Violent crime rates increase with exposure to air pollution

via Colorado State University

Breathing dirty air can make you sick. But according to new research, it can also make you more aggressive.

That’s the conclusion from a set of studies recently authored by Colorado State University researchers in economics, atmospheric science and statistics. Together, the team found strong links between short-term exposure to air pollution and aggressive behavior, in the form of aggravated assaults and other violent crimes across the continental United States.

The results, derived from daily Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics and an eight-year, detailed map of daily U.S. air pollution, will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

The paper’s lead author is Jesse Burkhardt, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, who teamed up with fellow economist Jude Bayham in the same department; Ander Wilson in the Department of Statistics; and several air pollution experts in civil engineering and atmospheric science.

The CSU researchers cross-analyzed three highly detailed datasets: daily criminal activity from the National Incident-Based Reporting System managed by the FBI; daily, county-level air pollution from 2006-2013 collected by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors; and daily data on wildfire smoke plumes from satellite imagery provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hazard Mapping System.

Air pollution scientists typically measure rates of pollution through concentrations of ozone, as well as of “PM2.5,” or breathable particulate matter 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller, which has documented associations with health effects.

Defining violent crime

Eighty-three percent of crimes considered “violent” by the FBI are categorized as assaults in crime databases. In the researchers’ study, they observed whether crimes occurred inside or outside the home; they found that 56 percent of violent crimes and 60 percent of assaults occurred within the home, which is an indication that many such crimes are tied to domestic violence.

The research results show a 10 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in same-day exposure to PM2.5 is associated with a 1.4% increase in violent crimes, nearly all of which is driven by crimes categorized as assaults. Researchers also found that a 0.01 parts-per-million increase in same-day exposure to ozone is associated with a 0.97% increase in violent crime, or a 1.15% increase in assaults. Changes in these air pollution measures had no statistically significant effect on any other category of crime.

“We’re talking about crimes that might not even be physical – you can assault someone verbally,” co-author Bayham said. “The story is, when you’re exposed to more pollution, you become marginally more aggressive, so those altercations – some things that may not have escalated – do escalate.”

The researchers made no claims on the physiological, mechanistic relationship of how exposure to pollution leads someone to become more aggressive; their results only show a strong correlative relationship between such crimes and levels of air pollution.

The researchers were careful to correct for other possible explanations, including weather, heat waves, precipitation, or more general, county-specific confounding factors.

The team published a companion paper in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy with similar results that used monthly crime statistics. A third paper in Epidemiologywith lead author Jesse Berman at University of Minnesota and co-authors from CSU, used EPA pollution monitor databases and different statistical techniques and came to similar conclusions.

Overlaying air pollution, crime

The tool that allowed the team to overlay crime data with pollution data was originally used in collaboration with CSU epidemiologist Sheryl Magzamen to study health effects from air pollution, explained co-author Jeff Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science and a Monfort Professor. Pierce, associate professor Emily Fischer and researchers Kate O’Dell and Bonne Ford, had previously worked with Magzamen to detail how smoke and particulate matter exposure correlated with things like hospitalizations and asthma inhaler refills.

Burkhardt had been wanting to study whether breathing smoke could enact behavioral change when he met atmopsheric scientist Pierce.

“Several years ago, Fort Collins experienced a fairly severe wildfire season,” Burkhardt said. “The smoke was so bad that after a few days, I started to get frustrated, and I wondered if frustration and aggression would show up in aggregate crime data.”

Pierce recognized that the pollution-concentration product he and colleagues had designed, which provided detailed concentrations of total particulate matter and the fraction from smoke, would be useful for Burkhardt’s desired application.

“The results are fascinating, and also scary,” Pierce said. “When you have more air pollution, this specific type of crime, domestic violent crime in particular, increases quite significantly.”

The economists calculated that a 10 percent reduction in daily PM2.5 could save $1.4 billion in crime costs per year, which they called a “previously overlooked cost associated with pollution.”

The authors remain interested in the relationships between pollution and cognitive outcomes, Burkhardt said. They are now working with a large online chess platform to determine if increased pollution exposure is correlated with worse chess performance.

Partnership for Air Quality, Climate and Health

The results are just one outcome of CSU’s philosophy around “cluster hiring” faculty from disparate fields to study interdisciplinary problems. In this case, several of the researchers came to CSU under the Partnership for Air Quality, Climate and Health initiative launched several years ago by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Learn more: Exposure to air pollution increases violent crime rates, study finds

 

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Could microscopic soil roundworm compounds really protect major crops from pests and pathogens?

Protecting crops from pests and pathogens without using toxic pesticides has been a longtime goal of farmers. Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute have found that compounds from an unlikely source – microscopic soil roundworms – could achieve this aim.

As described in research published in the May 2019 issue of Journal of Phytopathology, these compounds helped protect major crops from various pathogens, and thus have potential to save billions of dollars and increase agricultural sustainability around the world.

