Tag Archives: environment

Environment a chief suspect in mystery neurological disease found only in N.B.

Doctors in New Brunswick are being told to be on the lookout for symptoms of an unknown neurological disease that appears to be a new condition found only in the province and is believed to be linked to environmental causes.

At a public health update on COVID-19 Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health fielded a number of questions about the mystery disease that was originally identified in the province in 2015.

In an internal memo obtained by Radio-Canada, sent on March 5 by the office of the chief medical officer of health to the New Brunswick Medical Society and to associations of doctors and nurses, the department highlighted a cluster of 42 cases of a progressive neurological syndrome of unknown origin.

Symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

The disease has symptoms similar to those of the rare and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but “testing so far has ruled out known prion diseases,” the memo stated.

The first case of the disease was diagnosed in 2015, according to the memo. Three years later, in 2019, 11 additional cases were discovered, with 24 more cases discovered in 2020 and another six in 2021. Five people have died.

The symptoms are similar to those of prion diseases, which include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and some of its variants, including mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

However, despite many similarities, tests for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have so far ruled out known prion diseases, the March 5 public health memo states.

Scientists are currently looking into the possibility that this is a new variant of a prion disease — or a new disease entirely.

On Thursday, Russell confirmed it is “most likely a new disease,” and noted “we haven’t seen this anywhere else” in Canada.

The cases have been reported to Health Canada’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease surveillance system, which determined that the rising number of cases should now be considered a cluster, Russell said.

At that point, she said, the March 5 memo was sent out to the province’s health-care professionals.

Moncton neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero said the leading hypothesis so far is that the disease is caused by something environmental. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Doctors suspect environmental link

According to preliminary data from a research group on the subject, headed by neurologist Alier Marrero of Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, the disease is not genetic.

“We don’t know yet where this is coming from,” but the leading hypothesis so far is that it’s environmental, Marrero said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.

“We believe it is acquired from exposure to something in the environment … either food, water … toxins.”

Over the course of the six years since the disease first appeared in New Brunswick in 2015, case numbers have grown steadily and “clustered” in the Moncton and Acadian Peninsula areas of the province. 

“We have seen clustering of cases in some areas and we don’t know why,” Marrero said. 

According to the Public Health memo, the median age of the cases is 59 years, although female cases tend to be younger, with an average age of 54. Cases are distributed equally among men and women, the memo said. 

The symptoms of the disease are typically not very specific in the initial stages.

“It’s usually behavioural changes … for instance, an excess of anxiety, a little bit of irritability, unexplained pains in the limbs, muscle spasms, insomnia,” Marrero said.

As the disease progresses over a course of 18 to 36 months, loss of balance and co-ordination have been observed, and “sometimes patients have abnormal and rapidly progressing brain atrophy.”

No public health threat

However, Marrero and Russell both stopped short of calling the cases a public health threat. 

“Fear is usually bad advice because it will paralyze us,” Marrero said. “We are working very hard to figure this out, so we can stop it, so we can treat it.”

He advised that if anyone suspects they have symptoms of the disease, they should report them to their doctor, who will then refer them to the clinic.  

Symptoms that might appear to be related to the disease could actually be caused by another condition, he said. 

“For instance the patient could have multiple sclerosis, they could have Alzheimer’s disease … or some other condition that could be known and treated. So it’s important that they get referred and evaluated.”

Russell agreed.

“Right now, it’s just about awareness, making sure that physicians are watching for neurological symptoms like this so they can refer them to be assessed,” she said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of trying to determine the cause.”   

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Four swimmers with Artistic Swimming Canada break silence about allegedly toxic environment

Four members of Canada’s artistic swimming team, training in Montreal, are speaking out about what they call a toxic environment.

Last month, allegations of abuse and harassment from swimmers and people outside the program led to the shutdown of the senior national artistic swimming team’s training centre, pending a review by an external firm.

Due to their fear of reprisals, Radio-Canada has agreed to protect the swimmers’ identities and to refer to them as Caroline, Sarah, Patricia and Rose.

