Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Tiny particles of plastic are showing up all over the world, floating in the ocean, buried in soil, in food and even in beer. Now there's new research that's found microplastics in fertilizer — organic fertilizer from food waste, in fact.

Collecting food waste to make fertilizer is a big deal in parts of Europe and is catching on in the U.S. But Ruth Freitag, a chemist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, says there's a problem.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

NASA is building a new X plane with the goal of deadening the loud thunderclap that jets make when they travel faster than sound.

Those noisy sonic booms are one of the reasons supersonic planes aren't used commercially today.

The Low-Boom Flight Demonstration program will build the new experimental aircraft and then fly it over cities to see if it's quiet enough to satisfy residents and regulators.

The growing momentum for tighter gun control after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., is highlighting the National Rifle Association's history of aggressively confronting challenges to what it regards as Second Amendment rights.

Federal limits on both research into gun violence and the release of data about guns used in crimes are powerful reminders of the lobbying group's advantages over gun control activists. For decades, the NRA pushed legislation that stifled the study and spread of information about the causes of gun violence.

Consider this list of names for hamburgers that are now, or have been, on the market: Thickburger, Whopper, Big Mac, Big Boy, Chubby Boy, Beefy Boy, Super Boy.

Notice a pattern there?

Writer Carol J. Adams does. This list comes from her book Burger, published last month. As the hamburger business gradually grew over time, Adams explains, so did the size of the hamburger — and the gender associations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that organic food companies can keep using an emulsifier called carrageenan in foods like ice cream and high-protein drinks, despite a vote by an influential organic advisory committee to ban the ingredient.

When people send away samples for DNA testing they're often hoping the results can help them trace the lineage of their families over centuries and across continents. But when Kelli Rowlette received her results from Ancestry.com she discovered a much closer connection — about 500 miles away from where she lives — dating back to May 20, 1981. Her own birthday.

The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes.

For decades, scientists have thought that black holes should sink to the center of galaxies and accumulate there, says Chuck Hailey, an astrophysicist at Columbia University. But scientists had no proof that these exotic objects had actually gathered together in the center of the Milky Way.

When the newborn piglets first started getting sick in October 2016, farmers in China's Guangdong province suspected porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) — a disease they'd seen in the pigs before. And, at first, the tests did come back positive for PEDV. But then something strange happened. By January 2017, the pigs stopped testing positive for that virus — but kept getting sick.

There is a paradox with living as a human nowadays.

A 2014 article from the United Nations states that about 54 percent of the human population lives in urban areas (more by now), a proportion that is projected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. By 2045, the report says, more than six billion people will crowd cities.

Brewing beer, it is often said, is both an art and a science. New research, however, has some in the beer industry concerned that the science of brewing could be advancing too far.

A team of beer-brewing chemists and geneticists in California has created a genetically modified yeast that produces hoppy aromas and flavors without any interaction with the fragrant blossoms themselves. In other words, they've developed a way to make beer hoppy without using hops.

A Tale Of 2 Whale Songs

Apr 4, 2018

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, think of your favorite jazz standard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOWHEAD WHALE VOCALIZATION)

In a much-watched case, a Michigan agency has approved Nestlé's plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the state. The request attracted a record number of public comments — with 80,945 against and 75 in favor.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we are continuing to follow the news of a shooter earlier today at YouTube headquarters in Northern California. Please stay with us, and stay with your local NPR station. We will keep bringing you more details as we learn them.

Federal health officials say a network they set up last year to identify deadly "nightmare bacteria" is helping control these germs, but the system would be more effective if more hospitals and doctors participated.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focuses on particularly odious germs that live primarily in the gut and cannot be killed with "antibiotics of last resort," called carbapenems.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is fending off multiple accusations that he misused taxpayer funds and maintained improper ties to companies regulated by the EPA.

Time Travel With Your Fridge?

Apr 3, 2018

Jimena Canales is a faculty member of the Graduate College at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a research affiliate at MIT. She focuses on 19th and 20th century history of the physical sciences and science in the modern world.

WATCH: See How Leeches Can Be A Surgeon's Sidekick

Apr 3, 2018

Editor's Note: The video of leeches used in surgery is a bit bloody — especially after the 2-minute mark.

Leeches get a bad rap — but they might not deserve it.

For the 3 million people in America (myself included) with celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten — culinary life is a series of intricate leaps, accommodations and back-steps. We peer at labels, know the difference between "gluten-free" and "certified-gluten free" and keep a dedicated set of dishes and pots at home to avoid contamination by flour dust, crumbs of bread and bits of pasta indulged in by family members or roommates.

Why do good employees sometimes go on to be bad bosses? Kelly Shue, a professor of finance at Yale University, says it may have to do with what's known as the 'Peter Principle.'

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Inside the largest entomology collection in America, there are insects that are out to fool you.

Have you ever noticed that when something important is missing in your life, your brain can only seem to focus on that missing thing?

Two researchers have dubbed this phenomenon scarcity, and they say it touches on many aspects of our lives.

"It leads you to take certain behaviors that in the short term help you to manage scarcity, but in the long term only make matters worse," says Sendhil Mullaianathan, an economics professor at Harvard University.

The Trump Administration today moved to weaken fuel economy standards for automobiles, saying the current ones are inappropriate and wrong.

The long-anticipated move is a win for auto manufacturers, which had lobbied for lower fuel-economy standards. It's also a rejection of one of former President Barack Obama's biggest efforts to combat climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Every week in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Zibin Guo guides veterans in wheelchairs through slow-motion tai chi poses as a Bluetooth speaker plays soothing instrumental music.

"Cloudy hands to the right, cloudy hands to the left," he tells them. "Now we're going to open your arms, grab the wheels and 180-degree turn."

We're entering uncharted territory.

For more than 2,000 years, we humans have been arguing about life and, in particular, intelligent life in the universe. But arguing was pretty much where it always ended.

For all that time, we never had any evidence or any data that could raise the discussion above two people with different opinions yelling at each other.

But this era may well be nearing its end.

Research has shown that sharp reductions in the amount of food consumed can help fish, rats and monkeys live longer. But there have been very few studies in humans.

Now, some researchers have found that when people severely cut calories, they can slow their metabolism and possibly the aging process.

The Afghan boy arrived at the U.S. military hospital in Kandahar with severe burns from the chest down. He was about 5.

"I knew as soon as I saw him it was just too much surface area," says Kit Parker, who, at the time, was an Army Civil Affairs officer working with Afghan villagers. "I knew he was going to die."

Even so, Parker and his team sergeant, Aaron Chapman, stayed at the hospital throughout that night in 2003, while military doctors worked to keep the boy alive.

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

As predicted, China's Tiangong-1 space lab fell from the sky on Sunday evening.

The city bus-sized craft, which almost entirely burned up as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, broke into small pieces as it plummeted over the South Pacific Ocean. The derelict spacecraft has been slowly falling out of its original orbit for several years.

When the hearse carrying the body of professor Stephen Hawking arrived at the university church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge, the bell rang 76 times — to mark each year of the renowned physicist's life.

His coffin was draped with white flowers — lilies for the universe, roses for the polar star. Six pallbearers carried the coffin from Gonville & Caius College, where Hawking was a fellow for more than 50 years.

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