Led by BTI Senior Research Associate Murli Manohar, a team around Professors Daniel Klessig and Frank Schroeder investigated the effects of a roundworm metabolite called ascr#18 on plant health.

Ascr#18 is a member of the ascaroside family of pheromones, which are produced by many soil-dwelling species of roundworms for chemical communication.

The researchers treated soybean (Glycine max), rice (Oryza sativa), wheat (Triticum aestivum) and maize (Zea mays) plants with small amounts of ascr#18, and then infected the plants with a virus, bacteria, fungus or oocmycete.

When examined several days later, the ascr#18-treated plants were significantly more resistant to the pathogens compared with untreated plants.

“Plant roots are constantly exposed to roundworms in the soil, so it makes sense that plants have evolved to sense the pest and prime their immune systems in anticipation of being attacked,” says Schroeder.

Because they boost plants’ immune systems instead of killing pests and pathogens, ascarosides are not pesticides. As a result, they are likely to be much safer than many current means of pest and pathogen control.

“Ascarosides are natural compounds that appear to be safe to plants, animals, humans and the environment,” says Klessig. “I believe they could thus provide plants more environmentally friendly protection against pests and pathogens.”

In previous work, Klessig and Schroeder demonstrated that ascr#18 and other ascarosides increased resistance against pest and pathogens in tomato, potato, barley and Arabidopsis.

“By expanding the work to major crops, and concentrating on their most significant pathogens, this study establishes the potential for ascarosides to enhance agriculture production worldwide,” says Klessig.

Indeed, rice is the world’s most important staple food for nearly half of the global population. Ascr#18 provided protection against Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae, a bacterium that causes yield losses of 10-50% in Asian countries.

Wheat is close behind rice in importance as a food staple, and ascr#18 protected it against Zymoseptoria tritici, a fungus that is one of the most severe foliar diseases of the crop.

Maize is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas with great importance for food, biofuel and animal feed. Ascr#18 provided protection against Cochliobolus heterostrophus, a fungal pathogen that causes southern corn leaf blight.

“This study establishes the potential for ascarosides to enhance agriculture production worldwide.” – Daniel KlessigSoybean is a major high-protein, oil-rich seed crop used as a food source for humans and animals. Ascr#18 protected soybeans against Phytophthora sojae, an oomycete that can kill infected plants in days, as well as the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv glycinea and Soybean Mosaic Virus.

Extremely small concentrations of ascarosides are sufficient to provide plants with resistance against pathogens. Interestingly, the optimal concentration appears to be dependent on the plant species and not the pathogen.

The researchers believe the reason that different plant species have different optimal dosages is likely related to the plant cell’s receptors for ascr#18. Different plant species may express different amounts of ascr#18 receptors, and receptors may have varying affinities for ascarosides. Such differences would affect the amount of ascr#18 needed to trigger the plant’s immune systems.

The group is now working to determine the molecular mechanisms of how ascarosides prime the plant’s immune systems.

Learn more: Worm Pheromones Protect Major Crops

 

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Another step toward a future of high-performance, biorenewable, biodegradable plastics

Research scientist Xiaoyan Tang

Colorado State University polymer chemists have taken another step toward a future of high-performance, biorenewable, biodegradable plastics.

Publishing in Nature Communicationsthe team led by Professor of Chemistry Eugene Chen describes chemical synthesis of a polymer called bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) ­– or P3HB. The compound shows early promise as a substitute for petroleum plastics in major industrial uses.

P3HB is a biomaterial, typically produced by bacteria, algae and other microorganisms, and is used in some biomedical applications. Its high production costs and limited volumes render the material impractical in more widespread commodity applications, however.

The team, which includes the paper’s first author and research scientist Xiaoyan Tang, used a starting material called succinate, an ester form of succinic acid. This acid is produced via fermentation of glucose and is first on the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of top 12 biomass-derived compounds best positioned to replace petroleum-derived chemicals.

The researchers’ new chemical synthesis route produces P3HB that’s similar in performance to bacterial P3HB, but their route is faster and offers potential for larger-scale, cost-effective production for commodity plastic applications. This new route is enabled by a class of powerful new catalysts they have designed and synthesized. They have filed a provisional patent through CSU Ventures for the new technology.

Read more about this team’s role in creating greener polymers for a more sustainable future.

Learn more: Biorenewable, biodegradable plastic alternative synthesized by CSU chemists

 

 

 

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A new kind of antibacterial surface that prevents infections and reduces our reliance on antibiotics

Scanning electron microscope images of (a) the chitosan film, (b) the chitosan-copper metal organic framework film at 500x magnification, (c) the chitosan-copper metal organic framework film at a higher magnification, and (d) an X-ray image of the film that shows the copper in pink.

By some estimates, bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics ­– so-called superbugs – will cause more deaths than cancer by 2050.

