STDs out of control in US + Tiny animal hairs could act as sensitive compass needles

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Tiny animal hairs could act as sensitive compass needles

RELEASE: Statistical mechanics shows that some animals may be able to perceive Earth's magnetic field with bundles of microscopic hairs in their inner ears.

The exact mechanisms animals use to sense the direction of Earth's magnetic field have long remained a mystery. One leading theory suggests that this ability is tied to bundles of microscopic hair cells in the inner ears. Through new research published in The European Physical Journal Special Topics, Kirill Kavokin at St Petersburg State University, Russia, uses statistical analysis to show that just about 100 of these hair cells could act as effective biological compass needles, allowing animals to accurately sense the magnetic field surrounding them.

Named "magnetoreception," this unique sensing ability is found across a wide array of vertebrate species: from migrating birds to burrowing rodents. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this ability—but despite over 50 years of research, none of these have yet been definitively observed in nature.

One leading theory is based on bundles of hair cells in the inner ear, named "stereocilia." According to this idea, stereocilia are attached to nanocrystals of magnetite: an iron-based mineral which can become permanently magnetized, aligning itself with Earth's magnetic field. As the animal's orientation changes, magnetite would then force changes in the orientations of the stereocilia attached to it. These changes could then be picked up by mechanoreceptors: nerve cells which can detect mechanical pressure—providing the animal with a physical sensation of a magnetic field. Still, it is uncertain whether these nerve cells are sensitive enough to detect such subtle changes.

To explore this idea further, Kavokin studied the fluctuations of stereocilia under the framework of statistical mechanics, which applies the mathematical language of statistics to large groups of microscopic objects.

Through his analysis, Kavokin showed that stereocilia bundles can indeed act as highly sensitive compass needles, with just around 100 hair cells needed for mechanoreceptors to pick up their fluctuations. This intriguing result could bring biologists a step closer to understanding the origins of magnetoreception, and finally identifying the mechanisms responsible in nature.

America's sexually transmitted disease problem is 'out of control'

INTRO: Sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. are at a crisis point. On Monday, prominent public health experts and government officials raised an alarm over the ongoing annual rise in STDs. Preliminary data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia all went up last year.

This week the CDC and the National Coalition of STD Directors are hosting their regular STD Prevention Conference, which occurs every two years and is virtual this year due to the covid-19 pandemic. But while the conference is intended to highlight promising technological advances and initiatives, speakers have been quick to point out that the current status quo is quite dire.

"It is imperative that we... work to rebuild, innovate, and expand [STD] prevention in the U.S.,” said Leandro Mena, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, in his speech Monday, according to Associated Press reporting. In another speech, David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, went as far as to call the problem “out of control.”

Earlier this month, the CDC released preliminary 2021 figures from its ongoing STD surveillance data. There were at least 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in the U.S. during 2021, the three major STDs that doctors and local health departments are obligated to track and report (other serious STDs such as HIV or hepatitis B are tracked as well, but their numbers are analyzed and reported elsewhere).

These case counts are known to be an underestimate, since not all infections cause symptoms and many people do not get regularly tested for STDs... (MORE - details)

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