Yeast Superbug, Dino Dinner, Toxic Algae. July 20, 2018, Part 1 | WBEZ
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Science Friday

Yeast Superbug, Dino Dinner, Toxic Algae. July 20, 2018, Part 1

If you hear the word “superbug,” you’re likely to think about drug-resistant bacteria or even viruses. But in a case that’s been unfolding since 2009, a drug-resistant yeast is increasingly worrying epidemiologists. The yeast, Candida auris, has popped up in 27 countries so far, with 340 cases in the United States. It has a mortality rate of 60 percent. Unlike other kinds of fungal infection, C. auris seems able to hop from person to person and persists on sterile surfaces. Inconveniently, the yeast’s spores are unusually resilient against standard hospital cleaning solutions. On top of that, it’s already resistant to most of the anti-fungal drugs in existence—there weren’t many of those to being with. Science writer Maryn McKenna and CDC Chief of Mycotic Diseases Tom Chiller joins Ira to discuss the underestimated risks of fungi and how health systems can combat them.

One-hundred fifty million years ago, long-necked sauropods roamed the planet munching on plants and trees. Some of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs could grow up to 115 feet and weigh 80 tons. A team of scientists wanted to see how much nutrition this vegetarian diet provided for the dinosaurs. The group grew horsetails, ginkgos, and other plants similar to Mesozoic vegetation under high levels of carbon dioxide to mimic the atmosphere of the era. Paleontologist Fiona Gill, who is an author on that study, talks about what we know about dinosaur digestion and how this could be used to model other ancient ecosystems.

Mary Radabaugh peers over her mask at the toxic algae spread across Haney Creek off of the St. Lucie River in Florida. “You can see the flies that are on the top of it. They’re eating the rot so that’s like the sewage that is out there. You can see the big brown spots that look like sewage.” Here boats bob sadly in the blue-green algae that if ingested can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting and even can affect the liver and nervous system. But for Radabaugh that hardly is the worst of it, which is why she wears the paper mask over her mouth and nose. “The smell is comparable to a Port-O-Let that’s been sitting in the hot sun for about three months. It’s really probably the worst smell you’ve ever smelled.”  The toxic algae bloom is the worst in modern history here where the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Atlantic Ocean converge. Some 160 billion gallons of polluted water have been flushed from a rain-swollen Lake Okeechobee to the area since January, triggering the widespread bloom that has prompted emergency declarations in three counties.

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