Doug Powell

About Doug Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Download C.V. »

We’re all hosts on a viral planet: Trillions upon trillions of viruses fall from the sky each day

When a stoned Carl Sagan used to do his TV bit and talk about billions and billions of galaxies, I turned my world inward, to the trillions and trillions of viruses.

I tell daughter Sorenne, I don’t care which you focus on, but get one of them right.

According to Jim Robbins of the New York Times, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain, an international team of researchers set out four buckets to gather a shower of viruses falling from the sky.

Scientists have surmised there is a stream of viruses circling the planet, above the planet’s weather systems but below the level of airline travel. Very little is known about this realm, and that’s why the number of deposited viruses stunned the team in Spain. Each day, they calculated, some 800 million viruses cascade onto every square meter of the planet.

Most of the globe-trotting viruses are swept into the air by sea spray, and lesser numbers arrive in dust storms.

“Unimpeded by friction with the surface of the Earth, you can travel great distances, and so intercontinental travel is quite easy” for viruses, said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia. “It wouldn’t be unusual to find things swept up in Africa being deposited in North America.”

The study by Dr. Suttle and his colleagues, published earlier this year in the International Society of Microbial Ecology Journal, was the first to count the number of viruses falling onto the planet. The research, though, is not designed to study influenza or other illnesses, but to get a better sense of the “virosphere,” the world of viruses on the planet.

Generally it’s assumed these viruses originate on the planet and are swept upward, but some researchers theorize that viruses actually may originate in the atmosphere. (There is a small group of researchers who believe viruses may even have come here from outer space, an idea known as panspermia.)

Whatever the case, viruses are the most abundant entities on the planet by far. While Dr. Suttle’s team found hundreds of millions of viruses in a square meter, they counted tens of millions of bacteria in the same space.

Mostly thought of as infectious agents, viruses are much more than that. It’s hard to overstate the central role that viruses play in the world: They’re essential to everything from our immune system to our gut microbiome, to the ecosystems on land and sea, to climate regulation and the evolution of all species. Viruses contain a vast diverse array of unknown genes — and spread them to other species.

Last year, three experts called for a new initiative to better understand viral ecology, especially as the planet changes. “Viruses modulate the function and evolution of all living things,” wrote Matthew B. Sullivan of Ohio State, Joshua Weitz of Georgia Tech, and Steven W. Wilhelm of the University of Tennessee. “But to what extent remains a mystery.”

We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

I didn’t understand this until fourth-year university, and it was only then I became interested in learning.

Until then, I was bored.

Researchers recently identified an ancient virus that inserted itDNA into the genomes of four-limbed animals that were human ancestors. That snippet of genetic code, called ARC, is part of the nervous system of modern humans and plays a role in human consciousness — nerve communication, memory formation and higher-order thinking. Between 40 percent and 80 percent of the human genome may be linked to ancient viral invasions.

Viruses and their prey are also big players in the world’s ecosystems. Much research now is aimed at factoring their processes into our understanding of how the planet works.

“If you could weigh all the living material in the oceans, 95 percent of it is stuff is you can’t see, and they are responsible for supplying half the oxygen on the planet,” Dr. Suttle said.

In laboratory experiments, he has filtered viruses out of seawater but left their prey, bacteria. When that happens, plankton in the water stop growing. That’s because when preying viruses infect and take out one species of microbe — they are very specific predators — they liberate nutrients in them, such as nitrogen, that feed other species of bacteria. In the same way, an elk killed by a wolf becomes food for ravens, coyotes and other species. As plankton grow, they take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen.

One study estimated that viruses in the ocean cause a trillion trillion infections every second, destroying some 20 percent of all bacterial cells in the sea daily.

Viruses help keep ecosystems in balance by changing the composition of microbial communities. As toxic algae blooms spread in the ocean, for example, they are brought to heel by a virus that attacks the algae and causes it to explode and die, ending the outbreak in as little as a day.

While some viruses and other organisms have evolved together and have achieved a kind of balance, an invasive virus can cause rapid, widespread changes and even lead to extinction.

 

Risk is not low if cause is not known: 5, then 19, now 34 sick and 1 dead sick in E. coli outbreak linked to Edmonton restaurant

If the E. coli-romaine lettuce made it to an Alaskan prison, maybe it made it to an Edmonton restaurant.

Just asking.

According to the Toronto Star, one person has died and more than 30 people have fallen ill following an E. coli outbreak that Alberta Health Services has called “extremely complex” to investigate.

In a statement, AHS says it has expanded its investigation into the source of an outbreak of E. coli, beyond cases directly linked to an Edmonton restaurant late last month.

While 21 of these lab-confirmed cases are linked to Mama Nita’s Binalot restaurant in Edmonton, AHS no longer has public health concerns related to the restaurant.

