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Happy Threesome

Fear of spiders is based, at least in part, on the fact that a few of them can bite us. When they do, it can hurt. A lot. But did you know spider venom is actually being studied as a painkiller?

Scientists around the globe are looking to venom — from spiders and other sources — as a new, non-addictive drug for blocking pain. Spiders (and other poisonous animals) use their venom to subdue their prey, which can include other arthropods, birds and mammals. Peptides in the venom thereby target a lot of enzymes and cell receptors in a wide range of animals. And this can be exploited for good!

Based on the vast number of spider species (100,000-ish) and the complex nature of their venom, scientists think there could be upward of 12 million types of spider-venom peptides, which could be used for drug research to fight chronic pain. How would this work?

Pain usually means something is wrong, but for people suffering from chronic pain — like from arthritis, cancer or other illnesses — powerful pain blockers are the only thing that help. Some chronic pain relievers block sodium channels, which are pathways in the nervous system that can generate pain signals. One of these blockers is probably familiar: Lidocaine, which you get at the dentist when you have a cavity that needs drilling. But blockers have to target the right channels. Other sodium channels affect your heart and other nerves, and you do not want a painkiller to interfere with those.

That’s where spider peptide comes in. While most pain relief drugs take a shotgun approach, venom-based molecules can zero in on a single channel or enzyme. Though this evolved for the more nefarious purpose of subduing and paralyzing prey, it could also stop pain in its tracks. Researchers are still trying to figure out how to tweak spider venoms to avoid affecting heart function and other muscles, however.

The benefits of spider venom extend beyond pain relief in people. Dr Maggie Hardy at the University of Queensland in Australia is working on spider venom-based treatments for your pets, too. Ticks and fleas are evolving resistance to the common pesticides you might squeeze onto Fido’s back, so new treatments are necessary. Hardy isolated two compounds from the Australian tarantula that show promise for killing fleas and ticks, according to UQ.

Spiders are hardly the only eek animals whose poison can do double-duty as a potent painkiller. Venom from several species of snakes, including the black mamba and the Malayan pit viper, are thought to have beneficial effects. Viper venom has anticoagulant and anti-constriction properties, so it could be used to design blood thinners or drugs that could lower blood pressure. This might help stroke patients and people with hypertension, among others.

More recently, scientists in Australia and China found venom from the red-headed centipede is a more powerful painkiller than morphine, and has no side effects, unlike some spider venoms. So next time you claim to hate all bitey bugs, think twice — they could be more beneficial than you thought.

More information on sodium channels and pain.

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How Veteran Teachers Make Large Classrooms Feel More Manageable

Teachers rarely get a say in the size of their classes. Smaller classes are ideal—they reduce take-home work, make differentiation simpler, and allow teachers to allocate more time to individual students. But for reasons outside of teachers’ control they’re also increasingly rare. Small classrooms are also more expensive, and in many states, student rosters can quickly balloon to 30 or more pupils per class, posing a special challenge. 

Namely, if the reality is 25 or 30 students at a time, how do you manage them effectively?

One solution, according to veteran teachers, is to identify classroom management strategies that  scale, recognizing that certain things like building strong one-on-one relationships and providing feedback will be a challenge and might require tactical adjustments. The key is to enforce a consistent set of rules and expectations so students quickly learn classroom norms and learn how to navigate them successfully.

1. An Ounce of Prevention

With large classrooms, prevention is the best medicine: Expectations are more frequently met when they’re set early in the school year and time is allotted to go over them together. In addition to knowing what the rules of the classroom are at the outset, students should also understand the consequences of breaking them. 

“The idea is to set up a classroom management plan ahead of time,” explains Michael Linsin, a longtime teacher, author, and founder of Smart Classroom Management, which promotes a “warm demander” approach: pairing a teacher’s caring, inviting demeanor with a readily-accessible, firmly-applied list of classroom rules and consequences for misbehavior, such as warnings, time outs, and letters home. 

Don Doehla, a retired French teacher in Northern California who now trains teachers as co-director of the Berkeley World Language Project, has found success with another approach: Co-creating classroom agreements with students as a way to promote buy-in. Inevitably, he says, students would suggest the same sort of expectations year after year: be on time, respect one another, bring everything you need for class. Afterward, they would talk about consequences.

“I would always ask, ‘Can you live with these? Are they fair?’” he says. “And pretty often they ask, ‘Well, what about you? Do you have to keep the agreements too?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I really think that matters because I’m a human being just like them. We can all make mistakes.” 

