Tag Archives: infants

Infant feeding bottles may release millions of microplastics during formula preparation

Credit: Pxfuel.

Most infant feeding bottles on the market across the world are either made of polypropylene or include polypropylene-based accessories. This is one of the most versatile types of plastic, due to its toughness, durability, and low cost. However, a new study found that the combination of hot water and mechanical shaking during the formula preparation process can cause the shedding of 1-16 million plastic microparticles per liter. It’s not clear at the moment if this is any cause of concern as the overall impact of microplastic ingestion on human health is unknown.

Microplastics and minihumans

Microplastics are any pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters. Due to rampant plastic pollution, these tiny fragments are virtually everywhere. According to a 2019 study, every liter of ocean water contains 8,300 microplastics. And since plastic virtually last forever, microplastic accumulation will increase sharply with our consumption of plastic and plastic-wrapped goods.

From the water, the microplastic is ingested by creatures and travels higher up the food chain, eventually ending up in humans. Despite the ubuiquitos nature of these environmental contaminants, little is known about the effects of microplastics in human health.

What’s certain is that it’s everywhere, and microplastics exposure may start from the time we’re babies.

In a new study, researchers at Trinity College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland modeled the potential global exposure of infants to microplatics. The team led by Dunzhu Li mined data on the sales of plastic infant formula bottles, finding that polypropilene bottles account for 82.5% of the global bottle market.

The researchers then purchased ten types of plastic bottles that covered nearly 68% of the global online infant feeding bottle market across 48 countries. They then prepared formula in each bottle using guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends mixing the formula with hot water at a minimum of 70°C in order to reduce bacterial loads. Tests were also performed with fluid at 25°C and 95°C.

Using an optical microscope, the researchers counted the number of particles caught in a filter. This analysis showed that the overall average daily consumption of microplastics by infants per capita was 1,580,000 particles per liter of formula, most of which were smaller than 20 micrometers. This exposure increases proportionately with temperature and varied wildly among the bottles, up to 16.2 million particles per liter.

“We were surprised by the quantity, and the temperature dependant nature of the results. Based on research that has been done previously looking at the degradation of plastics in the environment we had a suspicion that the quantities would be substantial – but I don’t think anyone expected the very high levels that we found,” the authors of the new study told ZME Science in an email.

The researchers, however, stress that parents shouldn’t be alarmed. For now, these findings don’t mean anything from a health standpoint.

“Around the potential health implications – the simple answer is – we just don’t know. This is a new and rapidly evolving area of research and the data on the potential impact on human health is not well developed. The indications from natural habitats, and in particular oceanic environments of microplastic (MP) and the impact on the ecology and health of the species we share the planet with would suggest that we should take steps to remedy MP release. This is an area of research we’re actively pursuing,” researchers said.

“Several studies have indicated that high exposure of Poly Styrene MPs could have an adverse impact on mice’ health. However, there is no data available around the impact of Poly Propylene -MPs on human health. Looking at the fate and transport of microplastics through the body is our next step. We are going to collaborate with colleagues in the areas off immunology and biochemistry to try to figure out the exact consequences, if any, of micro, and also, and very importantly, nanoplastics on the body. “

These findings show that the number of microplastics that infants are exposed to has been greatly underestimated, which should inform manufacturers to improve their standards. Ultimately, this is yet another reason for the removal of microplastics from the environment.

“This study is another piece of the puzzle that illustrates that microplastics problem is likely much bigger than we think. This issue is something we need to start really getting to grips with sooner rather than later,” said Prof. Oliver Jones, Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Associate Dean of Biosciences and Food Technology, RMIT University In Melbourne Australia, who was not involved in the study.

The findings appeared in Nature Food. .

Justice.

Infants expect leaders to right wrongs, and are surprised when they don’t

Infants look to leaders to keep the peace, a new study finds.

Justice.

Image via Pixabay.

