The global economy loses $3.6 trillion to corruption each year, says U.N.

Secretary-General António Guterres said corruption is "an assault on the values of the United Nations."

  • December 9 marked International Anti-Corruption Day.
  • The U.N. has mounted an international campaign to equip individuals, organizations, businesses and governments with tactics they can use to combat corruption in their countries.
  • In a 2017 survey, 25% of worldwide respondents said they had had to pay a bribe to access public services in the past 12 months.

The annual costs of international corruption amount to a staggering $3.6 trillion in the form of bribes and stolen money, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on International Anti-Corruption Day, December 9.

Corruption can take many forms: bribery, embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion and cronyism, to name a few. Whatever its shape, corruption always comes at someone's expense, and it often leads to weaker institutions, less prosperity, denial of basic services, less employment and more environmental disasters.

"Fighting corruption is a global concern because corruption is found in both rich and poor countries, and evidence shows that it hurts poor people disproportionately," the U.N. wrote on its website. "It contributes to instability, poverty and is a dominant factor driving fragile countries towards state failure."

The U.N. lists corruption "one of the biggest impediments" to achieving its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which include the elimination of poverty and hunger, as well as improved education, well-being and infrastructure. That's why the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have spearheaded an international campaign to equip everyone, from politicians to trade unions, with tactics to combat corruption in their countries.

1 in 4 people worldwide have had to pay a bribe

A 2017 survey from Transparency International, which included responses from 162,136 adults, showed that 25 percent of people worldwide said they had had to pay a bribe to access public services in the past 12 months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 57 percent of people said their government was doing "badly" at fighting corruption. The survey also found that police and elected officials were ranked as the most corrupt groups, based on global average.

The good news is that more than half of the people surveyed said they felt empowered to make a difference. That's a feeling the U.N. hopes to promote in the years to come.

"People often think that they are at the mercy of corruption and that it is just a "way of life"," the U.N. wrote. "However, every society, sector and citizen would benefit from getting united against corruption in their everyday life."

To check out what you or your organization can do to fight corruption, check out the U.N.'s Call to Action Matrix here.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.