“It’s been going on for too long within that organization,” said Caroline. “There is a toxic environment in artistic swimming.”

According to the swimmers, the alleged incident that sparked last month’s shutdown was troubling to several athletes.

During a conversation with team members, head coach Gabor Szauder is said to have made what were qualified as racist and hateful remarks.

“He was talking about what’s happening in China, the Black Lives Matter movement and Muslim people,” said Rose.

“He said all Muslims were extremists,” said Patricia. “And then he added: ‘When is the last time you saw a white person crash a plane?'”

When one of the swimmers confronted him about the comment, Szauder allegedly became verbally aggressive.

“He answered: ‘This is a free country. I can say whatever I want. Who are you to tell me what hate speech is? Are you God?'”

Head coach Gábor Szauder has had leading roles in synchronized and artistic swimming on the international level since 1993. He is originally from Budapest, Hungary. (Radio-Canada)

Verbal abuse

Another swimmer, Sion Ormond, isn’t surprised by these events. She says she retired two months ago because, amongst other reasons, the atmosphere at the training centre had become unbearable.

“The abuse that I witnessed regularly at the pool — It was just something that I did not want to be a part of anymore,” she said.

Ormond claims she and some of her teammates were victims of verbal abuse last year in China, during a competition.

“He said that if we kept swimming like that, he would hit us so hard, we wouldn’t know what happened,” she added.

Those comments were allegedly addressed to substitutes with the entire team present after a pre-competition warm-up deemed inadequate by the head coach.

Sion Ormond says she saw abuse regularly at the pool and no longer wants to be a part of the team. She retired two months ago. (Radio-Canada)

“Maybe it was like ten minutes before our competition swim,” said Rose. “And there were various adults who were there that witnessed what was said.”

The coach apparently explained his comments after the fact, but the swimmers say they were not satisfied.

“He just said that we all misunderstood what he had said and that he was going to hit us really hard with a hard workout,” explained Patricia.

Screams and tears

According to the swimmers, Szauder would often zero in on one athlete to pick on.

Patricia recalls one incident in Hawaii during training camp.

“There was a girl that was publicly shamed for her weight, in front of the whole team. The staff was there. It was made clear to us that she was being publicly shamed. He verbalized that to us,” said Patricia.

“I felt sick listening to the conversation,” Rose said. “It was a really inappropriate way to handle that type of subject.”

Ultimately, the swimmers say these types of incidents became a burden, affecting the mood at the centre. They say Szauder is prone to mood swings and can get carried away, causing tears and anxiety.

“There’s been times when he’s yelled at girls to the point that they have panic attacks in the pool, in the gym,” Patricia said.

“And then he will continue to yell at them and harass them and swear at them. He will call them babies and tell them to stop crying, to compose themselves.”

The coach is also alleged to have made sexist comments on more than one occasion.

“He told us that girls should learn how to cook and clean, to take care of our men, or else they won’t want us,” Sarah said. “And that was all men looked for in a woman.”

They also say Szauder made comments of a sexual nature.

Ormond recalls one incident that took place in Prince George, B.C..

“He said: ‘Sion, zip up your hoodie before I get too excited,” Ormond said. “It was in front of multiple athletes. This is a 47-year-old man.”

Ormond is emotional as she recounts what happened. She claims she only found the courage to tell her parents about it after her retirement.

“I knew how inappropriate that comment was, that it never should’ve been said and I was scared,” she said. “I was afraid of what my dad would either say or do. I was afraid he would get involved and I would be perceived as a troublemaker.”

Fingers pointed at Canada Artistic Swimming

The four swimmers are critical of Canada Artistic Swimming for not taking the situation seriously enough, when incidents were reported.

Caroline says she often heard the same thing.

“We were constantly told: ‘You know, he comes from Eastern Europe.'”

“They would often meet with us after the fact to tell us we weren’t resilient enough and could not deal with anxiety and stress in training situations,” said Patricia. “It only made us more and more fearful to report it.”