Colorado State University biomedical and chemistry researchers are using creative tactics to subvert these superbugs and their mechanisms of invasion. In particular, they’re devising new ways to keep harmful bacteria from forming sticky matrices called biofilms – and to do it without antibiotic drugs.

bacteria illustration

An artist’s representation of bacteria (purple) being compromised by a chitosan-metal organic framework film. Credit: Colorado State University/Advanced Functional Materials

Researchers from the laboratory of Melissa Reynolds, associate professor of chemistry and the School of Biomedical Engineering, have created a new material that inhibits biofilm formation of the virulent superbug Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Their material, described in Advanced Functional Materials, could form the basis for a new kind of antibacterial surface that prevents infections and reduces our reliance on antibiotics.

Bella Neufeld, the first author and graduate student who led the research, explained that her passion for finding new ways to fight superbugs is motivated by how adaptive and impenetrable they are, especially when they are allowed to form biofilms.

“Biofilms are nasty once they form, and incredibly difficult to get rid of,” Neufeld said.

When bacteria attach

Many people picture bacteria and other microorganisms in their friendlier, free-floating state – like plankton swimming in a high school petri dish. But when bacteria are able to attach to a surface and form a biofilm, they become stronger and more resistant to normal drugs.

In a classic example, cystic fibrosis patients are sickened by hordes of P. aeruginosa bacteria forming a sticky film on the endothelial cells of the patients’ lungs. Once those bacteria attach, drugs won’t kill them.

Or, a wound can become infected with a bacterial biofilm, making it more difficult for that wound to heal.

Reynolds’ research group makes biocompatible devices and materials that resist infection and won’t be rejected by the body. In this most recent work, they’ve designed a material with inherent properties that keep a bacterial film from forming in the first place.

85 percent reduction

In the lab, they demonstrated an 85 percent reduction in P. aeruginosa biofilm adhesion. They conducted extensive studies showing the reusability of their film. This indicated that its antibacterial properties are driven by something inherent in the material, so its efficacy wouldn’t fade in a clinical setting.

They used a material they’ve worked with before for other antimicrobial applications, a copper-based metal-organic framework that’s stable in water. They embedded the copper metal-organic framework within a matrix of chitosan, a material derived from the polysaccharide chitin, which makes up insect wings and shrimp shells. Chitosan is already widely used as a wound dressing and hemostatic agent.

Neufeld says the new biomaterial could form new avenues for antibacterial surfaces. For example, the material could be used for a wound dressing that, instead of gauze, would be made of the chitosan matrix.

Learn more: Bacterial biofilms, begone

 

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A superhemophobic titanium surface extremely repellent to blood could lead to safer medical implants

Blood, plasma and water droplets beading on a superomniphobic surface. CSU researchers have created a superhemophobic titanium surface, repellent to blood, that has potential applications for biocompatible medical devices.

Medical implants like stents, catheters and tubing introduce risk for blood clotting and infection – a perpetual problem for many patients.

Colorado State University engineers offer a potential solution: A specially grown, “superhemophobic” titanium surface that’s extremely repellent to blood. The material could form the basis for surgical implants with lower risk of rejection by the body.

Biomedical, materials approaches

It’s an outside-the-box innovation achieved at the intersection of two disciplines: biomedical engineering and materials science. The work, recently published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, is a collaboration between the labs of Arun Kota, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering; and Ketul Popat, associate professor in the same departments.

Kota, an expert in novel, “superomniphobic” materials that repel virtually any liquid, joined forces with Popat, an innovator in tissue engineering and bio-compatible materials. Starting with sheets of titanium, commonly used for medical devices, their labs grew chemically altered surfaces that act as perfect barriers between the titanium and blood. Their teams conducted experiments showing very low levels of platelet adhesion, a biological process that leads to blood clotting and eventual rejection of a foreign material.

Chemical compatibility

A material “phobic” (repellent) to blood might seem counterintuitive, the researchers say, as often biomedical scientists use materials “philic” (with affinity) to blood to make them biologically compatible. “What we are doing is the exact opposite,” Kota said. “We are taking a material that blood hates to come in contact with, in order to make it compatible with blood.” The key innovation is that the surface is so repellent, that blood is tricked into believing there’s virtually no foreign material there at all.

The undesirable interaction of blood with foreign materials is an ongoing problem in medical research, Popat said. Over time, stents can form clots, obstructions, and lead to heart attacks or embolisms. Often patients need blood-thinning medications for the rest of their lives – and the drugs aren’t foolproof.

“The reason blood clots is because it finds cells in the blood to go to and attach,” Popat said. “Normally, blood flows in vessels. If we can design materials where blood barely contacts the surface, there is virtually no chance of clotting, which is a coordinated set of events. Here, we’re targeting the prevention of the first set of events.”

The researchers analyzed variations of titanium surfaces, including different textures and chemistries, and they compared the extent of platelet adhesion and activation. Fluorinated nanotubes offered the best protection against clotting, and they plan to conduct follow-up experiments.

Growing a surface and testing it in the lab is only the beginning, the researchers say. They want to continue examining other clotting factors, and eventually, to test real medical devices.

Learn more: Blood-repellent materials: A new approach to medical implants

 

 

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