This process helped in that his students invariably began to watch over their own behavior, and hold each other accountable—an invaluable asset in large classes that often reached the contract maximum of 36 students.

Such a model, which requires students to engage in critical thinking on the broad underlying principles around classroom norms, encourages “a kind of running metacognitive discussion that is always evaluating behavior,” writes English and Philosophy teacher David Tow. It can also lead to worthwhile conversations that unpack specific instances of behavior, such as what it looks like when a principle is violated, which Tow adds is a “very sophisticated conversation for a high school student to have.”

2. Use Tech to Scale Community

While building personal relationships in large classrooms is certainly a challenge, online survey tools like Google Forms can scale quickly, allowing teachers to take quick temperature checks or ask in-depth questions. In an effort to learn more about her students’ lives and identities, educator Tara Olagaray created a 15-minute confidential cultural response survey asking about students’ home life, hobbies, and attitudes toward school. 

Beyond learning more about her students as individuals, Olagaray began weaving their interests into lessons as a way to create a more cohesive classroom community. A few tips: Write open-ended questions—such as “What are the top five things I need to know about you?”—that give students space to express themselves fully. Assure students their answers are always confidential. And finally, consider modeling what a good survey response looks like by answering the questions yourself, suggests math teacher Emma Chiappetta (who has compiled a full list of dos and don’ts for getting-to-know-you surveys). 

Other teachers center their online surveys around student social-emotional wellbeing, daily reflections, and even the seating chart. After years of designing seating charts that separated friends to reduce distraction, longtime middle school teacher (and current instructional coach) Laura Bradley did an about-face and started asking students via a Google form questionnaire about who they wanted to sit close to, and who they probably shouldn’t. “They  are so much happier and so much more likely to turn and look at me than if they’re trying to get someone’s attention across the room,” she says. “It changes the culture of the classroom.”

3. The Power of Good Openers

There’s no one right way to begin a class period—but it helps to be consistent. Students are often calmer when they know exactly what is required of them when there is a consistent opening routine or immediate expectation, explains educator Rebecca Alber. 

In large classes prone to restlessness, some teachers give students a chance to talk or blow off steam before transitioning into well-structured opening activities. Doehla made a deal with his students, who often wanted to race each other around the room using the wheels on their chairs. They could race each other as much as they liked, he recalls, as long as they transitioned to academic time smoothly and were ready to learn.

Similarly, middle school math teacher Jay Wamsted introduces a fun conversation starter he calls a cold open, typically an unrelated poll or meme to get students talking, followed by an attendance question that lets them share something with the class about themselves or give an opinion. Taken together, they help spark curiosity, give kids a chance to settle in, and prime students for the day’s lesson.

Former high school teacher Ronen Habib took a more direct approach, opening his lessons with activities focused on social-emotional learning, well-being, or mindfulness. He favored gratitude circles, lighthearted and interactive warm-up games, or quiet mindfulness breaks. 

Finally, over the course of her 30 year career, Bradley estimates that she must have tried “a million different ways” to start class. Eventually, she settled on silent reading time followed by a whole-class read aloud and the direct instruction for the day. “It became really valuable to start class with some quiet and having them doing what I would want them to do in the real world as an English teacher, which is to read such a good book that you get lost in it.”

4. Meaningful Greetings

Research shows that greeting students individually at the beginning of class can increase engagement and improve behavior by establishing “a positive classroom climate in which students feel a sense of connection and belonging,” according to the authors of a 2023 study. 

At the start of every class period, David Tow shook each student’s hand and asked them how they were doing. Even when their answers were generic, their tone and body language often gave him insights into their mindset. Additionally, it reinforces that “an adult in their life cares about their well-being,” Tow writes, “and the research strongly supports that position.” 

5. Explicit Directions Yield Greater Focus

When students don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, they’ll often use it as an excuse to not do much of anything. Clear and precise instructions, however, get students on task a lot faster. “They need to have super clear directions,” Bradley says. And by clear, she means step-by-step instructions.

“Make it as clear as possible so that you can confidently say, ‘Can you go back and look at the directions? And then I’ll come back and check in with you,” Bradley says. In larger classes it’s inevitable that “kids have got to work independently, and so you have to figure out a way to support them to work independently.”

