A Virus Found in Wastewater Beat Back a Woman’s ‘Zombie’ Bacteria


For years, a type of bacteria called Enterococcus faecium lurked in Lynn Cole’s bloodstream. Often found in hospitals, E. faecium is usually a gut-dwelling bacteria but can creep into other areas of the body. Her doctors tried various antibiotics, but the bacteria was zombie-like: It kept coming back.

Running out of options after a month-long hospitalization in 2020, Cole and her family agreed to try an experimental treatment called phage therapy. Phages aren’t drugs in the traditional sense. They are tiny, naturally occurring viruses that selectively kill bacteria. Highly specific to the bacteria they attack, phages are showing promise against hard-to-treat infections when antibiotics fail.

Phage therapy is not yet approved in the US, UK, or Western Europe but is used regularly in Georgia, Poland, and Russia. Several clinical trials are underway to confirm its safety and test its efficacy. But to treat Cole, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine first needed to find a phage that would work against her particular bacterial strain.

Phages live in places where bacteria live, which is to say, everywhere. “We have found that a good place to look for phages is in environments where the bacteria you want to target are abundant,” says Daria Van Tyne, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Pitt and an author on a study about Cole’s case that was published today in the journal mBio.

So Van Tyne and her team looked to a source that’s teeming with gut bacteria: wastewater. They screened dozens of phages they had isolated from wastewater samples, but couldn’t find a match. So they reached out to colleagues at the University of Colorado for help.

“The thing about phages is that they’re very much the perfect example of precision medicine, because they are so exquisitely specific to a bacterium,” says Breck Duerkop, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz School of Medicine and an author on the study.

Phages recognize and attach to certain receptors on the surface of bacteria. After entering a bacterial cell, they make copies of themselves and disrupt the bacteria’s normal function, causing the cell to burst.

Van Tyne’s team mailed a sample of Cole’s bacteria to Duerkop’s lab, which had been studying phages that interact with E. faecium. Duerkop’s group tested the sample against phages they had also fished out of wastewater and found one that they thought would target the bacteria. They sent the phage to Pittsburgh, where Van Tyne and her team prepared it to give to Cole.

Since phages are viruses, they need a host in order to replicate. That means they have to be grown inside cultivated samples of the bacteria they infect. Bacteria grow quickly in the lab, but the phages have to be removed, purified, and then tested to make sure they’re safe for patients to receive. The whole process of making a suitable phage therapy can take weeks or even months from the time a lab gets a request.

via Wired Top Stories https://www.wired.com

February 14, 2024 at 01:09PM

OpenAI Gives ChatGPT a Memory


The promise and peril of the internet has always been a memory greater than our own, a permanent recall of information and events that our brains can’t store. More recently, tech companies have promised that virtual assistants and chatbots could handle some of the mnemonic load, by both remembering and reminding. It’s a vision of the internet as a conversation layer, rather than a repository.

That’s what OpenAI’s latest release is supposed to provide. The company is starting to roll out long-term memory in ChatGPT—a function that maintains a memory of who you are, how you work, and what you like to chat about. Called simply Memory, it’s an AI personalization feature that turbocharges the “custom instructions” tool OpenAI released last July. Using ChatGPT custom instructions, a person could tell the chatbot that they’re a technology journalist based in the Bay Area who enjoys surfing, and the chatbot would consider that information in future responses within that conversation, like a first date who never forgets the details.

Now, ChatGPT’s memory persists across multiple chats. The service will also remember personal details about a ChatGPT user even if they don’t make a custom instruction or tell the chatbot directly to remember something; it just picks up and stores details as conversations roll on. This will work across both the free (ChatGPT 3.5) and paid (ChatGPT 4) version.

In a demo with WIRED ahead of the feature’s release, Joanne Jang, the company’s product lead on model behavior, typed in a few sample queries. In one, Jang asked ChatGPT to write up a social media post for the opening of a cafe called Catio on Valentine’s Day; the bot performed the task. In another post, Jang indicated that she was opening a cafe called Catio on Valentine’s Day. She then navigated to Memory in ChatGPT’s settings; the bot had stored this piece of information about her. Similarly, when Jang asked for a coding tip, but then indicated that she uses Python, ChatGPT recorded in Memory that Jang uses Python exclusively.

These bits of data will be referenced in all of Jang’s future conversations with ChatGPT. Even if she doesn’t reference Catio directly in another chat, ChatGPT would bring it up when relevant.

Courtesy of OpenAI

via Wired Top Stories https://www.wired.com

February 13, 2024 at 12:21PM

What a Climatologist’s Defamation Case Victory Means for Scientists


US climate scientist Michael Mann has prevailed in a lawsuit that accused two conservative commentators of defamation for challenging his research and comparing him to a convicted child molester. A jury awarded Mann, who is based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, more than US$1 million in a landmark case that legal observers see as a warning to those who attack scientists working in controversial fields, including climate science and public health.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize scientific findings, but this verdict is a strong signal that individual scientists shouldn’t be accused of serious misconduct without strong evidence,” says Michael Gerrard, a legal scholar at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in New York City.

The case stems from a 2012 blog post published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think-tank in Washington DC. In it, policy analyst Rand Simberg compared Mann, then at Pennsylvania State University in State College, to Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach at the same university who was convicted of sexually assaulting children, saying that “instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.” Author Mark Steyn subsequently reproduced Simberg’s comparison as he accused Mann of fraud in a blog published by the conservative magazine National Review. In the same year, Mann sued both Simberg and Steyn, as well as the CEI and the National Review, for libel, without asking for damages. The case has been winding its way through the courts ever since.

