A Genetic Study Using 23andMe Data Finds Link Between Schizophrenia and Cannabis Use

A marijuana plant.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

There’s evidence of a connection between cannabis use and schizophrenia, but it’s unclear whether the drug leads to the disorder, or vice versa. A new study published Monday, which relies partly on genetic data from 23andMe volunteers, might offer a little clarity on that link. It found that people genetically at risk of schizophrenia are also more likely to start smoking pot, suggesting the disorder itself might cause cannabis use in some people.

The current study, published in Nature Neuroscience, is a continuation of previous efforts to sketch out the genetic variations that make people more likely to start using cannabis, a project known as the International Cannabis Consortium. The study authors, which include some researchers from DNA test company 23andMe, studied anonymized genetic data taken from previous or ongoing studies, such as the UK Biobank, as well as from people who have permitted their DNA to be used for research, such as those who signed up for genetic testing from 23andMe. Overall, they looked at more than 180,000 people, making this the largest study of its kind, according to the authors.

A person’s genetic code can differ slightly from someone else’s in lots of ways, but the most common variation is called a single-nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP. A SNP is a minute change in the building blocks that make up DNA (and RNA), known as nucleotides. So in one specific section of DNA, for example, most people might have adenine (A), one of the four nucleobases that make up a nucleotide, but others might have cytosine (C) instead.

In the study, the researchers found eight of these SNPs that were associated with lifetime cannabis use. Taken as a whole, they calculated, these variations accounted for 11 percent of the difference in whether someone reported smoking pot or not.

Using different tests, they also found 35 genes in 16 different sections across the genome that were associated with cannabis use. Many of these genes seemed to be associated with other habits, personality traits, and mental health conditions, particularly the gene CADM2. Variations in CADM2, the authors noted, have already been linked to taking more risks, greater alcohol use, and personality traits such as extraversion. They also found a genetic overlap with schizophrenia.

“That is not a big surprise, because previous studies have often shown that cannabis use and schizophrenia are associated with each other,” lead author Jacqueline Vink, a researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said in a statement. “However, we also studied whether this association is causal.”

They attempted to find a possible cause-and-effect relationship using a method called Mendelian randomization. This technique lets geneticists ask whether having the known genes for one thing (schizophrenia, in this study) directly predisposes you to another thing (using marijuana). In this case, they found evidence that being genetically vulnerable to schizophrenia made people more likely to use pot, possibly as a way to cope with their condition, according to the authors.

This finding in particular is important because we still don’t really understand how cannabis and schizophrenia are tied to one another. Other research has found that pot use itself raises the risk of schizophrenia, especially if begun at an early age by people already at risk of mental illness. The authors are careful to point out their single study doesn’t disprove that theory, but it does suggest, as other genetic studies have, that the relationship is complicated.

The researchers next plan to study if there are specific genes that can predict more frequent or heavier use of cannabis.

[Nature Neuroscience]

Google sells the future, powered by your personal data

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“We may analyze [email] content to customize search results, better detect spam and malware,” he added.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Google says it is also leverages some of its datasets to “help build the next generation of ground-breaking artificial intelligence solutions.” On Tuesday, Google rolled out “Smart Replies,” in which artificial intelligence helps users finish sentences.

The extent of the information Google has can be eyebrow-raising even for technology professionals. Dylan Curran, an information technology consultant, recently downloaded everything Facebook had on him and got a 600-megabyte file. When he downloaded the same kind of file from Google, it was 5.5 gigabytes, about nine times as large. His tweets highlighting each kind of information Google had on him, and therefore other users, got nearly 170,000 retweets.

“This is one of the craziest things about the modern age, we would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us, but we just went ahead and did it ourselves because … I want to watch cute dog videos,” Curran wrote.

Want to freak yourself out? I’m gonna show just how much of your information the likes of Facebook and Google store about you without you even realising it

— Dylan Curran (@iamdylancurran) March 24, 2018

What does Google guarantee?

The company has installed various guardrails against this data being misused. It says it doesn’t sell your personal information, makes user data anonymous after 18 months, and offers tools for users to delete their recorded data piece by piece or in its (almost) entirety, and to limit how they’re being tracked and targeted for advertising. And it doesn’t allow marketers to target users based on sensitive categories like beliefs, sexual interests or personal hardships.

However, that doesn’t prevent the company from selling advertising slots that can be narrowed to a user’s ZIP code. Combined with enough other categories of interest and behavior, Google advertisers can create a fairly tight Venn diagram of potential viewers of a marketing message, with a minimum of 100 people.

