Linkage 11/5: Bacteria and the Fly’s Sex Life

drosophilamelanogastercouple2As discussed previously on ScienceLife, the microbiome is the ecosystem of billions of bacterial organisms living inside our bodies, influencing us in as-yet-undetermined ways. Most efforts to study the microbiome thus far have focused on how gut bacteria affect digestion and disease, but a paper this week in PNAS reveals a surprising new power for those microorganisms: the ability to shape sexual preference. Okay, so far it’s only been observed in fruit flies, but as Ed Yong at Discover Magazine’s Not Exactly Rocket Science explains, it’s still a remarkable example of how a change in diet can alter an organism’s behavior in unforeseen ways.

The relationship between science and films, Carl Zimmer writes in this week’s Nature, has largely been a one-way street. Science gives Hollywood the technology to make pictures move, talk, and appear to throw things at you (in the case of the recent 3D boom), but returns the favor by portraying scientists as mad, geeky, or both. Zimmer’s column was inspired by hosting the recent Imagine Science Film Festival, a New York event that showcases short films with scientific inspiration. And while Zimmer is skeptical about the use of Hollywood film to promote science – Citizen Kane “would not have been a masterpiece if Orson Welles had kept asking himself ‘Does this make journalism accessible to a broader audience?’,” Zimmer writes – he comes slightly around after seeing films portraying the sensory phenomenon of synaesthesia and the comedic adventures of a Norwegian cryonics laboratory.

Bad news: a new projection by former University of Chicago faculty member Nicholas Christakis predicts that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by the year 2050. Good news: the obesity rate will plateau at that ghastly figure; as the authors write, “While not great, this is a much more optimistic estimate than 100%.” As our own Elbert Huang calculated last year, that plateau will still mean billions more in health care costs to treat chronic diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease.

The health care reform measures passed last year, should they survive the new Republican-led House, put a greater emphasis on primary care and preventive medicine. But the question of who will provide that primary care remains unanswered, as Joanna Broder wrote in the Chicago Tribune this week. Broder leads her article with Pritzker School of Medicine graduate Nina Vergari Rogers, currently working at the Chicago Family Health Center as part of the University of Chicago Medical Center’s REACH program. Doctors enrolled in REACH can receive $40,000 a year toward their medical school loans – a serious incentive, given that the lower salaries paid to primary care physicians mean their expenses exceed their earnings for the first 3-5 years after residency.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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