Humans are very social creatures. Living in a group, however, invariably gives rise to some tension, conflict, and misdemeanor — and someone has to fix it. We have an innate understanding (and expectation) that this ‘someone’ is the leader of the group or some other kind of authority figure. New research shows that this understanding is baked into our hardware and that infants as young as 17 months of age expect leaders — but not others — to intervene when one member of their group transgresses against another.

I’m telling!

“We know that adults expect the leaders of social groups to intervene to stop within-group transgressions,” said Maayan Stavans, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Infant Cognition Lab and the paper’s lead author. “We wanted to know how early those expectations appear in human development, so we examined the question in very young children.”

The research was carried out in the lab of Renée Baillargeon, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois who led the research. The results add to a growing body of evidence showing that children have a well-developed understanding of social and power dynamics by their second year of life.

The team used a well-established method to gain insight into the reasoning of the children, who were too young to adequately express themselves verbally: infants tend to stare longer at events that develop in a way they didn’t expect, the team explains.

“By tracking how long children stare at different events, we gain insight into what they think,” Stavans said.

For the first two runs of the experiment, the researchers worked with 120 infants who sat comfortably in their parents’ laps and were shown a puppet play. These short skits involved bear puppets in two different scenarios: one involving a protagonist bear that two other bears treated as a leader, and the other a protagonist bear that appeared to have no authority over the other two bears. In both scenarios, the protagonist gave the other two bears toys for them to share, but one puppet quickly grabbed both for itself. Next, the protagonist would either rectify this (by redistributing the toys) or ignored the transgression (by approaching each bear without redistributing a toy).

“The scenarios differed in the status of the protagonist — was she a leader or not? — and in the protagonist’s response to the transgression — did she rectify the situation or ignore it?” Baillargeon said.

She explains that infants “stared longer” when the leader-protagonist ignored the wrongdoing rather than rectify it. This suggests they were expecting the leader to step up and intervene to right the injustice, and were surprised when it didn’t. The infants also stared for longer at the bear who took the toys than the victim bear when the leader ignored the event, likely to see what caused the leader’s reluctance to intervene.

On the other hand, the infants didn’t appear to show any surprise when the protagonist wasn’t a leader and didn’t address the wrongdoing. Infants consistently stared longer when leaders failed to act against wrongdoers, Stavans said. “But they held no particular expectation for intervention from nonleaders.”

In the third round of the experiment, one of the bears announced that it didn’t want a toy, and the other bear took both toys. In this case, the leader would either intervene to redistribute the toys or let the arrangement stand. The infants stared longer when the leader intervened to make sure that each bear had one toy.

“It was as if the infants understood that in this case there was no transgression, so they viewed it as overbearing for the leader to redistribute one of the toys to a bear who had made it clear she didn’t want one,” Stavans said.

“We knew from previous work that children this age have specific ideas about how followers will behave toward their leaders,” Baillargeon says. “Now we see that they also have complementary expectations about how leaders will behave toward their followers.”

The paper “Infants expect leaders to right wrongs” has been published in the journal PNAS.

Finally, a large-scale probiotics trial is successful — it combats infant sepsis

For all the air time they’re given, you’d expect probiotics to do wonders but the truth is rigorous studies to back up these claims have been few and far between. The concept seems sound, the theory is there, but practical results just haven’t been that convincing. Well, in the culmination of two decades’ work, Pinaki Panigrahi of the University of Nebraska Medical Center might have just convincingly proven that probiotics work at least in one area: they fight infant sepsis.

Understanding probiotics

It’s one of the few large-scale rigorous probiotic trials that reported great success. Image credits: Brian Gratwicke.

Probiotics are basically live microorganisms that allegedly provide health benefits when consumed. There are numerous commercial claims about the benefits of probiotics, including reducing gastrointestinal discomfort, improving immune health, relieving constipation, or avoiding the common cold. However, these claimed benefits have not been thoroughly proven (though they haven’t been disproven either).