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Mann tells Nature that he hopes the win “signals the beginning of the end of the open season on scientists by ideologically motivated bad actors. And maybe, just maybe, that facts and reason still matter even in today’s fraught political economy.”

Counting the cost

After a three-week trial in the Washington DC Superior Court, the jury ordered both Simberg and Steyn to pay $1 in compensatory damages. In addition, Steyn was ordered to pay U$1,000,000 in punitive damages, and Simberg was ordered to pay $1,000. The court had ruled earlier that neither the CEI nor the National Review could be held liable for the blog posts, because both Simberg and Steyn were independent contributors and not employees of the organizations.

The jury’s decision comes at a time of increasing political polarization that has left many scientists in the United States and beyond vulnerable to verbal abuse and harassment, both online and in person. Climate scientists have become accustomed to such attacks over more than a decade; a global survey published last year indicated that scientists are suffering both physically and emotionally as a result. Many biologists and public-health scientists have encountered similar attacks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The verdict represents “a big victory for truth and scientists everywhere who dedicate their lives answering vital scientific questions impacting human health and the planet,” Mann’s attorney, Peter Fontaine, said in a prepared statement.

Scientists who say that they, too, have faced harassment from science denialists are cautiously optimistic. “I have been subjected to similar classes of attacks, both on my science and on myself as a person,” says Kim Cobb, a palaeoclimatologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “Mann is certainly out there on the front lines, and not by choice.”

Hockey-stick fame

Mann achieved notoriety after reconstructing global temperature trends spanning a 1,000-year period in a pair of papers published in 1998 and 1999. That work included what came to be known as the ‘hockey-stick graph’ — a plot depicting a gradual decline in temperatures over much of the past millennium, followed by a sharp spike in the twentieth century, after the industrial revolution boosted greenhouse-gas emissions in the atmosphere.

The hockey-stick graph became a symbol of human interference in the climate system and was reproduced by many others, including the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “In a simple picture that a kindergartner can understand, you internalize just how unprecedented the current climate trends are in the context of natural variability,” says Cobb. “It’s one of the most enduring and well-reproduced contributions in climate science.”

Because of his work, Mann became a target of criticism from climate-science deniers. Some of his e-mails, as well as others discussing his work, were among a trove of thousands of documents that were released after being illegally obtained from the University of East Anglia, UK, in 2009. Critics claimed that some of the e-mails showed an attempt to manipulate climate data to indicate global warming rather than cooling. The following year, Mann was targeted in an investigation by Virginia’s then attorney-general Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative who questioned whether Mann had used fraudulent data to obtain grants while at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1999–2005. Demands for relevant documents and communications were eventually denied by the Virginia Supreme Court in a case that many saw as a win for academic freedom.

High burden of proof

In the latest case, Mann went on the offensive. But he faced a high burden of proof owing to his own notoriety: as a public figure, Mann and his attorneys had to prove not only that the defendants published false statements, but also that they acted with malice. “It is not easy to prove defamation against a public figure,” says Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, an organization in New York City that was formed in 2011 to advocate for Mann and other scientists who were being targeted and harassed by climate-change sceptics.

Scientists that Kurtz has worked with have expressed some hope for the future in response to yesterday’s verdict. But she warns that Mann’s case was unusually clear-cut: the defendants accused him of fraud, but multiple investigations run by institutions such as the US National Science Foundation, which provided him with funding, and Pennsylvania State University, his former employer, have cleared him of wrongdoing and upheld his research findings.

“This case might give a few commentators a moment’s pause, but it is certainly not going to lead to a rush to the courthouse by other scientists,” Gerrard says.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on February 9, 2024.

via Scientific American https://ift.tt/vluIQE1

February 14, 2024 at 11:02AM

Amazon Is Getting Sued Over Its Prime Video Fee Hike


Image: CeltStudio (Shutterstock)

If you’re pissed that Amazon recently pulled a fast one and inserted ads into its previously ad-free streaming service Prime Video, you can now make your wrath felt. A recently proposed class-action lawsuit is asking the e-commerce giant to fork over $5 million to compensate users who were “deceived” by Amazon’s flip-flopping on ads. The suit accuses the company of breach of contract and false advertising, among other things.

Top 5 Shopping Tips for Amazon Prime Day

Last year, Amazon announced that it would be adding limited advertisements to its streaming service while charging a premium to go ad-free. People who didn’t want ads shoved in their face while streaming would now have to pay $3 extra. Naturally, people haven’t been thrilled, myself included.

Now, a lawsuit filed by a Santa Monica law firm in California federal court gives angry streamers the opportunity to exact vengeance, arguing that the company breached its contract with subscribers and broke “consumer protection laws in California and Washington,” The Hollywood Reporter notes. The suit claims:

For years, Amazon advertised that its Prime subscription included ad-free streaming of movies and tv shows. Like other consumers, Plaintiff purchased the Prime subscription, believing that it would include ad-free streaming of movies and tv shows. But it does not.

The reason Amazon has given for its annoying price hike is that it needs more money to continue churning out original programming. That programming, as I’ve groused about previously, amounts to a bunch of mediocre-to-unwatchable televisual bilge that isn’t worth the money the corporation paid for it. That rationale may be more of an arbitrary justification, however, as Amazon is only one of many streaming services that have recently introduced ads to their paid subscription models.

Amazon declined to comment for this story.

via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com

February 13, 2024 at 04:12PM