Canada Artistic Swimming declined Radio-Canada Sports’ interview requests, citing the ongoing review that is being carried out by an outside firm.

In a written statement, coach Szauder denied the allegations. He says he is confident that the report will ultimately negate any sort of misconduct on his part.

The four swimmers say if nothing changes, they will seriously consider following Ormond’s lead and retiring — with the next Olympic Games less than a year away.

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How the U.S. election outcome could affect Canada’s environment and energy future

This story is part of a five-part series looking at how the policies of the two U.S.presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, differ when it comes to the major issues of interest to Canada, including energy, defence, trade and immigration.

The old truism that elections have consequences is doubly apt for the United States, a country whose politics reach beyond its borders. It’s certainly so for Canada.

Specific policy issues in a U.S. election hold particular stakes for Canada, including energy and the environment, national defence, the border and migration and U.S. relations with China.

In advance of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, CBC will run stories on these five issues, and how they might play out if the winner is current President Donald Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Our first instalment examines one of the most striking differences between them: energy and the environment.

If Biden wins

Biden drew attention in Canada for promising to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, then doubling down on it. 

Rory Johnston, an energy analyst at Price Street in Toronto, said a president clearly has the legal power to revoke a permit. What’s not clear to him is whether Biden would, in precarious economic times, actually cancel a big project, which would cost jobs and anger construction unions.

The Democratic nominee has a sweeping environmental platform that goes far beyond that one pipeline pledge.

For starters, he said he’d re-join the Paris climate accord on Day 1 of his presidency. Then he would convene, shame and potentially punish other countries that slack on their carbon emissions commitments.

Climate change is linked to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters including forest fires, such as the ones seen in California in recent months. (John Antczak/Associated Press)

Within 100 days, Biden said he’d hold a global climate summit to push countries to join the U.S. in toughening their climate objectives. He said he would also demand a worldwide ban on government subsidies for fossil fuels.

Biden also intends to grade countries on their performance. He promises a global climate change report, similar to the State Department’s annual report on human rights and human trafficking. It would rank countries’ performance in meeting their Paris commitments.

If that doesn’t work, he’s threatening to wield the stick of trade tariffs. Biden said he wants to impose what he calls “carbon-adjustment fees,” or perhaps quotas, on carbon-intensive products from countries that fail to meet climate and environmental obligations.

It’s not clear how many countries Biden would target. “We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate objectives,” says Biden’s platform.

Canada is projecting a lowering of emissions but not nearly by enough to meet its Paris commitment. 

Implementing such a tariff could be tricky. To become embedded in U.S. law, it would have to get through Congress — and receiving the 51 to 60 per cent of votes required in the Senate would be a tall order.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on countries to work together to solve the world’s problems in a pre-recorded video address on Friday. 11:09

Some trade analysts believe such a tactic would also be illegal protectionism under international trade law unless the U.S. imposed a similar carbon tax domestically — also a tall order. 

However, other analysts say there’s one tool Biden could use, which has become famous in the Trump era: declare carbon emissions a national security matter and apply the same trade weapon the current president used against foreign steel and aluminum.

Biden, seen speaking about climate change last month, plans to rejoin the Paris Accord — and then naming, shaming and possibly punishing countries that don’t cut emissions. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Any regulatory moves could face another hurdle in a more hostile Supreme Court.

Speaking of the environment and trade, Biden is proposing a massive, $ 2 trillion green-infrastructure plan aimed at new transit, vehicles and a carbon-free power grid by 2035. Biden says the construction would be done by U.S. firms under Buy American rules.

He would also re-establish policies from the Obama era that Canada has signed onto, from methane and auto regulations to an Arctic drilling ban.

Gerald Butts, who was a former senior aide to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and worked on some of those agreements with the U.S, said Biden’s climate policies go far beyond Obama’s and reflect a growing recognition of the environmental threat.

“Biden’s plan would have been unthinkable for a presidential nominee for a major party even one cycle ago,” said Butts, now vice-chair of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found a rise in the number of climate disasters that have caused more than US$ 1 billion in damage (adjusted for inflation) since 1980. (NOAA)

Bob Deans, a spokesman for the political action committee of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defence Council, called climate change a defining issue for this election.

