This could be the official flag of Earth that we’ll plant on Mars


You’re looking at the proposed design for the flag that our intrepid Earthling explorers will plant on the surface of Mars when they hopefully make it there by mid-2030.

The brains behind the design is graphic designer, Oskar Pernefeldt, from Beckmans College of Design in Sweden, who came up with it as part of his graduation project called ‘The International Flag of Planet Earth.’ According to Michael Rundle at Wired, companies such as LG and BSmart helped him formalise his design, and NASA appears to be involved, but it’s not clear exactly how.
While we’re a long way off actually having a discussion, as a global population, about what flag to plant on Mars, and whether there’s actually any point, considering how unlikely it is that anyone else will actually see it, it’s still a pretty fun exercise. It’s a chance for us to consider what things planet Earth would project to someone looking at it from the outside in.

Pernefeldt explains the thinking behind the design:

“Centred in the flag, seven rings form a flower – a symbol of the life on Earth. The rings are linked to each other, which represents how everything on our planet, directly or indirectly, [is] linked.

The blue field represents water which is essential for life – also as the oceans cover most of our planet’s surface. The flower’s outer rings form a circle which could be seen as a symbol of Earth as a planet and the blue surface could represent the Universe.”

Watch the video below to hear Pernefeldt talk about how he came up with the design, and check out the images he’s put together of the flag in a whole bunch of different scenarios. I can’t help but feel a little patriotic about our little blue dot of a planet.SportAntarctica 7

Astronaut portraitPorch flag

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Are MRI-Safe Cardiac Devices Outpacing the FDA?


As safety data accrue, regulatory changes are awaited for this class of ICDs.

  •  Challenging the FDA to keep pace with the advance of so-called “MRI-safe” or “conditional” implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs), yet another manufacturer has presented study results showing these devices pose no risk to patients undergoing MRI.

“Regulatory changes are needed to allow for routine MRI in patients with conditional ICDs after proper evaluation by qualified personnel,” Khaled Awad, MD, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine, commented at a press conference during the Heart Rhythm Society’s 36th Annual Scientific Sessions.

Awad’s non-randomized, single-arm results are for an ICD — Biotronik’s Iforia ProMRI ICD System — that is already in clinical use as a standard ICD but with the MRI-safety feature deactivated until it receives FDA approval.

His findings are similar to randomized resultsreported earlier at the meeting for another device that is not FDA-approved, Medtronic’s Evera MRI.

Both studies “further confirm that if you design a system platform specifically for MRI it should perform well in the MRI environment and hopefully it will open the door to a new era where most devices are designed to meet that standard,” said Awad.

The study included 154 patients (mean age 60 years) from 39 U.S. clinical sites who were implanted with the ICD device in the MRI-safe mode.

The MRI-safety mode disables detection and therapy of ventricular arrhythmias and must be turned off after scanning to re-activate the ICD.

After a 5-week waiting period, 148 patients received non-clinically indicated cardiac (25.7%) or thoracic spine (74.3%) 1.5 Tesla MRI scans that were standardized between all centers and “aimed at stressing the device and the whole system as much as possible and increasing the magnitude of the magnetic field to probably the highest one would encounter in a clinical scan,” Awad said.

At both 1- and 3-month follow-up there were no adverse outcomes deemed to be related or possibly related to the ICD system or MRI, no significant increases in ventricular capture threshold, or significant decreases in ventricular sensing.

“We didn’t detect any changes to pacing or sensing parameters, and most importantly there was no impact on the device’s main function which is detecting and treating ventricular arrhythmias. This device platform will allow patients with ICDs to safely undergo MRI in 1.5T scanners for various clinical indications,” he concluded.

Organic air pollutants tied to hepatocellular carcinoma incidence in Texas.


Texas counties with the highest rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) diagnoses tended to be those with the highest levels of certain airborne organic chemicals, such as benzene and toluene, known to be human carcinogens, researchers said here.

Although potential confounders were not adjusted for in the analysis, conducted by Ali Shirafkan, MD, and colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Shirafkan told MedPage Todaythat the findings suggest that the association deserves more study to determine whether it may be causative.

A total of 20 such pollutants were significantly elevated in counties with high HCC incidence rates, he reported at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting. In addition to benzene and toluene, they included other known carcinogens such as hexane, methyl-t-butylether, methyl chloroform, 1-3 butadiene, and 2-2-4 trimethylpentane.

Most of the pollutants identified are effluents from oil and gas extraction and processing.

