Today In Research: Reconstructing the Black Death's DNA

Also: the latest vitamin to fret about, still no way to test for how long you'll live

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Today in research: reconstructing the Black Death, more vitamin fretting, guideline experts have conflicts of interest and investigating a blood-test that can "predict" lifespan.

  • Cuing screenplay writers: a good set-up to a bad disaster movie. In an attempt to reconstruct the DNA strain of the Black Death--that plague that wreaked havoc across Europe centuries ago-- "researchers extracted DNA fragments of the ancient bacterium from the teeth of medieval corpses found in London." This would normally be the moment that everything goes wrong in the movies. But, according to BBC News, the research team behind the study was successful, it was the "first time" the genetic code was reconstructed. They still couldn't point to a genetic reason why the plague was so damaging in the first place, as NPR reported. "There is no smoking gun, so to speak, to say, 'Aha, we've found the one mutation which caused this tremendous virulence and now we know why it killed 50 million people.' We don't see that," said researcher Hendrik Poinar to NPR. [BBC News, NPR - Health Shots]
  • This just isn't the best week for Vitamin-peddling proponents. Yesterday, we learned that vitamin supplements were found to be possibly detrimental to the health of older women, and noted that the research jury on vitamins seems pretty scattered at the moment. Today, here comes another culprit, vitamin E: "Very high amounts of vitamin E – much higher than what's  in multivitamins – may increase a man's risk for prostate cancer," according to a study published by the American Medical Association and relayed by CNN. As it happens, the finding arrives the same day as another study touting the benefits of eating raw vegetables. [CNN]
  • Lots of guideline experts have glaring conflict of interests.  In a not terribly surprising finding, The Wall Street Journal reports on a recently published study finding that, yes, "guideline developers" who recommend how to treat health ailments can have conflicts of interest. The sample that lead author Jennifer Neuman used in her study included "14 guidelines published by groups in the U.S. and Canada for screening or treatment of high cholesterol and diabetes. Of the 288 total panel members, 52% had conflicts of interest." [WSJ Health Blog]
  • About that blood test that will 'predict' how long you will live.  Earlier this year, a company called Life Length made news for devising a blood test that would, as ABC News quoted an advisory board member of the company explaining, "tell you within about a decade what your biological age is" by measuring the condition of telemores ("pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes"). Well, months later, The Guardian's Giles Tremlett became one of the first to take the test, traveling to Spain's National Cancer Research Centre. And, though he got encouraging results, he doesn't put much stock in the tests predictive abilities. Even the woman who's the co-founder of the test, María Blasco, clarifies that "We don't tell anyone how long they will live." [The Guardian]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.