“The American people are facing a stark choice in this election. Two completely different energy futures,” Deans said. “We need to be reducing our reliance on oil and gas, not locking future generations into this climate nightmare.” 

If Trump wins

In his 2016 platform, Trump promised more oil drilling, more pipelines — and less regulation. He delivered that on several fronts.

Just last month he announced a border permit for a multi-purpose rail project that, if built, could eventually ship Canadian oil through Alaska. 

Trump ditched a number of Obama’s climate rules, and left the Paris Accord. (His pullout from the Paris agreement officially goes into effect the day after this year’s election.)

Trump is seen in 2017 signing a permit approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to enter the U.S. from Canada. Construction is just now getting underway. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump hasn’t published a platform for the next four years. His campaign website simply lists things he’s done to slash regulations and promote fossil-fuel development. He’s promising no major policy changes.

“We would continue what we’re doing,” Trump told The New York Times, when asked about his overall second-term plans.

As far as Canada is concerned, that means a continued commitment to the still-unbuilt Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry nearly one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S. each day.

Johnston said that pipeline isn’t, on its own, a make-or-break issue for the Canadian oilpatch, but it would help, he said.

He said the oilsands likely need two pipelines completed over the next few years out of the three major projects underway — Trans Mountain to the Pacific Coast, the Line 3 expansion to the Great Lakes and Keystone XL to the Gulf of Mexico — to avoid the type of transportation bottlenecks that have previously devastated Canadian oil prices.

“It’s never ideal to be just at the limit of your [transportation] capacity,” Johnston said.

Even with the current president’s support, Keystone XL faces challenges. The ground has been cleared for only 100 kilometres of pipe to be laid inside Canada. A border-crossing segment has been built, and 17 pump stations out of an eventual 36 along the route are under construction.

That leaves the project about two years, many hundreds of kilometres and some legal and regulatory fights shy of completion. A Supreme Court decision this summer allowed a Montana ruling to stand, which forced the pipeline company to get permits for crossing waterways. Permit hearings were scheduled for late September in Montana and North Dakota.

It’s an uncertain moment for oil — and the financial stakes for Canada are considerable. It’s Canada’s top export to the U.S., in dollar figures; Canadian oil accounts for about half of U.S. oil imports, following years of growth.

But energy giant BP projects that global oil demand has peaked. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects U.S. imports will flatten out and even decline a bit. That’s happening as several automakers say they will keep building vehicles to the stricter emissions standards set in California — standards that are backed by Ottawa.

California, the largest U.S. vehicle market, recently announced it planned to ban sales of gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

Some of these changes in energy markets will proceed regardless of who’s president.

Johnston’s own projection? Barring a sudden change in the market, Canadian oil production will grow a bit for two to five years, then plateau at similar levels for decades.

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Environment is a deadly mess, but 'there is every reason to be hopeful,' UN says

Earth is sick with multiple and worsening environmental ills killing millions of people yearly, a new UN report says.

Climate change, a global major extinction of animals and plants, a human population soaring toward 10 billion, degraded land, polluted air, and plastics, pesticides and hormone-changing chemicals in the water are making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, says the scientific report issued once every few years.

But it may not be too late.

"There is every reason to be hopeful," report co-editors Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins told The Associated Press in an email. "There is still time but the window is closing fast."

The sixth Global Environment Outlook, released Wednesday at a UN conference in Nairobi, Kenya, painted a dire picture of a planet where environmental problems interact with each other to make things even more dangerous for people. It uses the word "risk" 561 times in a 740-page report.

Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2018. Almost all coastal cities and small island nations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rising seas and extreme weather linked to climate change, the UN says. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

The report concludes "unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth's ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society."

But the same document says changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy and handles its waste could help fix the problems.

The report is "a dramatic warning and a high-level road map for what must be done to prevent widespread disruption and even irreversible destruction of planetary life-support systems," said University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck, who wasn't part of the team producing the report.

