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Science Square (Issue 108)
Nov 1, 2015

Processed meat increases cancer risk

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has investigated nearly 1,000 things that increase the risk of cancer. Based on a report from 22 experts from 10 countries, IARC recently announced that the consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans; processed meat products including sausages, hot dogs, and salamis are among the highest-risk carcinogens for humans. Researchers found that daily consumption of 50 grams of processed meat has been found to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Carcinogens in processed meat are thought to come from chemicals generated during the processing of the meat by smoking or curing. Scientific evidence from 800 studies show a strong association between processed meat and cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, but also pancreatic and prostate cancer. Although the risk of developing cancer from red meat is relatively low, high consumption significantly escalates the cancer risk. These findings further support the public health recommendation to lower the intake of red and processed meats. It is noteworthy that the cancer risk from smoking is still multiple orders greater; as smoking causes about 1,000,000 cancer deaths a year worldwide, while processed meat cause about 34,000 cancer deaths.

Bacteria communicate like brains

Bacteria are often dismissed as simple and solitary creatures but a new study shows that they use complex electrical signaling and communication mechanisms, which resemble neurons in a brain. Researchers investigated the long-distance communications of bacteria on biofilms, where millions of them are packed. The bacterial cells who live on the outer edge of the biofilm grow to a specific size and stop so that nutrients such as glutamate can continue flowing to the protected center, thus ensuring the whole bacterial population's survival and overall resistance to chemical attacks, such as antibiotics. Researchers demonstrated that metabolic coordination among distant cells within biofilms is facilitated by electrical signals. Ion channels trigger oscillations in bacterial membrane potentials which conduct long-range electrical signals by propagating waves of charged potassium ions. Scientists suggested that bacterial behavior within biofilms function like a "microbial brain." Interestingly, both migraines and the electrical signaling in bacteria appear to be triggered by metabolic stress. This suggests that neurological disorders like epilepsy and migraines have possibly been caused by bacterial metabolic activities. Perhaps new treatments for neurological disorders may be developed using a bacterial perspective.

Scientists made the blackest material ever

Scientists have developed the blackest material ever made – one that absorbs 99% of light coming from all angles and polarizations. The new super-black material is 26% darker than its predecessor, carbon nanotubes. The inspiration came from the white cyphochilus beetle, whose shell is capable of reflecting substantial amounts of light due to its crystalline structured scales. Scientists examined the beetle's shell and then tried to invert its crystalline structure to absorb as much light as possible. Super-black material is created using nanoparticle rods sitting on a tiny 30 nanometer nanoparticle sphere. The super-black surface can absorb 99% of the light that ranges between 400 and 1,400 nanometer wavelengths. The resulting color is so dark that the human eye cannot comprehend it; instead, it feels as looking deep into an endless abyss or a black hole. Conveniently, the material can also be diluted into a liquid form and utilized readily in a variety of applications, such as in global desalination projects. Since blacker material absorbs more light or energy, the super-black material technology is expected to dramatically improve the efficiency of existing solar panels and optical interconnects, where fiberoptic data is relayed.