false scientific data and setting up phony consumer groups to misrepresent information to the public and regulators.
The ACC is currently opposing a new LEED Green Building ratings proposal that would give builders credits for not using materials that contain chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and other harmful environmental and health impacts.
Unfortunately, there are many other ACC’s pro-cancer activities that are documented in the blog of my colleague, Daniel Rosenberg.
Most of us really would like to prevent breast and other cancers, but it won’t happen without getting effective regulation of cancer-causing chemicals. The President’s Cancer Panel (appointed by President George W. Bush), in a 2010 report concluded that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and specifically called for reform of our federal toxic chemical regulations (called the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA) which the cancer panel called “the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of chemical contaminants.” Other organizations calling for reform of TSCA include the American Medical Association, National Medical Association and American Nurses Association.
This reform, the Safe Chemicals Act (S.847) needs your public support!
This week’s editorial in Nature is dead right! Empty promises by well-meaning groups to beat cancer only serve to provide false hope and dismiss justified concerns by consumers and environmental health experts. We will begin to beat back cancer when we reduce, control and eliminate the industrial chemicals that cause cancer and end up the places we live, play, learn and work. You can help by supporting the Safe Chemicals Act. Share this article with your friends and on your social media pages. Congress needs to know that you want them to pass this important legislation.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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