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Bacteria's role in colon cancer, cystic fibrosis; burning paper to measure carbon

By Rachel Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 11:57 AM

Bacteria: A whole lot of bugs in the system, Endeavors, Winter 2011

Here's a not-so-savory news flash: There are more bacterial cells living in our bodies than human cells. Researchers are learning how the balance of these bugs affects our health, but reaping the benefits of bacteria is not quite as simple as eating probiotic yogurt. That's the gist of "The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown" in Endeavors, a magazine published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The article is broken into five vignettes about what UNC researchers are finding about bacteria's role in ailments such as Crohn's disease, colon cancer and cystic fibrosis. The lowdown on yogurt is that a lot of commercial probiotics don't contain the same species found in our guts, but if the beneficial bacteria happen to fight the disease, it could be of use.

Air quality: Science makes use of dead-tree media, Popular Science

Dan Yakir is a biogeochemist in Israel who thought of an innovative use for old newspapers: Analyze them for atmospheric carbon to better understand climate change. According to an article on Popular Science's Web site, Yakir wanted to study the early days of industrialization, but the standard way of looking at long-ago air - finding bubbles of it trapped in polar ice - would provide a data sample that was too old and broad. Trees, or paper, which Yakir calls "a salad bowl of trees," would be more specific to a certain place and time. So he persuaded a generous soul at the Boston Globe to send him about 100 newspaper samples dating back to the late 1800s, which he then burned to analyze their carbon content. His research shows carbon levels increasing along with early industry.

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