“They collect everything they can, as a culture,” Scott Cleland, chairman of NetCompetition, an advocacy group that counts Comcast and other cable companies among its members, told NBC News. “They know they’ll find some use for it.”

What can you do about it?

“We give users controls to delete individual items, services or their entire account,” said Google’s Stein. “When a user decides to delete data, we go through a process over time to safely and completely remove it from our systems, including backups. We keep some data with a user’s Google Account, like when and how they use certain features, until the account is deleted.”

New European data privacy rules known as GDPR are set to go into effect on May 25. Those new regulations are supposed to limit what data can be collected on users and give them the ability to completely delete their data from systems, as well as bring their data from one service to another. Companies like Google will be forced to more clearly spell out to customers what kind of data is being collected and no longer be able to bury them in fine print, with fines for violations up to 4 percent of revenue.

What might Google do in the future?

All that data is already valuable to Google, but it could yield an even greater return once paired with advanced artificial intelligence systems that offer highly personalized services, like a souped-up version of Google Assistant.

“On your way to a friend’s house and say ‘find wine’ and you’ll get recommendations for a store that is still open and also not out of the route,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research group founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

But Etzioni recommended caution before we unleash swarms of digital agents.

Already we’ve seen some unpleasant effects. Palantir, a security and data-mining firm, sells software that hoovers up data and allows law enforcement to engage in “predictive policing,” guesstimating who might commit crimes. Uber’s self-driving car experiment resulted in a pedestrian being killed after the software was tuned too far in the direction of ignoring stray objects, like plastic bags.

“We need to think hard about how AI gathers and extrapolates data,” Etzioni said. “It has deep implications.”

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Artificial intelligence guides rapid data-driven exploration of underwater habitats

ASTORIA, OREGON – A recent expedition led by Dr. Blair Thornton, holding Associate Professorships at both the University of Southampton and the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, demonstrated how the use of autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence at sea can dramatically accelerate the exploration and study of hard to reach deep sea ecosystems, like intermittently active methane seeps. Thanks to rapid high throughput data analysis at sea, it was possible to identify biological hotspots at the Hydrate Ridge Region off the coast of Oregon, quickly enough to survey and sample them, within days following the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) imaging survey. The team aboard research vessel Falkor used a form of Artificial Intelligence, unsupervised clustering, to analyze AUV-acquired seafloor images and identify target areas for more detailed photogrammetric AUV surveys and focused interactive hotspot sampling with ROV SuBastian.

This project demonstrated how modern data science can greatly increase the efficiency of conventional research at sea, and improve the productivity of interactive seafloor exploration with the all too familiar “stumbling in the dark” mode. “Developing totally new operational workflows is risky, however, it is very relevant for applications such as seafloor monitoring, ecosystem survey and planning the installation and decommissioning of seafloor infrastructure,” said Thornton.

The idea behind this Adaptive Robotics mission was not to upturn the structure of how things are done at sea, but simply to remove bottlenecks in the flow of information and data-processing using computational methods and Artificial Intelligence. The algorithms used are able to rapidly produce simple summaries of observations, and form subsequent deployment plans. This way, scientists can respond to dynamic changes in the environment and target areas that will lead to the biggest operational, scientific, or environmental management gains.

More than 1.3 million seafloor images were collected and algorithmically analyzed to find biological hotspots and precisely target them for interactive sampling and observations. The initial wide-area seafloor imagery was acquired with an underwater vehicle “Ae2000f” using high-altitude 3D visual mapping cameras at underwater sites between 680 and 780 meters depth. The international team deployed multiple AUVs, developed by the University of Tokyo, which were equipped with 3D visual mapping technology developed jointly by the University of Sydney, University of Southampton, and the University of Tokyo and the Kyushu Institute of Technology as part of an international collaboration.

The conversion of the initial wide area survey imagery into three dimensional seafloor maps and habitat type summaries onboard Falkor, allowed the researchers to plan the subsequent robotic deployments to perform higher resolution visual imaging, environmental and chemical surveying, and physical sampling in areas of greatest interest, particularly at the ephemeral hotspots of biological activity that intermittently form around transitory methane seeps. Nineteen AUV deployments and fifteen ROV dives were completed in total during the expedition, including several multi-vehicle operations.