Shirafkan said the study was motivated by recognition that Texas, in addition to being the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, also has one of the highest rates for HCC, at 9.9 per 100,000 population. The state is also a leading agriculture producer, another industry that exposes many people to chemical pollutants.

As a first look at potential relationships, his group pulled county-level cancer incidence data from the Texas Cancer Registry and several federal data sources, along with county-level pollution data on 188 compounds collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The researchers grouped counties with available data (118 of 254 in the state) into four clusters: one group of 10 that had HCC incidence of zero, one that was primarily agricultural, one comprising the urban centers of Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth, and a fourth with other urban centers and concentrations of oil/gas extraction and refining. HCC rates in the latter three clusters ranged from 7.48 to 9.45 per 100,000 population.

For the clusters with zero HCC incidence and with agriculture as the dominant industry, there was no association with airborne pollutants, the researchers found. The associations were limited to the two clusters containing urban centers and concentrations of oil/gas facilities.

Shirafkan emphasized that these data did not take into account any potential confounders such as socioeconomic factors, obesity or other comorbidities, or exposures to other types of carcinogens. He readily agreed that air pollution exposure could be a marker for poverty or general poor health, for example. He said he plans to examine such relationships in the next phase of research, and also agreed that extending such analyses to other states would be worthwhile.

Could Memory Traces Exist in Cell Bodies?


The long-held belief that memories are stored at synapses—the junctions between cells—may not be .

Once a memory is lost, is it gone forever? Most research points to yes. Yet a study published in the online journal eLife now suggests that traces of a lost memory might remain in a cell’s nucleus, perhaps enabling future recall or at least the easy formation of a new, related memory.

The current theory accepted by neurobiologists is that long-term memories live at synapses, which are the spaces where impulses pass from one nerve cell to another. Lasting memories are dependent on a strong network of such neural connections; memories weaken or fade if the synapses degrade.

In the new study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, studied sea slugs’ neurons in a cell culture dish. Over several days the neurons spontaneously formed a number of synapses. The scientists then administered the neurotransmitter serotonin to the neurons, causing them to create many more synapses—the same process by which a living creature would form a long-term memory. When they inhibited a memory-forming enzyme and checked the neurons after 48 hours, the number of synapses had returned to the initial number—but they were not the same individual synapses as before. Some of the original and some of the new synapses retracted to create the exact number the cells started with.

The finding is surprising because it suggests that a nerve cell body “knows” how many synapses it is supposed to form, meaning it is encoding a crucial part of memory. The researchers also ran a similar experiment on live sea slugs, in which they found that a long-term memory could be totally erased (as gauged by its synapses being destroyed) and then re-formed with only a small reminder stimulus—again suggesting that some information was being stored in a neuron’s body.

Synapses may be like a concert pianist’s fingers, explains principal investigator David Glanzman, a neurologist at U.C.L.A. Even if Chopin did not have his fingers, he would still know how to play his sonatas. “This is a radical idea, and I don’t deny it: memory really isn’t stored in synapses,” Glanzman says.

Other memory experts are intrigued by the findings but cautious about interpreting the results. Even if neurons retain information about how many synapses to form, it is unclear how the cells could know where to put the synapses or how strong they should be—which are crucial components of memory storage. Yet the work indeed suggests that synapses might not be set in stone as they encode memory: they may wither and re-form as a memory waxes and wanes. “The results are really just kind of surprising,” says Todd Sacktor, a neurologist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “It has always been this assumption that it’s the same synapses that are storing the memory,” he says. “And the essence of what [Glanzman] is saying is that it’s far more dynamic.”

Researchers find a way of tuning light waves by pairing two exotic 2-D materials


Researchers find a way of tuning light waves by pairing two exotic 2-D materials
Researchers have shown that a DC voltage applied to layers of graphene and boron nitride can be used to control light emission from a nearby atom. Here, graphene is represented by a maroon-colored top layer; boron nitride is represented by yellow-green lattices below the graphene; and the atom is represented by a grey circle. A low concentration of DC voltage (in blue) allows the light to propagate inside the boron nitride, forming a tightly confined waveguide for optical signals. Credit: Anshuman Kumar Srivastava and Jose Luis Olivares/MIT

Researchers have found a way to couple the properties of different two-dimensional materials to provide an exceptional degree of control over light waves. They say this has the potential to lead to new kinds of light detection, thermal-management systems, and high-resolution imaging devices.

