Your Showerhead Is Really Gross—and It Might Make You Sick

iStock.com/rschlie
iStock.com/rschlie

If the ick factor alone doesn't motivate you to clean your shower regularly, the results of new research published in the journal mBio may change your mind. As IFL Science reports, your showerhead is a hotbed of microorganisms, some of which could pose a threat to your health.

For the study, citizen scientists from Europe and the U.S. swabbed their showerheads and submitted the samples to researchers. After sequencing the DNA of the more than 650 samples, the Showerhead Microbiome Project team found worlds of microbes thriving on the very things we use to bathe ourselves with each day.

While most of these organisms aren't harmful, the researchers did detect some types of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), which can cause lung infections. When water vapor fills your shower, mycobacteria become aerosolized and therefore easier to breathe. While NTM doesn't lead to illness when inhaled in most cases, infections can bring about shortness of breath, fatigue, and weight loss, especially in people with weak immune systems. Researchers found that areas with the highest concentrations of showerhead mycobacteria—Florida, New York, and Southern California—are also "hot spots" of NTM lung disease.

Mycobacteria live in biofilm, a.k.a. the scum that coats the front of your showerhead. The study found that the microbes are more likely to grow on metal showerheads than plastic ones—likely because the chemicals in plastic support more diverse microbial communities that stop any one bacteria from taking over. The mycobacteria were also most common in U.S. households that use municipal water supplies. The water in these showers is usually chlorinated, and because mycobacteria are somewhat resistant to the disinfectant, those microbes tend to spread in place of the bacteria that are killed off.

The study's data could be used by doctors and public health officials to better understand the causes of NTM. In the meantime, set aside a few minutes to wipe the slime off your showerhead.

[h/t IFL Science]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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