Another problem, writes Ed Yong for The Atlantic, is that commercial strains of probiotics were chosen because they were easy to grow and manufacture, and not based on their performance in the human body. Most times, they completely fail to colonize the human body, becoming, as Yong puts it, a “breeze that blows between two open windows.” But again, since the concept seems sound, researchers haven’t given up on probiotics.

In a massive study, Dr. Panigrahi used them to tackle one of the biggest causes for infant mortality: sepsis.

“This is the largest clinical trial of probiotics in newborns funded by the National Institutes of Health,” Dr. Panigrahi said. The team enrolled more than 4,500 newborns from 149 villages in the Indian province of Odisha and followed them for their first 60 days, the most critical period when they get sick and die.

Fighting sepsis

The probiotic cocktail could save hundreds of thousands of infants in India alone. Image credits: Etan Sivad.

Sepsis arises when the body’s response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs. It’s estimated that sepsis kills around one million infants each year, mostly in developing countries. But it’s not just developing countries that are battling the problem. In the US, the inpatient cost for hospitals treating sepsis is nearly $24 billion each year.

Since 2008, Panigrahi and colleagues have been carrying a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. They traveled 149 villages in rural India, giving infants a concoction containing a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, chosen for its ability to attach to gut cells. The probiotic cocktail also contained sugar, which was meant to provide nutrients for the microorganisms and help them get a foothold inside the infants’ bodies. “It’s food for the bugs,” Panigrahi says.

The results were so successful that the study was stopped early — when results are so conclusive, studies are often stopped because it is considered unethical to keep adding people to the placebo group.

“We were concerned when the data safety and monitoring board stopped the study prematurely. We had enrolled just about half of our proposed subjects. Typically, a study is stopped when something is wrong.”

“But, it was a moment of superlative thrill when we learned it was stopped due to early efficacy. We were surprised a second time when the complete data analysis showed that respiratory tract infections also were reduced — something we did not anticipate in our population,” Dr. Panigrahi said.

Infants who were given the probiotic cocktail were 40% less likely to develop sepsis. Just 5.4 percent of the infants developed sepsis, compared to the 9% who were given a placebo. The probiotic formula could be a “very cheap oral sepsis vaccine,” Dr. Panigrahi said.

The benefits extend far beyond just saving lives. Infants who get sepsis can suffer from lingering damage their entire life, such as stunted growth and impaired cognitive function.

There are two directions for continuing the study. First, researchers want to try the same thing in different parts of the world, to see if there are cultural or environmental factors which affect the rate of success. Secondly, they want to understand the exact mechanism through which the cocktail fended off sepsis.

“This study has to be replicated in different countries and under different circumstances. We maintained tight controls on the administration of the synbiotic and conducted a rigorous follow-up which will not be available in real life,” he said.

“We have to find out why respiratory infections went down. How does this treatment affect the lungs?”

Journal Reference: Pinaki Panigrahi et al — A randomized synbiotic trial to prevent sepsis among infants in rural India. doi:10.1038/nature23480

Superbaby.

Six-month olds like people who protect the weak, suggesting we’re born with a love for superheroes

Humans may have an innate feel for ‘wrong’ and ‘right,’ new research suggests. The paper describes how infants seem to recognize heroic acts even before reaching verbal ages. This might also help explain the popularity heroes enjoy in cultures throughout the world.

Superbaby.

Image credits Andrew Bishop / Flickr.

There’s just something about heroes that make you go all fuzzy inside, isn’t there? From the Spartans in 300 to Batman, we look up to them and root for them through impossible odds and poorly lit alleyways. If you take a moment to think about it, though, those Spartans are doing the exact thing as the Persians — murdering the other guys. Batman himself is pretty shady too, blowing stuff up, kicking people left and right, and generally filling ER rooms to the brim while racking up a huge repairs bill for the city.

So why then do we root for them? Well, there is one thing that sets them apart from the other side — both Batman and the Spartans are doing what they do to defend the weak. According to researchers from Japan, his distinction is enough to turn our brains into groupies — even before we can speak.

