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Dirty money: Germs and dope cling to your cash

Johanna Ohm  is a graduate student in biology at Pennsylvania State University

We live in a dirty world. Wherever we go, we are among microbes. Bacteria, fungi and viruses live on our phones, bus seats, door handles and park benches. We pass these tiny organisms to each other when we share a handshake or a seat on the plane .

Now, researchers are finding we also share our microbes through our money. From tip jars to vending machines to the meter maid – each dollar, passed person to person, samples a bit of the environment it comes from, and passes those bits to the next person, the next place it goes.

The list of things found on our dollars includes DNA from our pets, traces of drugs , and bacteria and viruses that cause disease.

The findings demonstrate how money can silently record human activities, leaving behind so-called "molecular echoes."

What's on a dollar bill?

In April, a new study identified over a hundred different strains of bacteria on dollar bills circulating in New York City. Some of the most common bugs on our bills included Propionibacterium acnes , a bacteria known to cause acne, and Streptococcus oralis , a common bacteria found in our mouths.

The research team, led by biologist Jane Carlton at New York University, also discovered traces of DNA from domestic animals and from specific bacteria that are associated only with certain foods.

A similar study recovered traces of DNA on ATM keypads, reflecting the foods people ate in different neighborhoods. People in central Harlem ate more domestic chicken than those in Flushing and Chinatown, who ate more species of bony fish and mollusks. The foods people ate transferred from fingers to touchscreens, where scientists could recover a bit of their most recent meals.

We don't leave only food behind. Traces of cocaine can be found on almost 80 percent of dollar bills. Other drugs, including morphine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamine, can also be found on bills , though less commonly than cocaine.

Identifying foods people eat or the drugs people use based on interactions with money might not seem all that useful, but scientists are also using these types of data to understand patterns of disease. Most of the microbes the researchers in New York identified do not cause disease. But other studies have suggested that disease-causing strains of bacteria or virus could be passed along with our currency .

Bacteria that cause food-borne illness – including Salmonella and a pathogenic strain of E.coli – have been shown to survive on pennies, nickels and dimes and can hide out on ATM machines . Other bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ( MRSA ) which causes skin infections, are found on bank notes in the U.S. and Canada , but the extent to which they could spread infections is unknown.

Try as we may to avoid exposure to germs, they travel with us and on us. Even if disease-causing microbes can survive in places like ATMs,


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GOP health bill: Senate preps for possible vote next week

Senators may only have seven days to review draft language of a Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare before they cast a vote that could affect millions of Americans.

Republicans plan to release a "discussion draft" of their health care bill on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, aims to hold a vote on the health care bill before lawmakers leave Washington next week for their week-long July 4 recess.

"I expect to have a discussion draft on Thursday and we will go to the bill obviously once we get a [Congressional Budget Office] score -- likely next week," McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

A working group consisting of 13 Republican men -- and no women -- has been negotiating the legislation's parameters behind closed doors, leaving many of their own GOP colleagues in the dark. Senate Democrats spent Monday night highlighting the secretive process by delivering floor speeches late into the night and requesting hearings so that the bill could be hashed out before the public.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, lambasted Republicans for their hypocrisy, given that Democrats were accused in 2009 of writing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, in private.

"Now that the shoe's on the other foot and Republicans are in charge, all those concerns and criticisms have disappeared. No committee process, no hearings, nothing, quite the opposite of what they called four or five years ago. What gall!" Schumer exclaimed on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted in January 2010, "The people have a right to know what is happening behind closed doors with secret HC negotiations."

Some Republicans not involved in the current negotiations are expressing frustration with the tight-knit process.

"I think we should have debated it in open, in committee hearings, have both sides bring in witnesses," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. "I don't think the parties are any different. I would give criticism, equally, to the parties, but what I would say is if you're doing it on one side only, what you're setting yourself up for is for failure."

If the Senate bill contains "greater subsidies than Obamacare," Paul warned it's going to be hard for conservatives to support the measure.

"One of the key things I'll be looking for when it comes out, when I get a copy, is are there more subsidies in our bill than Obamacare? That, to me, really is a nonstarter," he said.

Even one of the working group's members, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he hasn't seen text.

"It has become increasingly apparent over the past few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing this bill within this working group, it's not being written by us," he said in a video post on Facebook. "It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I

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