Several other scientists also praised the report, which draws on existing science, data and maps.

"This report clearly shows the connections between the environment and human health and well-being," said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University ecologist.

Motorists ride through a thick blanket of smog and dust on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, in 2017. Polluted air is another problem cited by the new report. (Altaf Qadri/Associated Press)

Gupta and Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills seven million people worldwide and costs society about $ 5 trillion US. Water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million.

The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they are permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways.

Climate change

"Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change," the report says, noting that unless something changes, global temperatures will exceed the threshold of warming — another 1 C (1.8 F) above current temperatures — that international agreements call dangerous.

The report details climate change impacts on human health, air, water, land and biodiversity. Almost all coastal cities and small island nations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rising seas and extreme weather.


"A major species extinction event, compromising planetary integrity and Earth's capacity to meet human needs, is unfolding," the report says, listing threats to ecosystems, fisheries and other major systems. It notes conservationists are divided on whether Earth is in a sixth mass extinction.

Air pollution

Not only are millions of people dying each year, but unhealthy air especially hurts "the elderly, very young, ill and poor," the report says.

In a 2017 photo, pyres of elephant tusks are set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya, in a dramatic statement against the trade in products from endangered species. A global major extinction of animals and plants is one of the problems making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, the UN says. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Water pollution

While 1.5 billion people now have the clean drinking water they lacked in 2000, water quality in many regions has worsened, the report says.

Plastics and other litter have invaded every ocean at all depths, the report says.

Antibiotic resistance

People getting sick from diseases caused by antimicrobial resistant bacteria in water supplies could become a major cause of death worldwide by 2050, unless something can be done about it, the report says.

Land degradation

Land is getting less fertile and useful. The report says degradation "hot spots," where it's difficult to grow crops, now cover 29 per cent of all land areas. The rate of deforestation has slowed but continues.

"The report provides a roadmap to move beyond 'doom and gloom' and rally together to face the challenges and take the future in our hands," said former U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, who wasn't an author on the report. "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment."

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1 million people recruited to study how genes, habits and environment affect health outcomes

In a quest to end cookie-cutter health care, U.S. researchers are getting ready to recruit more than 1 million people for an unprecedented study to learn how our genes, environments and lifestyles interact — and to finally customize ways to prevent and treat disease.

Why does one sibling get sick but not another? Why does a drug cure one patient but only cause nasty side effects in the next?

Finding out is a tall order. Today, diseases typically are treated based on what worked best in short studies of a few hundred or thousand patients.

“We depend on the average, the one-size-fits-all approach because it’s the best we’ve got,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

That’s changing: The NIH’s massive “All Of Us” project will push what’s called precision medicine, using traits that make us unique in learning to forecast health and treat disease. Partly it’s genetics. What genes do you harbour that raise your risk of, say, heart disease or Type 2 diabetes or various cancers?

But other factors affect that genetic risk: what you eat, how you sleep, if you grew up in smog or fresh air, if you sit at a desk all day or bike around town, if your blood pressure is fine at a check-up but soars on the job, what medications you take.

Not to mention differences based on age, gender, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomics.

Layering all that information in what’s expected to be the largest database of its kind could help scientists spot patterns, combinations of factors that drive or prevent certain diseases — and eventually, researchers hope, lead to better care.

“The DNA is almost the easiest part,” Collins said. “It’s challenging to figure out how to put all that together to allow somebody to have a more precise sense of future risk of illness and what they might do about it.”

Pilot testing is under way, with more than 2,500 people who already have enrolled and given blood samples. More than 50 sites around the country — large medical centres, community health centres and other providers like the San Diego Blood Bank and, soon, select Walgreens pharmacies — are enrolling patients or customers in this invitation-only pilot phase.

Genetic Frontiers Million Person Study

In this Aug. 7, 2017, photo, Stephanie Richurk, a nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, sorts blood samples collected from participants. (Dake Kang/Associated Press)

If the pilot goes well, NIH plans to open the study next spring to just about any U.S. adult who’s interested, with sign-up as easy as going online.