M-m-mo-Batman

A team comprised of researchers from the Kyoto and Tokyo Universities led by Masako Myowa found that infants as young as six months of age — under the age of verbalization — show appreciation for figures who take action to protect others.

The study included 132 infants of various age, but the most interesting findings of the study came from work performed with infants under the age of vocalization. Twenty such infants were shown a series of animations with one sphere-with-eyes chasing and then colliding with a similar sphere. A third actor, “a colored cubic geometric agent with eyes” was shown watching this interaction from a distance. The character was represented in a different color depending on what course of action it would take — one version of the animation has this third party intervene following the bump by placing itself between the spheres, and in the other, he simply leaves without taking any action to defend the victim.

After viewing the animation, the infants were given replicas of the intervening and non-intervening character to chose between. Out of the 20 six-month-old infants, 17 chose the green (interfering) cube over the orange (non-interfering) cube. The researchers controlled for differences in attention length — such as the infants looking more at the green cube than the other — and reported “no significant differences for looking time between animations either for the peripheral [or center] area of interest.”

Experiment.

I’d watch this show.
Image credits Kanakogi et al., (2017), Nature.

So the babies allowed both actors the same level of scrutiny and paid both the same amount of attention, but overwhelmingly chose the interfering cube — suggesting a clear preference for this actor based on his action. Since the researchers were working with babies under the age of vocalization, there was a chance they couldn’t distinguish between an accident and a willing act of aggression. So the team performed the experiment again to see if the infants showed preference to the green cube because he merely stopped an unpleasant event, or because he was taking an active social role in protecting someone.

“It is possible that infants in our study regarded the interaction between the spherical figures in mere physical rather than socially aggressive (animate) terms, and as a result preferred the agent that stopped the negative physical event rather than the aggressive interaction per se,” the team writes.

“[So] we eliminated the perceivable ‘social animacy or agency’ of both the interacting spheres by making them appear as if they (i) had no eyes (rather than having eyes), (ii) were non-self-propelled (rather than self-propelled), and (iii) involved no distortion on contact (rather than showing distortion on contact).”

This second experiment also included 20 (new) 6-month-old infants, and they evenly selected between the two cubes — 10 picks for each of them. Just like with the first experiment, there were “no significant differences for looking times between animations.” The third experiment tested whether the infants were choosing the green cube because “he was social”, as it engaged with the spheres regardless if their interaction was negative or positive — and this wasn’t the case.

In short, it seems that there is an innate sense of justice in humans, which only grows more nuanced and complex as infants grow and understand more about justice. The team’s next goal is to track how this understanding develops over time.

“In this study, six-month-olds didn’t show a preference for intentional help over accidental help, whereas ten-month-olds did,” says Professor Myowa.

The paper “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

 

Captioned: Satan

The world’s most annoying sound: whining

Captioned: Satan

Captioned: Satan

Ghastly nails on a blackboard or deafening sires don’t come any close to a infant’s whining as far as annoying sounds are concerned, according to a recent study from SUNY New Paltz.

In a fairly simple approach, researchers asked study participants to solve various math problems while a background noise was playing. Six sounds were chosen, namely screeching saw on wood, machine noise, a baby crying, the always annoying adult mimicking baby talk and, of course, whining, for a whole minute each. The highest scores were received by noises which lead to the most errors in computations.

Interestingly enough, the whining sound was voiced by an adult actor.

Subjects chosen for the study were both male and female, parents and non-parents. The results were posted in the The results, published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology, where they researchers concluded that “you are basically doing less work and doing it worse” when listening to whines.

Speaking to MSNBC, Rosemarie Sokol Chang, a psychologist involved in the study, said: “It’s telling you to tune in. Nobody wants to sit around and listen to a fire engine siren either, but if you hear the siren go off, it gets your attention. It has to be annoying like that, and it’s the same with the whine.”

Ignoring the noise won’t help one bit, either. Researchers say that only makes it worse.

What’s the most annoying sound in the world for you guys?

via Wired