6. Take Appointments 

In-depth discussions about student behavior should be done privately to avoid setting up a power struggle or humiliating a student in class. Instead, Bradley made appointments with students during lunch to speak with them privately. “The peer issue is huge, especially if there’s 30 or 32 students,” she says “Even if you take them outside, that’s always viewed as a punishment. You just want to get them away from the audience.”

Appointments can also come in handy during class time as a way of letting students know when you’ll have time to meet with them or their groups. During group work, Doehla likened himself to a shark, always on the move. But setting appointments lets students know they have more than a fleeting interaction to look forward to, without committing to meeting every student. 

Setting appointments after class can help too, given that students may feel lost or anonymous in a large class. Forging individual connections is important, though it takes a bit of extra effort. Tow prioritizes at least one check-in with each student per month, even if they appear to be doing well. As an extra reminder, he keeps notes about each student in his roster, particularly about their moods, issues they’re having, or inconsistencies. 

“It’s easy and cheap in terms of time invested,” he says about regular check-ins, “but can yield important insights.”

Mclaren 765Lt Spider Cuts The Roof And Spits Fire

McLaren 765LT Spider cuts the roof and spits fire

McLaren is adding a new droptop to its line-up, with the 765LT Spider chopping the roof off the most recent Longtail. Only 765 of the convertibles will be produced – and only a third of that making it to North America – each with an electrically-operated, one-piece carbon fiber roof and a 755 horsepower engine.

The result, as you might’ve already guessed, is a very fast car indeed. With the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine delivering 590 lb-ft of torque, McLaren says it’s actually the fastest accelerating LT Spider ever: 0-60 mph comes in 2.8 seconds.

0-124 mph, meanwhile is a mere 7.2 seconds. There’s 15-percent quicker in-gear acceleration than the 720S, with a revamped version of the 7-speed Sequential Shift Gearbox. Previously, the automaker says, if you tried to downshift in a way that would over-rev the V8, the transmission would refuse it. Now, for the 765LT Spider, it’ll acknowledge the request and then change gear as soon as the engine speed allows – complete with an audible bounce off the limiter.

A quicker steering rack ratio and stiffer torsion bar improve the amount of steering feedback, and there are car-specific updates to the Proactive Control II suspension system including new software and new lightweight dual springs. It rides slightly lower than a 720S too, and the Spider gets the same suite of aero improvements as the 765LT Coupe enjoyed.

That adds up to 25-percent more downforce, helped in no small amount by the active rear wing. That has been reconfigured to suit the open-top style and aerodynamic profile. Hit an “Aero” button in the cabin, and a “Driver Downforce” mode automatically adjusts the wing angle depending on speed.

As standard, there are 10-spoke ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels, with a custom Pirelli Trofeo R tire. Optional carbon ceramic brakes – borrowed from McLaren’s Senna – can be added. Treating the ears, meanwhile, is a new titanium exhaust system, with four tailpipes protruding from the rear deck. They’re more than capable of spitting flames, McLaren says.

Inside, once past the double-skin dihedral doors, there’s a unique numbered plate and more carbon fiber trim than the coupe version. The roof can be had in electrochromic glass, with adjustable tint levels; either way, the rear window can be lowered independently, to better allow the engine’s soundtrack to be heard. Carbon fiber shelled race seats are clad in Alcantara; the Senna’s Super-Lightweight double-skinned race seats are an option.

The 8-inch central touchscreen is carried over, as is the folding driver display. As standard there’s no audio system – it saves 3.3 pounds, McLaren says – but a lightweight 4-speaker system can be added at no cost. A full Bowers & Wilkins system is available too, as is a vehicle-lift system to raise the nose of the car and a 360-degree camera to help make parking easier.

Sales of the 765LT Spider are beginning now, with McLaren saying that 2023 production has already sold out. Pricing kicks off at $382,500 before options and customizations.

Red Wine Is A Trifecta Of Chemicals That Can Make Some People Feel Terrible

This post has been updated. It was originally published on December 27, 2023.

Drinking too much alcohol can give anyone a terrible hangover. But some people get sick after just a single glass of red wine, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash and a wheezing cough to a pounding migraine. What makes wine so different? There’s no easy answer: A handful of substances in wine, particularly red wine, can wreck havoc on the unlucky people whose bodies can’t handle them. Here are the likely culprits behind your red wine woes, according to your symptoms.

