A Superbug Hops from Hospitals to Rabbits; Beam Me Up, Science

Discovered: A drug-resistant bug's life; a tiny tractor beam; the genetic mutations underlying brain cancer; how kids get hit by cars. 

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Discovered: A drug-resistant bug's life; a tiny tractor beam; the genetic mutations underlying brain cancer; how kids get hit by cars.

MRSA spreads from hospitals to wildlife. The superbug known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is scary, and only getting scarier. There are no drugs to prevent or treat this bacterial infection, known for the killing approximately 18,000 Americans each year, mostly through hospital contamination. MRSA recently exited hospital doors, infecting two rabbits and a shorebird in Iowa, according to a study in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. That's bad news, because animals unaffected by the bug could act as a vast environmental reservoir for MRSA, spreading the disease to humans far and wide. How did the animals get infected? Research consultant Jorge Ferreira says, "This is really, really hard to do—to understand the source, especially with something like migratory birds." The spread of MRSA in wildlife is so far unclear, and scientists don't know if it will lead to a "spillover event," jumping from animals to humans. Primed by recent near-pandemics like SARS and swine flu, you can bet that epidemiologists will be keeping a close eye on this one. [Science Now]

Tractor beam lifts tiny objects. Shh, simmer down squeeing Trekkies, I'm trying to explain this new experimental demonstration of tractor beam technology to everyone else. New York University scientists David Ruffner and David Grier were able to create a device that, by projecting two Bessel beams (a laser that emits concentric circles), can make photons scatter toward the beam source. Other laser beams have been able to repel objects, or lift very specific particles, but this new invention is significant due to the range of matter it works upon. NASA has already expressed interest in the research, hoping it could prove useful for gathering objects in space exploration. ""NASA contacted us," says Ruffner. "They were wondering, can we put this on a space probe and get dust from a comet?" However, "This is still very much in its infancy," Ruffner clarifies.  [New Scientist]

Brain cancer's genetic underpinnings. Glioblastomas can reemerge ven in brain cancer patients who've undergone extensive surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy thanks to certain genetic mutations, Salk Institute for Biological Studies molecular biologist Inder Verma and colleagues have found. Adult brain cells can assume different genetic identities in order to outmaneuver current cancer treatment. Mice infected with viruses carrying glioblastoma-producing genes shut down the production of protein p53, which inhibits unusual cell growth, and revved up two proteins that speed cancer growth. "To me it says something very scary," comments molecular biologist Martine Roussel of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. "With just the right combination of hits you can become a glioma." [Science News]

Who's at fault in kid-car collisions? A study from doctors at NYU's Langeone Medical Center argues that reckless drivers aren't the only ones to blame when kids are hit by vehicles. Teenagers between the age of 13-17 were more likely to be involved in a pedestrian collision while using electronics, compared with adults. The researchers focussed on relatively minor collisions, which resulted in scrapes, bruises, and some head injury. Darting without caution into the street and jaywalking were other common causes for the crashes. Male teens are more frequently hit by cars due to such behavior than girls. The doctors were driven to study collisions between teens and cars by all the young patients turning up in the Langeone Medical Center. The presented the findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibtion in New Orleans. [ABC News]

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