The new findings—using a layer of one-atom-thick deposited on top of a similar 2-D layer of a material called hexagonal boron nitride (hBN)—are published in the journal Nano Letters. The work is co-authored by MIT associate professor of Nicholas Fang and graduate student Anshuman Kumar, and their co-authors at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the University of Minnesota.

Although the two materials are structurally similar—both composed of hexagonal arrays of atoms that form two-dimensional sheets—they each interact with light quite differently. But the researchers found that these interactions can be complementary, and can couple in ways that afford a great deal of control over the behavior of light.

The hybrid material blocks light when a particular voltage is applied to the graphene, while allowing a special kind of emission and propagation, called “hyperbolicity,” when a different voltage is applied—a phenomenon not seen before in optical systems, Fang says. One of the consequences of this unusual behavior is that an extremely thin sheet of material can interact strongly with light, allowing beams to be guided, funneled, and controlled by voltages applied to the sheet.

“This poses a new opportunity to send and receive light over a very confined space,” Fang says, and could lead to “unique optical material that has great potential for optical interconnects.” Many researchers see improved interconnection of optical and electronic components as a path to more efficient computation and imaging systems.

Researchers find a way of tuning light waves by pairing two exotic 2-D materials
A higher concentration of electric charge in the graphene (in red) “repels” the light coming from the atom. 

Light’s interaction with graphene produces particles called plasmons, while light interacting with hBN produces phonons. Fang and his colleagues found that when the materials are combined in a certain way, the plasmons and phonons can couple, producing a strong resonance.

The properties of the graphene allow precise control over light, while hBN provides very strong confinement and guidance of the light. Combining the two makes it possible to create new “metamaterials” that marry the advantages of both, the researchers say.

Phaedon Avouris, a researcher at IBM and co-author of the paper, says, “The combination of these two materials provides a unique system that allows the manipulation of optical processes.”

The combined materials create a tuned system that can be adjusted to allow light only of certain specific wavelengths or directions to propagate, they say. “We can start to selectively pick some frequencies [to let through], and reject some,” Kumar says.

These properties should make it possible, Fang says, to create tiny optical waveguides, about 20 nanometers in size—the same size range as the smallest features that can now be produced in microchips. This could lead to chips that combine optical and in a single device, with far lower losses than when such devices are made separately and then interconnected, they say.

Co-author Tony Low, a researcher at IBM and the University of Minnesota, says, “Our work paves the way for using 2-D material heterostructures for engineering new optical properties on demand.”

Another potential application, Fang says, comes from the ability to switch a light beam on and off at the material’s surface; because the material naturally works at near-infrared wavelengths, this could enable new avenues for infrared spectroscopy, he says. “It could even enable single-molecule resolution,” Fang says, of biomolecules placed on the hybrid material’s surface.

Sheng Shen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in this research, says, “This work represents significant progress on understanding tunable interactions of in graphene-hBN.” The work is “pretty critical” for providing the understanding needed to develop optoelectronic or photonic devices based on graphene and hBN, he says, and “could provide direct theoretical guidance on designing such types of devices. … I am personally very excited about this novel theoretical work.”

Old Brains Become Young Again In Neuroplasticity Study


Can an old brain learn new tricks?

The answer could soon be a resounding “yes.”

AGEING WOMAN

Scientists from the University of California at Irvine may have found a way to restore the youthful flexibility of the still-developing brain. In a study on mice recently published in the journal Neuron, the researchers were able to re-activate a younger neural state in an older brain.

While the findings are preliminary, they could one day lead to new treatments for developmental disorders — and, eventually, perhaps even a method for rejuvenating the brain’s youthful ability to learn, remember and heal itself.

When we’re young, the brain is constantly reshaping itself and making new synaptic connections based on learning and experiences, in a process known as neuroplasticity. The brain lose some of this youthful plasticity as we age, and we become less capable of making new neural connections.

Rewiring the brain. The scientists transplanted embryonic neurons that express the neurotransmitter GABA from the brains of younger mice into those of older mice with a major visual impairment. GABA, which tends to decrease with age, is a chemical in the brain that helps with important functions such as vision and motor control and may play a role in controlling fear and anxiety.

In the study, the researchers used GABA transplantation to repair the visual system in a group of mice with amblyopia, a condition that prevents one eye from focusing. In a young brain, the visual system is being constantly rewired by new visual experiences — but when that process is impaired during youth, amblyopia can result.

The GABA neurons increased plasticity in the brains of adult mice, allowing for extensive rewiring and the creation of new neural connections — comparable to that which occurs during important stages of brain development.

