News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized forms.

1. Microplastics in seafood may carry toxic chemicals

A team of scientists from Malaysia and France discovered 36 tiny pieces of plastic in the bodies of 120 mackerel, anchovies, mullets and croakers. The plastics included nylon, polystyrene and polyethylene, which attracts toxins in the environment.

Upon consumption, the poisons could be released into people's bodies. The researchers warned that the widespread distribution of microplastics in aquatic bodies have contaminated various sea creatures.

"Therefore, seafood products could be a major route of human exposure to microplastics," they added.

Translating into statistics, the study suggested that the fish examined in the study, are often dried and sold across Malaysia, resulting in individuals consuming up to 246 pieces of microplastic a year.

While it is unclear if the particles were actually carrying toxic chemicals, they suggested the level of contamination should be monitored.

2. Defensive slug slime inspires new surgical "SuperGlue"

The slug-inspired adhesive stuck easily to pig tissue, like this heart. Photo credit: Jianyu Li, Adam D. Celiz, David J. Mooney/Science
The slug-inspired adhesive stuck easily to pig tissue, like this heart. Photo credit: Jianyu Li, Adam D. Celiz, David J. Mooney/Science

Scientists have been searching for a better adhesive for surgery and wound healing. Now, scientists at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have reported that slime from the Arion subfuscus in its defensive mode could be the answer.

Usually there is a trade-off between flexibility and stickiness, says Jianyu Li, a materials scientist at the Institute. Super Glue works well on dry surfaces but it's rigid and toxic. Other materials are flexible but not as sticky.

Defensive slug slime on the other hand, had a delicate balance, bonding in three different ways ̶ chemically, physically through attaching intertwining surface proteins and a primary amine interacts with negatively charged tissues and cells. The team used the slug slime as a starting point to engineer a new adhesive material.

A tough gelatin-like patch that is 90% water was created from a compound secreted by algae that has similar properties as he slug mucus. In animal experiments, the patches have successfully stuck to bloody pig skin and a bloody, beating pig heart.

However, the team says that the patch has to go through years of testing before it might be available for use in humans. They are also working on a biodegradable version.

3. Doctors can now develop their own health apps through a toolkit

UK digital health specialists, Inhealthcare have developed a toolkit to allow doctors to build and launch their own health apps.

"We believe this is a world first in healthcare technology," said the company's chief executive Bryn Sage, describing that the toolkit was "a programming language for digital health" and a major breakthrough in programming technology.

The toolkit features an easy-to-use set of building blocks that offers multi-channel connections between patients and central databases such as the NHS Spine and GP systems via Inhealthcare's national digital healthcare platform.

Through trials, an end-to-end design process could be completed within a day, having cost benefits compared to traditional software development methods.

The company claims these services can also empower patients to take greater control over their own health, reducing pressure on public spending from ageing populations with long-term conditions.

4. "MarioWay", the new Segway for people with disabilities

Mr Mario Vigentini with his invention, the
Mr Mario Vigentini with his invention, the "MarioWay". After nearly 20 years working with youngsters in wheelchairs, he wanted to revolutionise their quality of life, inventing a device that raises users so that they are face-to-face with those standing. Photo credit: Agence France-Presse

Mario Vigentini worked with wheelchair-bound youngsters for 20 years and wanted to revolutionise their quality of life. After gaining inspiration from the Segway, he invented "MarioWay", a hands-free, two-wheeled kneeling chair that raises users up so that they are face-to-face with those standing.

The aim was to create "a tool of social integration", Mr Vigentini said as he realised that many young people with disabilities were disheartened by the prejudice they faced.

The chair can go up to 20km/h on a battery life of 30km and is integrated with multiple "sensors that read the position of the body", so that "if I move my upper body slightly forward, the MarioWay advances slightly," said Mr Flaviano Tarducci, the company's business development manager. To move backwards, left or right, users just have to tilt their pelvis slightly.

The MarioWay went on sale a few weeks ago at €19,300 but Mr Vigentini said he and his team are "doing everything we can" to lower the price to around €10,000 by signing a deal with an industrial production partner.

5. 16 genetic markers have been associated to lifespan

16 genetic markers associated with a decreased lifespan ̶ 14 of which are new ̶ have been discovered in a collaborative research by scientists from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), the University of Lausanne and the EPFL.

The study provides a powerful computational framework to uncover the genetics of the time of death of individuals, and ultimately of any disease.

Using an innovative computational approach to analyse a dataset of 116,279 individuals, 2.3 million human SNPs were probed.

About 1 in 10 people carry the same configurations of these markers that shorten their life by over a year compared with the population average. In addition, a person inheriting a lifespan-shortening version of one of these SNPs may have a shortened lifespan of up to seven months earlier.

They also found that most SNPs had an effect on lifespan by impacting more than a single disease or risk factor. Three genes ̶ RBM6, SULT1A1 and CHRNA5 ̶ were associated with increased lifespan.

The study was part of the AgingX Project supported by (the Swiss Initiative in Systems Biology) and could have promising applications in the field of personalised medicine. MIMS

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