It’s a commitment. The study aims to run for at least 10 years.

The goal is to enrol a highly diverse population, people from all walks of life — specifically recruiting minorities who have been under-represented in scientific research.

And unusual for observational research, volunteers will get receive results of their genetic and other tests, information they can share with their own doctors.

‘They didn’t know anything about me because they’d never seen a 19-year-old with this disease.’– Eric Dishman

“Anything to get more information I can pass on to my children, I’m all for it,” said Erricka Hager, 29, as she signed up last month at the University of Pittsburgh, the project’s first pilot site. A usually healthy mother of two, she hopes the study can reveal why she experienced high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during pregnancy.


Heading the giant All Of Us project is a former Intel Corp. executive who brings a special passion: How to widen access to the precision medicine that saved his life.

In college, Eric Dishman developed a form of kidney cancer so rare that doctors had no idea how to treat him, and predicted he had months to live. Only two studies of that particular cancer had ever been done, on people in their 70s and 80s.

“They didn’t know anything about me because they’d never seen a 19-year-old with this disease,” said Dishman.

Yet he survived for two decades, trying one treatment after another. Then, as he was running out of options, a chance encounter with a genetics researcher led to mapping Dishman’s DNA — and the stunning discovery that his kidney cancer was genetically more like pancreatic cancer. A pancreatic cancer drug attacked his tumors so he could get a kidney transplant.

“I’m healthier now at 49 than I was at 19,” said Dishman. “I was lucky twice over really,” to be offered an uncommon kind of testing and that it found something treatable.

‘Why me?

Precision medicine is used most widely in cancer, as more drugs are developed that target tumors with specific molecular characteristics. Beyond cancer, one of the University of Pittsburgh’s hospitals tests every patient receiving a heart stent — looking for a genetic variant that tells if they’ll respond well to a particular blood thinner or will need an alternative.

The aim is to expand precision medicine.

“Why me?” is the question cancer patients always ask — why they got sick and not someone else with similar health risks, said Dr. Mounzer Agha, an oncologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Unfortunately I don’t have answers for them today,” said Agha, who says it will take the million-person study to finally get some answers. “It’s going to help them understand what are the factors that led to their disease, and it’s going to help us understand how to treat it better.”

‘Chance really to influence history’

And NIH’s Collins expects surprises. Maybe, he speculates, Type 2 diabetes will turn out to be a collection of genetic subtypes that require varied treatments.

“This looks at individual responses to treatment in a way we couldn’t do previously with smaller studies.”


The study starts simply: Volunteers get some standard health checks — weight, blood pressure and heart rate. They answer periodic questionnaires about their health, background and habits, and turn over electronic health records. They give a blood sample that, if they agree, will undergo DNA testing sometime next year.

Eventually, researchers will ask some participants to wear sensors that may go beyond today’s Fitbit-style health trackers, such as devices that measure blood pressure while people move around all day, or measure environmental exposures, Collins said.

In Pittsburgh, the Rev. Paul Abernathy made a health change after signing up for the pilot study: Surprised to learn his BMI was too high despite regular weight-lifting, he began running.

“I’m praying I have the discipline to continue that, certainly in midst of a busy schedule,” said Abernathy, who directs the non-profit Focus Pittsburgh that aids the poor and trauma victims.

“We have a chance really to influence history, to influence the future of our children and our children’s children,” added Abernathy, who hopes the study will help explain racial disparities such as lower life expectancies between African-Americans and whites who live in the same areas.

At NIH, Collins plans to enrol, too. He’s had his DNA mapped before but can’t pass up what he’s calling a one-in-a-million experience to be part of a monumental study rather than the scientist on the other side.

“I’m curious about what this might teach me about myself. I’m pretty healthy right now. I’d like to stay that way.”


This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

This story is part of Genetic Frontiers, AP’s ongoing exploration of the rapidly growing understanding of DNA and new attempts to manipulate it.

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