“We found that the transplanted cells dramatically enhanced the plasticity of neuronal connections in the host visual cortex,” Dr. Sunil Gandhi, the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “The new plasticity occurred in the recipients when the donor animal’s critical period would have happened. So, in effect, we rejuvenated the plasticity of connections in the recipient brain.”

Transplanting the GABA neurons restored normal eyesight in the mice — suggesting that a wealth of new brain connections had been formed.

“Several weeks after transplantation… the amblyopic mice started to see with normal visual acuity,” Melissa Davis, a postdoctoral fellow and another author of the study,said in a statement.

Oh, to be young again. The findings are a major first step towards scientists’ ability to rehabilitate and rejuvenate the brain through procedures that activate plasticity in older, injured or developmentally impaired brains.

While this isn’t quite a fountain of youth for the brain, the researchers are optimistic that the findings could open up new treatment possibilities for a range of neurological disorders, as well as avenues for future research to increase our understanding of how the brain develops.

Through transplanting GABA neurons, scientists may be able to help treat developmental brain disorders like autism and schizophrenia, and to help the brain recover from injury.

“The findings raise the promise of using GABA neuron transplantation to enhance the retraining of the adult brain following injury,” Gandhi said.

MAJOR LAWSUIT TARGETS MONSANTO FOR SELLING CANCER-LINKED HERBICIDE


Those claims that Monsanto made – that glyphosate was harmless to humans – well, the company is about to pay for that ‘false advertising’ in the form of a class action lawsuit put forth by the offices of T. Matthew Phillips in Los Angeles, California.

In the lawsuit filed in California, Monsanto is accused of:

The deliberate falsification to conceal the fact that glyphosate is harmful to humans and animals.

The class action lawsuit (Case No: BC 578 942) was filed in Los Angeles County, California against biotechnology giant Monsanto. It alleges that Monsanto is guilty of false advertising by claiming that glyphosate, the active ingredient in their best-selling herbicide, Roundup, “targets an enzyme only found in plants and not in humans or animals.” You can see this statement marked clearly on some of Monsanto’s products sold in the state.

 Major Lawsuit Targets Monsanto for Selling Cancer-Linked Herbicide

The lawsuit attests that the enzyme in question, EPSP synthase, is found in the microbiota that reside in our intestinal tracts, and therefore the enzyme is “found in humans and animals.” Due to the disruption of gut flora by glyphosate, Monsanto’s chemicals do indeed affect humans.

Why is Monsanto being sued? Because their product kills off our healthy gut-flora. Specifically:

“. . . glyphosate is linked to stomach and bowel problems, indigestion, ulcers, colitis, gluten intolerance, sleeplessness, lethargy, depression, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, allergies, obesity, diabetes, infertility, liver disease, renal failure, autism, Alzheimer’s, endocrine disruption, and the W.H.O. recently announced glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic’.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), last month declared that glyphosate is a Group 2A carcinogen. The American Cancer Society quickly followed suit, also listing glyphosate as a Group 2A carcinogen.

Countries around the world are demanding that Roundup be banned, at least until ‘further research’ on its harmful affects can be completed. But even an Environmental Protection Agency memo classified glyphosate as a possible carcinogen in 1985. Later in 1991, when the agency randomly changed the classification to ‘not carcinogenic,’ three scientists involved in the study refused to sign, and one wrote “do not concur.”

The document which will be presented in court contains data that clearly shows a statistically significant increase in tumors in laboratory animals treated with glyphosate. Monsanto was only able to make the claim that tumors in rats could not be related to glyphosate because there were notmore tumors in rats who were given higher doses.

This lawsuit is likely the long-awaited tipping point for millions of people who are tired of being poisoned by Big Ag and biotech greed, irreverence for human life and the environment, and utter disdain for our legal system which is meant to protect the innocent.

Along with this lawsuit is another filed against the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture just weeks ago, by Beijing resident Yang Xiao-lu. It requests disclosure of a toxicology report which was submitted to Chinese officials for the herbicide’s registration in China.

The case has been accepted and the collegiate panel of the court has informed the plaintiff that, considering that Monsanto is a stakeholder to the case, they have added Monsanto as an involved party.

Chinese citizens asked for this toxicology report once before, but the Ministry of Agriculture denied them. The Ministry said that they had to protect “trade secrets” of Monsanto and other biotech bullies.

Likely the only thing that needed to be protected was Monsanto’s reputation when the recipe for their toxic products are already known the world over.