The number of lab-confirmed cases of E. coli has increased to 34, including 11 patients who have needed hospital care, and one patient who has died likely due to E. coli infection.

“This outbreak is extremely complex, however AHS, in partnership with other provincial and federal agencies, is doing all we can to protect the health of Albertans,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, a medical officer of health in the Edmonton zone, in a statement. “The risk of illness remains very low.”

AHS has not yet identified the source of these cases, but believes they are linked to the initial outbreak.

The risk is not low if the cause is not known.

AHS has worked closely with the owners of Mama Nita’s Binalot since it was identified that a cluster of people with lab-confirmed E. coli ate at the restaurant. AHS says the owners have taken significant steps to manage this issue, including voluntarily closing until AHS was confident the restaurant could reopen without presenting a risk to the public.

This is a thing: FDA issues warning about snorting chocolate

For a while last year, snorting chocolate was a thing. It was peddled to folks in the club scene as an alternative to doing illegal drugs. Now, federal regulators have issued a warning to a company that distributes chocolate to be used for snorting (right, someone who looks creepily like Chapman, who would know as much about snorting anything as Woody Allen did in Annie Hall).

Known as Coco Loko, this is a powder mixed with other ingredients usually found in energy drinks. While not referring specifically to Coco Loko, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that inhaling chocolate powder can cause vocal cord spasms that make it hard to speak or breathe and may induce or aggravate asthma. It can also cause tightening of the muscles that line the airways in the lungs. Two of the ingredients — taurine and guanine — have not been evaluated for use through inhalation.

The powdered chocolate, sold by Orlando-based Legal Lean, debuted in mid-2017. The company’s website promises that Coco Loko will provide a blast of the feel-good chemical serotonin — similar to the euphoria produced by the club drug ecstasy. The company’s website cautions users to consume it responsibly, and that is isn’t intended for children or pregnant women.

Where will it end up? Poop train rolling again

Valarie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal writes that about 200 shipping containers of rotting sewage from New York City have been removed from a rural Alabama town, putting an end to three months of legal challenges, the mayor there said Thursday.

The waste had been sitting on train tracks adjacent to the small town of Parrish, stalled on the way to the nearby privately owned Big Sky Landfill. Parrish Mayor Heather Hall said the waste was taken by Big Sky to its landfill gradually over the past two weeks, with the last containers removed this week.

Ms. Hall said she was grateful the company was finally able to haul them all away and hopes no more take their place. “Alabama is a beautiful state,” she said. “We’d like to keep it that way.”

Big Sky didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said the city had “no plans at the current time” to resume sending biosolids to Alabama.

New York City has multiple contracts for shipping biosolids to landfills in states including Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania as well as upstate New York. The city has set a goal of eliminating landfill disposal by 2030, perhaps by converting biosolids into energy or compost.

The thing that wouldn’t leave from topo morto on Vimeo.

Farm animals quarantined following crypto at Rhode Island petting zoo

I’m getting too old for this shit.

As John Prine famously sang, all the news just repeats itself.

Animals at a Middletown farm are being quarantined after three people got sick, Rhode Island health officials announced last week.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management said one child and two adults came down with cryptosporidiosis after having contact with goats during “pet and cuddle” events at Simmons Farm on West Main Road on March 25 and 31.

“I have never been so sick,” one woman, who did not want to be identified, told NBC 10 News. “I had visited the farm on Saturday, March 31 and by Friday evening, I was extremely ill and it progressively got worse from there.”

She said she went to the hospital April 10 and a doctor asked if she had been to a farm.

“Today, I have had my first real meal and my stomach is already gurgling,” she said. “Up until tonight, I had six Saltines.”

About 60 goats and five cows are being quarantined, Simmons Farm owners told NBC 10 News. They will also be screened.

Hipsters beware: Rare tickborne disease found in Austin-area caves

This has nothing to do with food, but is so cool because of the bugs involved – and that they prey on Austin, Texas, hipsters who sleep in caves.

A rare tickborne disease commonly associated with sleeping in rustic mountain cabins has shown up in caves around Austin, Texas, potentially placing cave workers and the public at risk for infection.

According to researchers, three people working in caves in the Austin area were diagnosed with tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) last year, and two more tested positive for antibodies against the Borrelia bacteria that cause the disease.

The infections were identified by Austin Public Health (APH) and occurred mostly in people who had given guided cave tours, according to Stephanie B. Campbell, DVM, MPH, CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, and colleagues.

Campbell summarized an investigation into the infections during a presentation at the annual EIS conference in Atlanta. She told Infectious Disease News that TBRF has been documented before in Texas caves, though it is unclear whether it has ever been reported in Austin-area caves.

