Sugar Additive Trehalose Could Have Helped Spread Dangerous Superbug Around the US

A sugar additive used in several foods could have helped spread a seriously dangerous superbug around the US, according to a 2018 study. ScienceAlert reports: The finger of blame is pointed squarely at the sugar trehalose, found in foods such as nutrition bars and chewing gum. If the findings are confirmed, it’s a stark warning that even apparently harmless additives have the potential to cause health issues when introduced to our food supply. In this case, trehalose is being linked with the rise of two strains of the bacterium Clostridium difficile, capable of causing diarrhea, colitis, organ failure, and even death. The swift rise of the antibiotic-resistant bug has become a huge problem for hospitals in recent years, and the timing matches up with the arrival of trehalose.

“In 2000, trehalose was approved as a food additive in the United States for a number of foods from sushi and vegetables to ice cream,” said one of the researchers, Robert Britton from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, back in January 2018. “About three years later the reports of outbreaks with these lineages started to increase. Other factors may also contribute, but we think that trehalose is a key trigger.”

The C. difficile lineages Britton is referring to are RT027 and RT078. When the researchers analysed the genomes of these two strains, they found DNA sequences that enabled them to feed off low doses of trehalose sugar very efficiently. In fact, these particular bacteria need about 1,000 times less trehalose to live off than other varieties of C. difficile, thanks to their genetic make-up. […] It’s still not certain that trehalose has contributed to the rise of C. difficile, but the study results and the timing of its approval as an additive are pretty compelling. More research will now be needed to confirm the link. According to figures from the CDC, “C. difficile was responsible for half a million infections across the year and 29,000 deaths within the first 30 days of diagnosis,” adds ScienceAlert. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

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Boston Dynamics’ Stretch Can Move 800 Heavy Boxes Per Hour

Stretch is a new robot from Boston Dynamics that can move approximately 800 heavy boxes per hour. As IEEE Spectrum reports, it’s part of “a new generation of robots with the intelligence and flexibility to handle the kind of variation that people take in stride.” From the report: Stretch’s design is somewhat of a departure from the humanoid and quadrupedal robots that Boston Dynamics is best known for, such as Atlas and Spot. With its single massive arm, a gripper packed with sensors and an array of suction cups, and an omnidirectional mobile base, Stretch can transfer boxes that weigh as much as 50 pounds (23 kilograms) from the back of a truck to a conveyor belt at a rate of 800 boxes per hour. An experienced human worker can move boxes at a similar rate, but not all day long, whereas Stretch can go for 16 hours before recharging. And this kind of work is punishing on the human body, especially when heavy boxes have to be moved from near a trailer’s ceiling or floor.

“Truck unloading is one of the hardest jobs in a warehouse, and that’s one of the reasons we’re starting there with Stretch,” says Kevin Blankespoor, senior vice president of warehouse robotics at Boston Dynamics. Blankespoor explains that Stretch isn’t meant to replace people entirely; the idea is that multiple Stretch robots could make a human worker an order of magnitude more efficient. “Typically, you’ll have two people unloading each truck. Where we want to get with Stretch is to have one person unloading four or five trucks at the same time, using Stretches as tools.” All Stretch needs is to be shown the back of a trailer packed with boxes, and it’ll autonomously go to work, placing each box on a conveyor belt one by one until the trailer is empty. People are still there to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and they can step in if Stretch runs into something that it can’t handle, but their full-time job becomes robot supervision instead of lifting heavy boxes all day.

Stretch is optimized for moving boxes, a task that’s required throughout a warehouse. Boston Dynamics hopes that over the longer term the robot will be flexible enough to put its box-moving expertise to use wherever it’s needed. In addition to unloading trucks, Stretch has the potential to unload boxes from pallets, put boxes on shelves, build orders out of multiple boxes from different places in a warehouse, and ultimately load boxes onto trucks, a much more difficult problem than unloading due to the planning and precision required. […] Boston Dynamics spent much of 2021 turning Stretch from a prototype, built largely from pieces designed for Atlas and Spot, into a production-ready system that will begin shipping to a select group of customers in 2022, with broader sales expected in 2023. For Blankespoor, that milestone will represent just the beginning. He feels that such robots are poised to have an enormous impact on the logistics industry.

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