Friday, September 30, 2016

Air Pollution and Preterm Birth: A Potential Mechanism

From my latest article for the journal Environmental Health Perspectives:
Intrauterine inflammation (IUI) is a risk factor for a variety of adverse birth outcomes, and some investigators have hypothesized it could also play a role in the risk of being born preterm or underweight. Several other studies have demonstrated that a pregnant woman’s exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) appears to increase her baby’s risk of being born preterm or underweight. A new study bridges these lines of inquiry and offers evidence that IUI is associated with exposure to PM2.5. Coauthor Marsha Wills-Karp, a professor of environmental health sciences at The Johns Hopkins University, says, “The study gives us some indication that there’s an actual change in the placenta and … inflammation occurring in close proximity to the fetus that is associated with exposure to air pollution.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Berkeley Startup Helps People Find Out What They’re Drinking

Scientific breakthroughs can be good business. Just license and commercialize that whiz-bang new technology you've developed, and you're off -- ready to make millions as an entrepreneur. But in the case of Berkeley-based SimpleWater, licensing a novel technology developed at Cal -- a method for removing arsenic from small rural water systems -- didn't pan out when an anticipated EPA grant to demonstrate the innovation in a small Central Valley town fell through.

The folks at SimpleWater say they still like their technology and hope to someday get it off the ground, but for now they've switched gears to a less capital-intensive product called TapScore. TapScore is a service, really, and it allows residential customers (especially those who get their drinking water from a private well) a convenient, relatively affordable way to have their water professionally tested for contaminants. The water experts at TapScore then evaluate the results and provide recommendations on point-of-use solutions (like under-sink filters) to remove anything harmful. 

Read more about the company and the service at California Magazine, where my story on TapScore/SimpleWater appears in the Fall 2016 issue

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Q&A on Homebrewed Drugs

Morphine comes from Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy — but one day soon it might be grown in a lab. In 2015, UC Berkeley bioengineering professor John Dueber and students engineered a yeast strain to convert glucose into reticuline, a key compound in the plant. Soon other researchers demonstrated subsequent steps toward producing thebaine, an opiate closely related to codeine and morphine. The development holds both great promise and great risk, Dueber says. The ability to easily synthesize powerful drugs from glucose through fermentation could be dangerous in the wrong hands. But this pathway also has the potential to lead to more-effective, less-addictive painkillers, as well as new miracle molecules for treating cancer, hypertension and more. Read more about this research and its implications with in a brief Q&A with Dueber at Berkeley Engineer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Two new Science Selections in Environmental Health Perspectives

The September issue of EHP contains two news articles on two newly published papers (aka Science Selections) by yours truly.
The first addresses a dengue fever forecast model developed by and for the government of Singapore. Dengue is the world's fastest-growing vector-borne disease, with a reported 30-fold increase in incidence over the last 50 years. It's a real problem in Singapore.
The second addresses a longitudinal study evaluating the relationship between exposure to PM2.5 and kidney function in older men. It offers early evidence that PM2.5 is associated with lower kidney function and a higher rate of kidney function over time.