Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Tiny eggs have started hatching this week at the San Diego Zoo, and scientists there are celebrating the arrival of baby tree lobsters.

It's all part of a conservation effort for the Lord Howe Island stick insect. The huge, black, shiny creature, also known as a tree lobster, is a superstar of the entomological world, because its history is such a strange saga of passion and commitment.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A massive gas leak in the Los Angeles area that was first announced in October is still leaking. The company that operates the storage facility where the leak happened says the leak could be capped as early as the end of the week.

Most of the leaking gas is the greenhouse gas methane, which is harmful to the environment. But how harmful is it?

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross that researchers first tagged in 1956, has hatched what could be her 40th chick, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to call her "an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope."

Born at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (which is part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument), the new (adorable) chick has been named Kūkini — the Hawaiian word for messenger.

The heart of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan is now on hold, after the Supreme Court granted a stay request that blocks the EPA from moving ahead with rules that would lower carbon emissions from the nation's power plants.

The case is scheduled to be argued in June, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But a decision could be long in coming, particularly if the case winds up in the Supreme Court — meaning that the rules' fate might not be determined before a new presidential administration comes into power in 2017.

When Carolyn Coyne's lab at the University of Pittsburgh recently tried to order a sample of Zika virus from a major laboratory supplier, they were told it was out of stock.

"They are actually back-ordered until July for the virus," Coyne says. "At least that's what we were told." She ended up obtaining Zika from another source, and it arrived at her lab Tuesday.

The international trade in exotic animal parts includes rhino horn, seahorses, and bear gall bladders. But perhaps none is as strange as the swim bladder from a giant Mexican fish called the totoaba.

The totoaba can grow to the size of a football player. It lives only in the Gulf of California in Mexico, along with the world's smallest and rarest mammal — a type of porpoise called the vaquita.

Researchers may have detected gravitational ripples from the collision of two black holes, according to rumors circulating in emails and on blogs.

Anne Bowers wanted her boyfriend to buy her a used ring. Second-hand engagement rings are hundreds or even thousands of dollars less expensive than new ones.

But when it came time for him to propose, her husband went for a new ring. He said he just couldn't buy a second-hand ring. Why?

Second-hand rings have a history. They may have been worn by someone in an unhappy relationship.

The sighs we notice usually accompany emotions like relief or discontent. But our brains are programmed to make us heave an unconscious sigh every five minutes or so — no matter how we feel.

"Sighing is vital to maintain lung function," says Jack Feldman, a brain scientist at UCLA. These periodic deep breaths reinflate tiny air sacs in the lungs that have gone flat. But the brain circuitry behind those reflexive sighs has been a mystery.

The Gulf of Mexico is now open for commercial fish farming.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last month that, for the first time in the U.S., companies can apply to set up fish farms in federal waters.

The idea is to compete with hard-to-regulate foreign imports. But opening the Gulf to aquaculture won't be cheap, and it could pose environmental problems.

A major natural gas storage well in Southern California is still leaking, though less so than back in late October, when the giant gas leak was first reported. More than 5,000 families and two schools have been relocated since then, and the local utility that operates the facility is now facing several legal actions.

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

"What they would do is they would start Googling the question, 'How does a novel represent humanity?' " Heick says. "That was a real eye-opener to me."

There aren't a lot of people who have dined on meat from the Pleistocene, prehistoric humans notwithstanding. That's why accounts of the 1951 Annual Dinner of the Explorers Club, a society of scientific adventurers, all agree that the organizer of the night, Wendell Phillips Dodge, threw the dinner party of the century. Legend has it that Dodge served the meat of a woolly mammoth.

Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development, such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races, which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.

Florida is one of several U.S. states now reporting a few isolated cases of people infected with the Zika virus. In response, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency in five counties in hopes of getting ahead of the virus's spread.

So far, just 12 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been reported to health authorities in Florida, all of them among travelers who contracted the disease outside the U.S. But Scott figures it's only a matter of time before the virus starts showing up among mosquitoes in some regions of the state, too.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It's capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world's biggest solar thermal power plants.

Food writer Bee Wilson has a message of hope for parents struggling to get their children to eat their veggies: "As parents, we have a far greater power than we think we have to form children's tastes," Wilson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

In her new book, First Bite, Wilson examines how genetics, culture, memory and early feeding patterns contribute to our food preferences. She says that a child's palate can be formed even before birth. And this insight can be helpful for parents who want their children to eat well and healthfully.

"Squat! Squat! Squat! Higher! Faster!"

In the basement of the Duane Physics and Astrophysics building at the University of Colorado Boulder, a science demonstration is going on, but it looks more like a vaudeville act.

One by one, students balance precariously on a rotating platform. Then they are handed what looks like a spinning bicycle wheel, holding it by two handles that stick out from either side of what would be the hub of the wheel. When you flip the wheel over, like a pizza, your body starts rotating in the opposite direction.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Mice were much healthier and lived about 25 percent longer when scientists killed off a certain kind of cell that accumulates in the body with age.

What's more, the mice didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from losing their so-called senescent cells.

A patient acquired Zika virus in the U.S. through sex with a person who had traveled to a place where the virus is circulating, Dallas County, Texas, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

This is not the first time that the virus has been sexually transmitted, and it most likely isn't the first time it's been sexually transmitted in the U.S.

Scientists still can't predict an earthquake. The U.S. government, however, has a warning system in the works that it hopes could quickly send out a widespread alarm before most people feel a rumble — and save lives when seconds count.

The recently upgraded network of seismometers and computers, known as ShakeAlert, is advancing through the prototype-testing stage, Sally Jewell, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said at a news conference Tuesday.

A landmark deal 10 years in the making will protect 9.1 millions acres of Canadian rain forest on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.

The protected area in the Great Bear Rainforest is about half the size of Ireland.

The Science Of Getting Kids Organized

Feb 2, 2016

If you've ever gotten a glimpse inside a high schooler's backpack or locker, you know organization doesn't always come naturally to teens. Being scatterbrained in school can make make it tough to stay focused and do well.

That was the case when Lilli Stordeur was about halfway through her freshman year of high school in Northampton, Mass. She felt totally overwhelmed.

"I was being tutored for the classes I was having trouble in," she says, "but I would be having a hard time organizing my binders, and notebooks and stuff, and knowing when to hand things in."

The history of science is full of happy accidents — most folks have heard that penicillin was discovered in 1928, when a few mold spores landed on some neglected petri dishes in a London lab. But sometimes serendipity's role is a bit less ... mainstream.

In Flint, Mich., families are using bottled water to do everything — from cooking to bathing.

The tap water is still unsafe to drink after government officials allowed corroded lead pipes to poison the water.

People in Flint have lots of questions for those officials. Perhaps the biggest is the one Hattie Collins has.

"When are you gonna fix it? And I mean fix it right," she says.

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For the first time, the government is allowing scientists to edit the DNA inside human embryos. As NPR's health correspondent, Rob Stein, reports, that's extremely controversial.

Praying for rain? You'll get (slightly) less when the moon is very high, a new study finds.

Scientists at the University of Washington say the moon's position impacts the amount of rainfall on Earth.

"As far as I know, this is the first study to convincingly connect the tidal force of the moon with rainfall," researcher Tsubasa Kohyama says in a press release from the university.

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