NASA finds alien life—In its own backyard
NASA may have to upgrade its facilities unless it wants to spread invasive species to the stars. A new study of three of the space agency's clean rooms, where workers assemble spacecraft, has uncovered more than 100 types of bacteria, nearly half of which were previously unknown, the New York Times reports. Some were common bugs such as staph, but others were extremophiles that have evolved to extract nutrients from the air or paint. Researchers told the Times that the findings should help interpret tests for life on other planets and moons. Let's just hope NASA's stowaways don't return to the home world as killers. (New York Times; FEMS Microbiology Ecology)
All we are is dust from a black hole
Black holes may have a rep as the ultimate vacuum cleaners, but a new study finds that these galactic gobblers can belch dust with the best of them. With luck, the discovery will explain the puzzling profusion of dust bunnies—the raw material for stars, planets and life—that clouded the early universe, before the usual source of such motes—dying stars—made the scene. Researchers suspected that the culprit might be quasars, the powerful explosions fueled by gas swirling around energetic, supermassive black holes. Now astronomers have detected flakes of sapphire and ruby, along with other space crumbs, blowing from the quasar PG2112+059 some eight billion light-years away. Although the object dates to well after the universe's first days, astronomers say they may be well on their way to busting the dust mystery. (press release)
Why we love chocolate
Hey, chocolate lovers, ever wonder why you can't resist the stuff? Could be a gut reaction—Literally. A small, new study says that people who crave chocolate daily may harbor certain bacteria that make it irresistible to them. Researchers at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, report in the Journal of Proteome Research that chocolate junkies have different colonies of bacteria than people who are able to resist the sweet indulgence. The good news: chocolate lovers also had lower levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol. (The Journal of Proteome Research)
The kiss of death?
Consider this next time you slather on red lipstick: The Food and Drug Administration says it is probing findings by an independent lab that certain crimson glosses it tested contain potentially dangerous levels of lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says that a third of 33 red lipsticks (purchased in Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Hartford, Conn.) examined contained lead levels exceeding 0.1 part per million, the FDA's upper limit for lead in candy. There are currently no FDA regs governing lead in lipstick, and the lobby hopes the findings will pressure makeup manufacturers to replace toxic chemicals in their products with safer alternatives. The cosmetic industry downplayed the findings, acknowledging "negligible" levels of lead in some lipsticks, but insisting it was neither intentional nor dangerous. "Consumers are exposed daily to lead," John Bailey, an executive vice president at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association told the Associated Press, "The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards." Small comfort. (The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association)