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A healthy sense of disgust can prevent sickness

You might want to pay attention to those bad, queasy feelings. New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 15, suggests that disgust could be the body’s way of helping humans avoid infection.

Aaron Blackwell.

“We found that people with higher levels of disgust had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers that were indicative of having bacterial or viral infections,” said Aaron Blackwell, a Washington State University associate professor of anthropology and co-author on the paper. “While the study shows that disgust functions to protect against infection, it also showed it varies across different environments, based on how easily people can avoid certain things.”

This study supports the hypothesis that disgust is an evolved human emotion that functions as a disease-avoidance mechanism, helping humans to reduce their exposure to pathogens. The findings also demonstrate that the human disgust response is calibrated to the local costs and benefits of avoidance and infection.

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The Star

Breastfeeding mothers produce COVID‑19 antibodies

Breastfeeding women who have COVID-19 transfer milk-borne antibodies to their babies without passing along the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a new study.

Beatrice Caffé.
Courtney Meehan.

“The results indicate that it is safe for moms to continue to breastfeed during a COVID-19 infection with proper precautions,” said Courtney Meehan, a WSU anthropology professor and co-author on the study. published Feb. 9 in the journal mBio.

Meehan and WSU graduate student Beatrice Caffé were part of the multi-institutional research team led by University of Idaho nutrition researcher on the project.

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Medical Xpress

WSU scientists identify contents of ancient Maya drug containers

Scientists have identified the presence of a non-tobacco plant in ancient Maya drug containers for the first time.

Mario Zimmermann.

Originally buried more than 1,000 years ago on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, the vessels also contain chemical traces present in two types of dried and cured tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica. The research team, led by anthropology postdoc Mario Zimmermann, thinks the Mexican marigold was mixed with the tobacco to make smoking more enjoyable.

“While it has been established that tobacco was commonly used throughout the Americas before and after contact, evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has remained largely unexplored,” Zimmermann said. “The analysis methods developed in collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry give us the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before.”

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Tooth tartar could uncover the drug habits of ancient people

Want to know whether an ancient Sogdian smoked cannabis or a Viking got high on henbane? A new method, which analyzes drug residue in the tartar of teeth, may soon be able to tell. The method, which found drug traces on 19th century skeletons—and more substances than standard blood tests in 10 recently deceased individuals—could trace humanity’s drug habits back hundreds of thousands of years.

Shannon Tushingham.

It’s a “new frontier,” says archaeologist Shannon Tushingham of Washington State University, Pullman, who investigates ancient tobacco use in North America, but was not involved in the new work.

To study the history of medicines and drugs, most scientists scour smoking pipes and drinking vessels for lingering psychoactive molecules. But analysis of drug-coated artifacts often misses substances like hallucinogenic mushrooms that didn’t need containers. And the artifacts don’t reveal who got buzzed.

Because tartar seems to keep a long-term record of drug intake, it could be used in place of hair samples when criminal investigators need to test for substance use after drugs leave the bloodstream. And it could help rewrite the history of drug use, Tushingham says.

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Science Magazine

Cluster hire program addresses racism and social inequality

Five new WSU faculty positions have been created to help promote equity and diversity across the Washington State University System.

Elizabeth Chilton.

The new positions are an integral part of the University’s Racism and Social Inequality in the Americas cluster hire program which was initiated by Provost and Executive Vice President and Professor of Anthropology, Elizabeth Chilton to demonstrate WSU’s commitment to inclusive excellence. The program is designed to address the urgent need for faculty specializing in interdisciplinary research topics associated with equity and diversity.

The following proposals were accepted:

  • African Diasporas in the Americas (Department of History)
  • Indigenous Knowledge, Data Sovereignty, and Decolonization (Digital Technology and Culture Program and WSU Tri-Cities)
  • Music of Black Americans/Music and Social Justice (School of Music)
  • Racialized Justice in America (Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology)
  • Social and Environmental Justice (School of Design and Construction)
Lisa Guerrero.

Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Lisa Guerrero, associate vice provost for inclusive excellence, will manage the cluster hire program as one of her first initiatives in her new position.

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