Attorney T. Matthew Phillips says:

“The defendant intentionally misleads consumers by misrepresenting and concealing the true and correct facts concerning glyphosate. We are not trying to prove that Roundup is harmful or carcinogenic, we are merely pointing out that Monsanto is lying about the enzymes that Roundup targets. Roundup kills the weeds in your backyard and the weeds in your stomach.”

Judgment is sought against Monsanto to prohibit the company from continuing to make the claim that glyphosate targets an enzyme not found in humans and for compensation to the plaintiffs, including attorney fees.

Residents of California can become members of the class in this action by contacting T. Matthew Phillips. Phillips has indicated that he hopes other attorneys in other states will follow suit [pun intended].

4/22/2015: Case number was added.

4/23/2015: The lawsuit can be downloaded from http://www.monsantoclassaction.org/

Residents of California can add their names to the class. Plaintiffs are soliciting funds to help cover litigation costs: http://www.gofundme.com/monsantolawsuit

4/25/2015: T. Matthew Phillips will ask the court to compel the Defendant to reimburse donors, with interest.

How Delivery And Breastfeeding Impact Your Baby’s Gut Bacteria And Future Health


Our digestive system is home to nearly 100 trillion bacteria, commonly referred to as our gut microbiome. A new study of 98 Swedish infants over the first year of life finds a connection between the development of each child’s gut microbiome and the way he or she is both delivered and fed. While vaginal delivery meant greater bacterial similarity between mother and child, the decision to breastfeed also impacted the constitution of a baby’s gut microbiome… and so his or her health.

Our gut bacteria make an invaluable contribution to our metabolism by helping us break down complex carbohydrates and starches. These bacteria also play a crucial role in the development of our immune systems and even produce vitamins and hormones that direct the storage of fats. These reasons suggest to scientists that our gut microbiota act as an organ in-and-of themselves. As such, our gut microbiome establishes a foundation for our metabolism and immunity and quite possibly even our behavior.

Taken all together, these bacteria weigh up to four and a quarter pounds and the total number of genes in these various species of bacteria outnumber our human genes. Only since the advent of genetic sequencing technologies has the microbiome more fully revealed itself and its impact on our health.

Crucially, bacteria are said to colonize our gut, with the first residents making the general environment most hospitable to themselves, more hostile to those who come later. How the gut is colonized in our earliest days of life is therefore key to our future health and our future lives.

For the current study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen applied metagenomic analysis on fecal samples from 98 Swedish infants and their mothers over their first year of life in order to assess the impact of mode of delivery and feeding on the establishment of the gut microbiota. What they found supported past research in this area.

As suspected, the earliest bacterial colonizers are derived from the mother. Importantly, the microbiome of vaginally delivered infants showed more resemblance to their mothers than C-section babies. However, C-section babies still received some of their mother’s microbes, which passed on through the skin and mouth.

Next, the researchers observed how the population of bacteria shifted depending on what each child ate. The decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed was key, as nutrition is a main driver of infant gut microbiome development. The end of breastfeeding is a key moment in the maturation process of the gut. Certain types of bacteria thrive on the nutrients breast milk provides and once they are no longer available, other bacteria emerge that are more commonly seen in adults.

“Our results strongly suggest that cessation of breastfeeding rather than introduction of solid foods is the major driver in the development of an adult microbiota,” wrote the authors in their conclusion. Bon appetit!

Source: Backhed F, Roswall J, Peng Y, et al. Dynamics and Stabilization of the Human Gut Microbiome during the First Year of Life. Cell Host and Microbe. 2015.

How To Keep Mosquitoes Away: Consumer Reports Reviews Bug Sprays, Says DEET Is Not The Winner


Spring sunshine will soon give way to summer, and for most people that means even more time spent in the great outdoors. Natch, your most pressing concern is bug spray. No one wants to be eaten alive by insects, so which repellent works best? Turn to Consumer Reports, venerable resource and reviewer of all products, for the answer.

With their usual thoroughness, CR tested bug repellents with great focus on all the nitty gritty details. They began with, in their own words, “an 8-cubic-foot cage containing 200 disease-free, female mosquitoes in need of a blood meal to lay their eggs.” (Yes, “blood meal.”) CR chose culex mosquitoes, which are known to transmit West Nile virus, and aedes, which carries chikungunya. The former bug is most active between dusk and dawn, the latter all day long. Both enjoy humans.

Next comes the squirm-inducing part. After applying a different repellent to each forearm, the testers waited 30 minutes and then plunged their arms into the cages filled with blood-lust mosquitoes. Meanwhile, CR experts, presumably wearing spectacles and sporting clipboards, watched and recorded bites.