Thanks to rapid processing of data, a photogrammetric map of one of the best studied gas hydrate deposits was completed. This is believed to be the largest 3D color reconstruction of the seafloor, by area, in the world, measuring more than 118,000 square meters or 11.8 hectares, and covering a region of approximately 500 x 350 meters. While the average resolution of the maps obtained is 6 mm, the areas of most interest were mapped with resolution an order of magnitude higher, which would not have been possible without the ability to intelligently target the sites of interest with high resolution imaging surveys and process the large volumes of acquired data within hours of their acquisition at sea.

Normally, maps like this would take several months to process and only after the completion of an expedition, at which point the science team is no longer at the site, and the habitats may have already evolved or expired. Instead, the research team was able to compose the 3D maps on board of Falkor within days of the images being acquired. The composite map was used during the expedition to plan operations, including the recovery of seafloor instruments and was invaluable for revisiting specific sites, such as active bubble plumes, making the entire operation more efficient.

“It is quite amazing to see such large areas of the seafloor mapped visually, especially only days after the raw data was collected. It is not just the size of the map, but also the way we were able to use it to inform our decisions while still on site. This makes a real difference as the technology makes it possible to visualize wide areas at very high resolution, and also easily identify and target areas where we should collect data. This has not previously been possible,” said Thornton.

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Emmys: How Netflix, Amazon, Hulu & Streaming Have Taken Over (Data) – Variety

The numbers don’t lie: Just as streaming services have dominated consumers’ attention, they’re also grabbing awards attention as well.

With Netflix’s 112 total Emmy nominations this year, the platform has made history for marking the first time a streamer has achieved the most nominations, toppling long-time frontrunner HBO, which received 108 noms this year.

Netflix has come a long way since 2013, when it first broke into the awards season with 14 nominations, most going to “House of Cards.” Since then, a far wider slate of contenders have drawn kudos. This year, “The Crown” received 13 nominations, “Godless” and “Stranger Things” both nabbed 12 nominations and last summer’s breakout comedy “GLOW” scored 10 nominations. Those four shows garnered just shy of 50 nominations on their own — tying FX’s overall haul, and beating CBS (34), ABC (31) and FOX (16).

Looking at a visualization of these numbers gives a clearer picture of exactly what this means. The trend in the data goes to show streaming platforms are quickly skyrocketing up toward being the top dog in terms receiving the most total Emmy nominations, being propelled mostly by Netflix. Cable television may be the king of the mountain right now, with the HBO old guard and the emerging television drama hotbed FX keeping most of those numbers up, but streaming has spent the past five years chewing away at them. If trends continue and Hulu and Amazon become even a fraction as prolific as Netflix has been in rolling out content, cable will see itself falling in second place in an era where consumers are cutting the cord in favor of online video platforms.

Amassing 336 total award nominations in the space of five years represents how aggressive Netflix has been in establishing itself among television giants like HBO with its own original programming. This comes from Netflix’s massive budget, an estimated $8 billion being used toward producing not just scripted series, but true crime docuseries and standup specials as well, diversifying the total categories into which their programs fit.

But it’s not just Netflix. With “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” 20 Emmy nominations, Hulu has managed to rocket up to 27 total nominations in 2018. This is up almost 10 noms from 2017’s 18 nominations, but it’s even more impressive when considering two years ago the streamer only earned two nominations, both in below-the-line categories (special visual effects in a supporting role and variety special writing). That said, “The Looming Tower” didn’t crack the limited series category, and earned just four nominations overall. Perhaps voters’ taste for politically-themed content didn’t extend to the 9/11 deep dive.

Amazon Prime Video also improved their awards stance with this year’s haul of 22 noms, up marginally from last year when it earned 16 total nominations (as it did in 2016). Of the 22 nods, 14 of them stem from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” riding the wave of awards attention that started with this year’s Globes. The first year the streamer broke into the Emmy race, it earned a dozen noms, 11 of which were for “Transparent.” But “Transparent’s” Emmy hopes have faded given the harassment allegations levied against its star, Jeffrey Tambor.

And then there’s Apple. Although the service didn’t have anything in contention for this year, it’s amassing a star-studded war chest of programming — now just $1 billion, but poised to ramp up to over $4 billion by 2022 — that stands to continue the streamers’ awards invasion.

CDC Data Reveals Sharp Increase In STD Cases In Recent Years

Latest CDC data reveals that more and more people are getting STDs in recent years. Cases are at an all time high in the country for the fourth year in a row.   ( Pixabay )

New CDC data reveals a sharp increase in sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases in the United States for the fourth year in a row. What should one do after being diagnosed with an STD?

