Using new genetic testing tools to break open cold cases, the link between prescription opioids and community-acquired pneumonia, and how the government shutdown is affecting U. S. science.

As shutdown continues, so does damage to U.S. science

(Washington Post, 1/9/2019, Ben Guarino, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sarah Kaplan & Lenny Bernstein)

Of the 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay, thousands are researchers. These include agency scientists at the Agriculture Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, which were separately funded through September, are almost entirely safe from this shutdown.) Furloughed government scientists are banned from any form of work activity — they cannot so much as open an email. Scientists will miss critical research windows, such as the emergence of seasonal insects or rare celestial phenomena, as the shutdown continues. Those missed opportunities and delays are stacking up. At the start of a new year, NOAA releases U.S. average temperatures for the previous year. The data for 2018 are not yet available.

Prescription Opioids May Raise Pneumonia Risk

(U.S. News & World Report, 1/10/2019, Robert Preidt)

People who are prescribed opioids to reduce pain are at a greater risk of developing pneumonia, according to a study led by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine. The drugs tend to weaken the immune system and are especially risky for patients with HIV. Those who take codeine, fentanyl and morphine are particularly susceptible to being less able to fight off bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, the study found. For the study, the team analyzed data from U.S. patients with and without HIV who were treated at Veterans Affairs medical facilities between 2000 and 2012. Patients prescribed medium or high doses of opioid painkillers had a higher risk of pneumonia than those who did not take the medications, the findings showed. The risk was highest among those who took immunosuppressive opioids, such as codeine, fentanyl and morphine. Patients with HIV were more likely to develop pneumonia even when taking low doses of opioids, and especially if they took immunosuppressive opioids, the investigators found.

How your at-home DNA test results could solve cold cases

(Washington Post, 1/10/2019, Daron Taylor and Taylor Turner)

For the past few decades, forensic DNA matching techniques have been used to make direct matches between a sample taken at a crime scene and a suspect who has been identified in a database. Researchers are taking this to the next level by going backward in time a bit. Cold cases are being solved using an investigative technique called “genetic genealogy,” a blend of DNA analysis and old-fashioned archival research used to point investigators in the direction of a person of interest in a criminal case. The linchpin of genetic genealogy is actually a simple Internet search: An investigator uploads anonymous genetic data from a crime scene into an open-access genetic genealogy database, such as GEDmatch.com for example, and runs a comparison. Once the results are in, getting from that initial match to a person of interest takes a lot of legwork. It requires a genealogist searching through birth records, newspaper archives and social media to build out an extensive family tree based on a common ancestor. Then researchers follow branches of that tree forward in time to the present day, to find the right person who was in the area of the crime and whose age and physical characteristics match the description of the perpetrator.

 

—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola