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Neutrophil cell trapping bacteria, seen using a scanning electron microscope.

Immune cells called neutrophils (yellow), whose production can be stimulated by gut-dwelling microbes, can exacerbate cardiovascular disease. Credit: SPL

Microbiome

Gut microbes and stress team up to make a painful disease worse

A type of gut bacterium worsens the inflammatory response and cardiovascular problems in mice.

Stress can make people more prone to conditions such as heart disease. Now, researchers have found that gut bacteria could contribute to the detrimental health consequences of mental stress.

Paul Frenette at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and his colleagues analysed the effect of stress on mice that exhibit features of sickle-cell disease. This condition causes the body to produce stiff, sickle-shaped red blood cells that can block small blood vessels, causing tissue damage and pain. The researchers found that stress worsened blood flow — but not in specially bred mice that lack normal gut flora.

Further experiments showed that stress-induced hormones made the animals’ gut lining more permeable, allowing gut bacteria to penetrate the tissues beneath it. There, a certain type of these bacteria triggered the production of molecules that led to the proliferation of neutrophils, immune cells involved in inflammation. Treating mice with antibiotics prevented this inflammatory response.

The findings suggest that reducing the levels of specific gut bacteria could help to ease the symptoms of sickle-cell disease and other cardiovascular diseases, the researchers say.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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