Migraines Wheezing, coughing, and itching

In other individuals, wine can cause symptoms similar to those seen in food allergies—coughing, wheezing, and itchy rashes. A number of different substances found in all wine can cause these ‘allergic-like reactions’, Bonci says. Sulfites, which winemakers in the United States sometimes use to keep wine from spoiling, are often to blame for wine-induced sniffles. Sulfites are not only found in wine, but also in many types of foods. Parmesan and other aged cheeses are on the list, so sulfite-sensitive folks are no fun at wine and cheese gatherings. “For people who are sensitive to sulfites, they might notice wheezing and coughing, and might even get a stuffy nose,” says Bonci.

But if you’re getting an itchy rash or experiencing abdominal pain, then another allergen called histamine is the more likely cause. People with histamine allergies may even experience headaches, though probably not as severe as the migraines that can be triggered by cogeners, says Bonci.

Sulfites and histamines are found in all types of wine. But Bonci says there are some workarounds: “Organic winemakers tend not to add sulfites, so that’s an option,” she says. And sweet wines tend to have more sulfites in them, so choosing a dry bottle is a safer bet.

[Read more: There’s no cure for your hangover, but science might make it easier]

Digestive issues

“Red wine is kind of the trifecta,” Bonci says. Not only does it have histamines and sulfites, but it also has a protein found in grape skin called LTP. This protein gives red wine its color, but it might induce allergic responses in certain people which include flushing, and even diarrhea. While it won’t kill you (or cause an anaphylactic response) it’s extremely uncomfortable. So if you experience these symptoms regularly after consuming red wine, it might not be worth it. “Drinking it really doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she says.

Moderation is key

Bonci says the most important thing to remember about wine intolerances is that the effects are often dose-dependent. This means the more red (or white) wine you drink, the more likely you are to experience some kind of reaction—and the worse it will be. A serving of red wine is about five ounces, Bonci says. But most people drink much more than that—a six ounce pour is standard at most restaurants, and wine glasses can hold a lot more if you’re your own bartender.

In fact, red wine glasses are intentionally much larger than white wine glasses, because you want air circulating through the wine to open up the aroma and open up your palate. This comes at a cost for those who have wine sensitivities. Some people who would be able to tolerate five ounces of red wine might frequently have their sensitivities triggered by a generous glass.

Bonci recommends getting out a measuring cup and pouring out five ounces—just to see what that amount of wine looks like—so you can know how much to pour yourself in the future.

At the end of the day, the rich taste of red wine may not be worth the cost of a nauseating headache or an itchy rash. Sometimes your best bet is to just avoid it altogether.

Mixing Boosters, Tuberculosis Rising, And Other Covid News You Missed This Week

The COVID-19 news cycle continues to turn, and with the holiday and flu seasons on the horizon it’s only getting more complicated. While some news recently has been promising, like booster shots and vaccinations for kids, this COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause concern as unvaccinated individuals are left unprotected and side effects of the pandemic continue to unveil themselves. Here are some of the key headlines from this week that you may have missed.

Receiving a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot might be better than a Johnson & Johnson booster shot 

A new “mix and match” study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health showed that a second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna showed a stronger immune system response for those who had the J&J shot first than a J&J second dose. The study only included around 500 people, a much smaller size than initial vaccine trials, but in all possible combinations of the vaccines, those who got J&J for both the initial shot and the booster had the lowest immune response. Those who got the J&J first would be better off getting either Pfizer or Moderna as a booster—the combination boosts the J&J dose to be on par with the two-shot mRNA vaccines.

White House pushes for more action on global vaccination

Under pressure from the public to do more for vaccination worldwide, the Biden administration is pushing Moderna to provide more vaccination doses for global populations. Pfizer has already coordinated with the US government to donate 500 million doses worldwide, and Johnson & Johnson may also be asked to offer doses in the future if their production capacity increases. While the administration has not taken any direct action yet (they have some authority to compel manufacturers during times of crisis under the Defense Production Act), a Biden administration official has urged Moderna to step forward at this time to aid in the vaccination effort outside the US.  

Tuberculosis deaths rise as side effect of the pandemic

For the first time in more than a decade, the number of global deaths due to tuberculosis has risen as resources diverted to the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the number of tests and treatment available. Roughly 1.5 million people died of the disease last year, up from 1.4 million in 2023. Far fewer individuals were also diagnosed with tuberculosis in the first place in 2023, and the World Health Organization expects that many more individuals have actually been infected but have not been diagnosed. 