All-Time High

In 2017 alone, there were 2.3 million STD diagnoses in the United States, surpassing 2016’s STD record by over 200,000 cases. This is according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that marks the record for 2017 as the fourth consecutive year for the sharp and sustained increase in STD cases.

Specifically, the CDC found a 67 percent increase in gonorrhea cases, with diagnoses among women rapidly rising and the cases among men nearly doubling the 2016 numbers. There was also a sharp 76 percent increase in primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses, with gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM) making up nearly 70 percent of the cases. In regard to chlamydia, CDC data shows that it remains to be the most commonly reported STD with 1.7 million diagnosed in 2017 alone, nearly half of said cases coming from females between 15 and 24 years old.

STD Concerns

While chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, many cases remain undiagnosed and untreated, possibly leading the patient to serious conditions such as infertility, stillbirth in infants, ectopic pregnancies, and even an increased HIV risk. Further, as STD cases continue to rise, so does the threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea which has become resistant to nearly all antibiotics apart from ceftriaxone, an effective treatment for gonorrhea.

It was in 2015 when the CDC began recommending the combination of a ceftriaxone shot and oral azithromycin for people diagnosed with gonorrhea, as azithromycin was found to help delay gonorrhea’s resistance to ceftriaxone. However, recent CDC findings reveal that gonorrhea is slowly becoming resistant to azithromycin from 1 percent in 2013 to 4 percent in 2017. This could mean that a strain of ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhea may one day emerge.

“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed. We can’t let our defenses down — we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible,” said Gail Bolan M.D. of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.

What To Do When Diagnosed With STD

According to the CDC, there are three important steps to take when one finds out of an STD diagnosis: get treated, tell your partner, and get retested. The first step is very obvious since there are available treatments for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. If left untreated, the infection may eventually cause serious health problems even if one does not develop any symptoms.

Regular doctors may prescribe the appropriate treatments, but if one is without insurance or would like to see another professional for treatment, there are STD clinics, family planning clinics, student care clinics, and urgent care clinics available.

It is also very important to tell sexual partners of the diagnosis as soon as possible so that they, too, can get tested and treated so as not to pass it back or to other sexual partners. While this may be an uncomfortable step, it is an important one for both personal and public health. Lastly, it is very important to get retested, perhaps three months after treatment, as it is not uncommon to get re-infected with STDs again.

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First Data Focuses on Employee Engagement for Money Network

First Data encourage employee use of its Money Network payroll solution.

Money Network allows employers to let employees deposit their salaries onto prepaid cards that can be used as a debit card. The program is an alternative for employees who don’t have or don’t want a traditional bank account.

The content marketing program has a huge focus on financial literacy, says Euphemia Erikson, vice president and head of product marketing for First Data., noting that the financial services provider’s research shows that the majority of the U.S. workforce has less than $25,000 saved and is struggling with expenses.

“Only 40 percent of workers consider themselves financially literate, so large retailers are making financial literacy part of [their outreach],” says Erikson.

Economic stress causes lower productivity, which is why many retailers are considering different payroll options to cater to not only Millennials but Gen Z employees as they enter the workforce, she says.

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Working with Arketi Group, First Data created an online quiz to help employees identify what their financial style, so they knew what content to serve them. Five personas were created, including “Check to Check Cycler” (just getting by), “Eager Investor” (investing with an eye on retirement), “Lives for the Moment” (propensity to impulse buy) and “Autopilot Saver” (saving automatically).

The quiz was promoted via social media and email. “We intentionally made it easy-breezy,” says Mike Neumeier, principal of Arketi Group. “Close to 60 percent of the people on the platform are Millennials or younger, so we needed to make it conversational and engaging, because we wanted them to follow-through.”

Once people completed the survey, they were driven to a microsite with written and video content tailored to their persona. Employees could also sign up for e-newsletters, to keep the education process ongoing. The newsletters include tips for what users can do in the Money Network app, such as create “piggybanks” money can be moved into to save for needs later in the year, like back-to-school time or the holidays.

The ROI of the initiative was judged in several ways. Almost 40,000 new piggybanks were created in the initial phase, signaling that employees were taking advantage of the app, and over 150,000 hits logged into the campaign’s landing page.

To hear more from Mike Neumeier and Euphemia Erikson about First Data’s initiatives to increase employee engagement, join us at LeadsCon’s Connect to Convert, Oct. 3-5 in Boston.

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