The disease is rare, generally occurring in people who are bitten during the night by Ornithodoros ticks while sleeping in rodent-infested cabins or other rustic buildings where rodents have built nests, according to the CDC. The soft-bodied ticks — different from hard-body ticks like the ones that cause Lyme disease — live among rodents, feeding on them as they sleep. Tick and animal species were not collected as part of the investigation, so the report by Campbell and colleagues did not include which ticks may have been involved and what animals they were feeding on. But Campbell said O. parkeri ticks are found in Texas.

Campbell SB, et al. Evaluating the risk of tickborne relapsing fever among occupational cavers — Austin, TX, 2017. Presented at: Epidemic Intelligence Service conference; April 16-19, 2018; Atlanta.

Dutch food inspectors to get tough on water in meat product labeling

AArrgghh, the Dutch.

The Dutch food safety board has given the meat industry until July 10 to come clean about how much water it adds to packs of meat and fish sold in supermarkets, the Volkskrant reported on Friday.

European meat firms have been required by law to include ‘water’ on the ingredients list since December 2014 and add the percentage of water in the total weight of the product. But checks by the Volkskrant newspaper found a number of products on sale in Dutch supermarkets do not meet the rules.

For example, a pack of pangasius fish fillets sold by Jumbo are labeled as 78% fish, but do not say how much of their weight is water. The NVWA told the Volkskrant it had found faulty labels in the past but declined to say how many. The body now says it will get tough on food processors who do not comply with the rules in the second half of this year.

What will I do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs? Ditch them

Amy and I agree on this: If we need to fall asleep, put on an episode of Frasier.

Five minutes later we’re in la-la land.

Inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say they found dozens of rodents and poor worker hygiene at a North Carolina chicken farm operated by an Indiana egg producer that last week recalled more than 200 million eggs.

Vic Ryckaert and Holly Hays of the Indy Star report that according to a FDA report, inspectors spent March 26 to April 11 at the Rose Acre Farms egg operation in Pantego, North Carolina, and found “unacceptable rodent activity” and dirty equipment. They also noted employees touching dirty floors, equipment and their bodies without washing their hands.

The unsafe conditions allow “for the harborage, proliferation and spread of filth and pathogens,” inspectors said.

In an emailed statement, Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms said the inspection report “is based on raw observations and in some cases lack proper context.”

“It’s unfair to be judged on the farm’s operation without proper perspective or a chance to formally respond to an incomplete representation of a massive facility that houses more than three million hens,” the company said. 

Context this.

The company said it will make public its response to the inspection, which is due on April 26.

“Until then, we would urge everyone to wait until all the facts are presented before rushing to judgment,” the company said.

The FDA said at least 23 illnesses have been reported. The eggs were distributed to consumers in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

FDA spokesman Peter Cassell declined to comment specifically about the Rose Acre Farms inspections but said the facility must correct the issues before the next inspection or face repercussions. Consequences could include product seizures or, in a more serious step, shutting down the facility. 

Cassell encouraged shoppers not to assume that they are not exposed to the recall because they are not geographically near the states where cases have been reported.

“Consumers should look for the brands and the lot numbers we provided,” he said. “We want to make sure that people are getting the right information.”

The recall involved eggs sold under the brand names Country Daybreak, Crystal Farms, Coburn Farms, Sunshine Farms, Glenview and Great Value. Also included were eggs sold at Walmart and Food Lion stores.

The cartons were stamped with plant number P-1065 and the Julian date range of 011 through 102.

The company’s Hyde County Egg facility in North Carolina produces 2.3 million eggs a day.

Inspectors found “insanitary conditions and poor employee practices” throughout the farm, according to the FDA report.

The inspectors’ observations in the report included:

Dozens of live and dead rodents, including baby mice, in chicken houses and manure pits.

Employees skipping steps in the cleaning process by wiping off detergent before allowing it to soak in the eggs.

Condensation dripping onto crack detectors, egg graders and other production equipment.

Water pooling on floors and forklift pathways.

Grimy, dirty floors, pallets and equipment. 

Farm workers touching dirty equipment and trash cans as well as their face, hair and “intergluteal cleft” before touching eggs or handling equipment that touches eggs without washing hands or changing gloves.

UK woman who threw vomit over neighbour’s fence sent to prison

A woman who threw vomit over a neighbour’s garden fence and broke glass outside her front door has been sent to prison for 42 days by Truro magistrates.

Susan Karen Northey, aged 42, of Whym Kibbal Court, Wesley Street, Redruth, pursued a course of harassment towards another woman, which also included playing music loud enough to cause her partition wall to shake.

She admitted the offence and also to damaging a black Chevrolet Kalios to the value of £300.