Rules of the game: If a tester was bitten two or more times in one five-minute session, or once in two consecutive sessions, a repellent failed. To analyze how the repellents worked against ticks, the experts marked three lines on each tester’s bare arms and  then released, one at a time, five disease-free deer ticks to crawl on them. Here, a repellent failed if two ticks crossed into the treated area.

So, what did they discover? Failures included the many products listing plant oils, like citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary, as their main ingredient. None of these effectively guarded against mosquitoes and ticks — some failed to defend the testers against the aedes mosquitoes for even half an hour. Candles and wristbands also proved to be ineffective.

The top-performing product was Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula, which held mosquitoes and ticks at bay for eight hours.

Second runner-up was Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, which protected against ticks for eight hours and mosquitoes for seven hours.

So, what made the winners winning? Quite simply, they contain 20 percent picaridin and 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus.

While two DEET products — the most common mosquito and tick repellent on the market — also earned good scores, they were not as effective as the picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Possibly because of its inactive ingredients, the 25 percent DEET product performed less effectively than the 15 percent DEET product. None of the products containingIR3535, which is often included in sunscreens even if many claim this chemical to be an eye irritant, made the list.

10-Day McDonald’s Diet Leads To ‘Devastation’ Of Man’s Gut Bacteria


McDonald’s is a worldwide billion-dollar restaurant with 62 million customers on a daily basis and 75 hamburgers sold every second. Tim Spector, a genetics professor at King’s College London, wanted to see how much a person could handle, so he volunteered his son Tom as a test subject in his newest experiment: to eat at the Golden Arches for 10 days straight.

“I felt good for three days, then slowly went downhill. I became more lethargic, and by a week my friends thought I had gone a strange gray color,” Tom said, according to Spector’s Quartzrecount. “The last few days were a real struggle. I felt really unwell, but definitely had no addictive withdrawal symptoms and when I finally finished, I rushed (uncharacteristically) to the shops to get some salad and fruit.

Tom, a 23-year-old college student studying genetics at the University of Aberystwyth, sacrificed his body for medicine to better understand how gut microbes and metabolisms work, at least that’s what he and his dad had hoped. His father doesn’t follow the average American diet, so he thought his son would serve as a better representative of modern eating habits. Tom was allowed all of the Big Macs, fries, chicken nuggets, and Coca-Colas he wanted, and also collected feces samples before, during, and after his diet.

After sending in the samples to three different labs in order to ensure consistency, Cornell University’s microbiome test results said his gut microbes had been “devastated.” His father said they saw “massive shifts in his common microbe groups.” The gut microbes are a complex community of at least 1,000 different species of microorganisms that live in your digestive tract and are responsible for maintaining a healthy immune system, regulating digestion, and maintaining weight.

Tom lost half of his bifidobacteria (healthy bacteria designed to suppress inflammation in the digestive tract) after eating McDonald’s. His firmicutes, whose job is to extract energy from food, also became replaced with obesity-linked bacteroidetes. He lost nearly 40 percent of his total bacteria variety, and even after two weeks of recovering from the diet and returning to a healthy balanced regimen, his microbes still were unable to recover.

The fast food binge has been done before on a larger scale — its most infamous debut being in the “Super Size Me” documentary released over a decade ago. The social experiment in fast food gastronomy was performed by Morgan Spurlock for a month. However, no one had monitored the activity in their gut microbe until the Spector father-son duo gave it a try.

Now knowing a steady diet of fast food has the ability to kill healthy gut microbes in the body, researchers can focus on the importance of diversifying the gut. Over the last century, gut microbes in the human body have decreased by nearly a third. McDonald’s rakes in $24 billionin revenue every year — that’s a lot of bad guts. Today around the world, more people can recognize the Golden Arches (88 percent) than the cross (54 percent), according to “Fast Food Nation. “It’s no surprise 69 percent of the United States is either overweight and obese, which means in all likelihood their gut microbes are unhealthily imbalanced.

“We rely on our bacteria to produce much of our essential nutrients and vitamins while they rely on us eating plants and fruits to provide them with energy and to produce healthy chemicals which keep our immune system working normally,” Spector wrote. “We are unlikely to stop people eating fast food, but the devastating effects on our microbes and our long-term health could possibly be mitigated if we also eat foods which our microbes love like probiotics (yogurts), root vegetables, nuts, olives and high-fiber foods.”