Experts warn about a possible flu outbreak amidst COVID-19 pandemic 

The combination of distancing, masking, and other COVID-19 guidelines was effective at stopping the spread of the flu last winter, but even countries that did little to protect against the pandemic saw flu decreases. There were only around 2,000 cases reported in the US as opposed to the roughly 200,000 that occur on average. Experts think that the efforts of countries that did put in place COVID-19 guidelines may have affected the global spread of the disease. Because the season was so mild, they warn that it may be more aggressive this year (though one happy side effect is that at least one flu strain seems to have died out altogether). Last year, experts warned against a rough flu season as well, but the precautions that mitigated the season may not be practiced as commonly this year as vaccinations continue and individuals feel less inclined to stay home. 

Vaccine hesitancy causing hospitalization increase in pregnant individuals

Pregnant people continue to be one of the largest vaccine-hesitant groups in the country, despite the increased risk that contracting COVID-19 poses to them. According to CDC data, only a third of pregnant individuals aged 18 to 49 are vaccinated. The hesitancy likely comes from initial CDC guidelines that did not recommend the vaccine to pregnant individuals, as they were not initially included in studies, though it was widely considered safe (and though the risks of getting COVID while pregnant vastly outweigh the risks from the vaccine). The CDC formally recommended the vaccine to all those who are pregnant in August. More than 22,000 pregnant individuals have been hospitalized nationwide due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

Raw Dog Food Can Harbor Antibiotic

Every year, humans produce around 100,000 tons of antibiotics—about half the weight of an oceangoing cargo ship, and enough to save millions of lives each year from infections that used to be death sentences. 

But the bulk go to livestock, which are dosed up to ward off disease in crowded conditions or to speed up growth. And that means we’ve set up the perfect conditions for bacteria to learn to beat our defenses. Right now, about 35,000 people die from antibiotic resistant bacteria in the US annually, and the UN estimates that the annual toll could be millions by 2050 as we lose our ability to treat now-dormant diseases.

And these hardy microbes might be entering our homes through a previously unknown side door: pets. Two new studies from Portuguese research teams presented at a European conference on infectious diseases find that raw dog food, at least as it’s sold in Europe, harbors multidrug resistant bacteria—and that dogs may be able to pass along that resistance to bacteria in their owners.

In the pet food study, researchers tested 55 different samples of four types of dog food: wet, dry, treats, and raw. They were hunting for Enterococci, a genus of bacteria that lives in the animal guts and sewage (two common species in humans are E. faecalis and E. faecium), and can cause anything from urinary tract infections to meningitis if they find their way into the right parts of the body.

Enterococci are also notably resistant to common antibiotics, including penicillin. Of the 30 samples that tested positive for the bacteria, more than 40 percent were resistant to eight different antibiotics.

According to a press release, some of the multi-drug resistant strains were “identical to bacteria isolated from hospital patients in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands,” as well as to strains from British farm animals.

Most concerningly, 23 percent were resistant to linezolid, an antibiotic saved as a backstop to treat multidrug resistant infections. Oddly, linezolid isn’t used to treat animals, it’s mostly reserved for treating tuberculosis and MRSA in humans. Still, this isn’t the first study that’s found resistance to the last-resort drug in livestock, and a study last year from China suggested that the trait may be the result of a sort of cross immunity to another type of common antibiotic.

But the resistance was concentrated in raw pet food, all of which contained some multidrug resistant bacteria. Resistance appeared in over 10 percent wet food, and not at all in other types. It’s not the first time that raw pet food has been found to harbor these bacteria; in 2023, a team in the Netherlands found that cats who ate raw food were more likely to shed drug resistant bacteria.

Now, based on these studies, it appears that raw dog food—which is basically frozen ground meat—is more common in Europe than in the US. And we can’t know if the exact same bacteria would appear an ocean away. But by most accounts from vets, raw food is growing in popularity in the US—often explained as a pet-centered offshoot of the natural food and paleo trends—and like plenty of pet food, it’s coming from conventionally grown meat.

The problem isn’t just for pets or their owners, because bacteria and other single-celled microorganisms have a deeply strange way of evolving: they can pass one another useful genes, not just within species, but across them. Bacteria dropped by Dutch cats, the 2023 study found, were at risk of passing along their drug resistance to their entire environment.

The second Portuguese team found something similar: in a study of 126 pet owners and 102 cats and dogs, eight dogs were infected with bacteria that confers resistance to another last resort antibiotic, colistin. So did four humans. (Cats didn’t carry the drug resistant bacteria at all.)

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