Livin' on the MDedge

Potty pathogens in space, fundus photos, and ethnic microbiomes


The earth is not enough

Earthly competitors have proved to be unworthy, so this week, Bacteria vs. the World visits the International Space Station, which – and we double-checked this – is in space. It’s a pretty exclusive location, and admission is by invitation only. Unless, of, course, you happen to be the ultimate hitchhiker. Four samples taken from the toilet of the ISS (and one from a piece of exercise equipment) were found to contain unknown strains of antibiotic-resistant Enterobacter bugandensis, investigators reported (BMC Microbiol. 2018 Nov 23;18[1]:175).


These bacterial stowaways were not virulent, lead author Nitin Singh, PhD, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a separate statement. But an analysis conducted by the team “reveals that the ISS isolates have a 79% probability of being a human pathogen.”

So, what does this mean for future space exploration? Cue the “Star Trek” music: “Space … the final frontier. These are the voyages of the bacterial transport ship Enterprise.”

Putting the FUN in fundus photos

You just got even more dependent on your phone: The American Academy of Opthalmology has published guidelines on how to use smartphones to take fundus photography, a.k.a. photographs of the back of the eye.


Advancement in smartphone optical quality has turned them into an important clinical tool, especially for specialists in low-funded or rural areas who don’t have access to imaging systems. Doctors can purchase special lenses and phone software to take these photos and then can easily upload the images to their Instagram accounts. (Even doctors need likes.)

An eye hospital in India has taken fundus accessibility a step further and posted a video on YouTube showing how to make a functional fundus camera that costs only 100 rupees. All you need in some cardboard, a water bottle, and a lens. “MacGyver: Chennai Edition.”

I feel it in my gut

Whoever said “inside, we’re all the same” clearly wasn’t considering the gut. A study from Vanderbilt University comprising 1,700 American subjects found that differences in gut microbiomes are most consistently linked with ethnicity. Vanderbilt biologist Seth Bordenstein emphasized how changing the gut microbiome can lead to curing illness but that it’s imperative that medical professionals understand how the gut differs across ethnicities.


Researchers found 12 types of bacteria that vary in abundancy by ethnicity. No comment on whether this was linked to differences in cuisine, but this writer fervently hopes new research arrives proving that tacos produce the healthiest gut microbiome.

F-bombing blood cancer

Call it a tale of two Toms.

NWphotoguy/Getty Images

TV newsman Tom Brokaw, who has multiple myeloma, says he’s become the “poster boy” for blood cancer. At first, though, he kept his diagnosis secret from just about everyone. But occasionally he let his emotions get the best of him. Especially when he’d see a Manhattan bus stop ad spotlighting the chiseled body of another Tom: the quarterback named Brady.

As he explained in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, he found it harder to get around because of back problems, which are common in multiple myeloma. As a result, he couldn’t manage to get to the office.

Still, “every day I’d force myself to leave the walker at home,” he recalled. “In that cold and sleety fall, I’d walk half a block to the coffee shop to get a bagel. There was this enormous new bus stop, with an animated advertisement board. Looking right at me was Tom Brady, advertising Ugg boots. I’d look down 79th Street at every inch of Tom Brady, and all the little old ladies were mooning over him as they were getting on the bus.”

Brokaw knew just what to do to make himself feel better. “I’d hobble over and look at him and drop the F-bomb on him every morning. Frankly, it was therapeutic for me.”

Later, he met the New England Patriots quarterback and told him the story, replacing “F-bomb” with the real word. “He had this little posse with him, and they roared. They said nobody talks to Tom like that.”

Brokaw still resists pleas to slow down from concerned loved ones, such as his emergency physician daughter. “My birth certificate says I’m 78 years old,” he said, “but I still think I’m 38 anchoring the news.” And still tossing tight-spiral F-bombs at cancer and gridiron G.O.A.T.s alike.

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