Science & Health

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When it comes to sleep, fruit flies are a lot like people. They sleep at night, caffeine keeps them awake, and they even get insomnia.

Those similarities, along with scientists' detailed knowledge of the genes and brain structure of Drosophila melanogaster, have made the fruit fly extremely valuable to sleep researchers.

Hundreds of you sent in questions for Skunk Bear's live conversation with three astronauts and NASA's chief scientist on Tuesday. Thanks! The most common question was: "What happens when you get your period in space?"

I didn't end up asking them this question because:

a) The question itself has a lot of historical baggage;
b) The answer is pretty boring.

But since people were genuinely curious, I decided to answer it here.

Everyone knows that caffeine can keep you awake, but a new study shows that the world's most popular drug can actually interfere with your body's internal sense of time.

"The circadian clock is way beyond 'sleep and wake,' " says Kenneth Wright, a sleep and circadian physiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The circadian clock is present in cells throughout our entire body. It's in your fat cells; it's in your muscle cells. It's in your liver, for example, as well as in your brain."

Word that Americans throw away about one-third of our available food has been getting around.

Now there's an official goal aimed at reducing that waste.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency — along with many private-sector and food-bank partners — announced the first ever national target for food waste.

"[We're] basically challenging the country to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tells The Salt.

It's called the Heartland virus disease. Since it was first detected in 2009, there have been only nine reported cases in the Midwest, including two deaths.

So scientists thought the Heartland virus was limited to a small region.

That assumption was wrong.

A team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now found signs that Heartland virus is circulating in deer, raccoons, coyotes and moose in 13 states — from Texas to North Carolina and Florida to Maine.

School Nurses Stock Drug To Reverse Opioid Overdoses

Sep 16, 2015

AnneMarie Zagari found her teenage son unresponsive on the couch after he took too many opioid painkillers in 2011. She began pounding his chest and slapping his face, and finally succeeded in reviving him by giving him CPR. It was a terrifying moment. And that panic wouldn't have been necessary if she'd had access to the drug naloxone (also known as Narcan), which can instantly reverse an overdose.

"It would have been instant revival," Zagari says.

What kind of messages get ignored? What kind prompt you to do something?

Those are questions that a small group of behavioral scientists at the White House has been working on since early last year.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Team is seeking ways to improve government efficiency and access to government programs through easy, low-cost interventions.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



In a new expansion of commercial efforts to launch earthlings into space, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos plans to build rockets on Florida's Space Coast — in an area he calls "a gateway to humankind's greatest adventures."

At first glance, the metallic device almost looks like a high-tech bike pedal. Or maybe the latest cooking gadget for zesting lemons. Or, perhaps, it's a secret weapon for X-Men superhero Wolverine.

But look again.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Paleo People Were Making Flour 32,000 Years Ago

Sep 14, 2015

Oatmeal is generally considered a no-no on the modern paleo diet, but the original paleo eaters were definitely grinding oats and other grains for dinner, according to new research.

That finding comes from new investigations of an ancient stone recovered in a cave called Grotta Paglicci in Puglia, in southern Italy. It was used by the Gravettian culture — a paleolithic people who also left behind spectacular cave paintings, evidence of burial and distinctive stone tools.

Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET

Mount Aso — a volcano on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu — has erupted, spewing black smoke and ash more than a mile into the air, the Japanese Meteorological Agency says.

So far, there have been no reports of injuries or damage, but ash fell as far as 2.5 miles from the crater.

Mount Aso, which stands 5,222 feet high, is the country's largest active volcano.

Are you not getting enough sleep, or are you getting too much? If your answer to either of these questions is "yes," you may be at risk of heart disease.

Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka's safe return from months aboard the International Space Station has put him in the record books for spending more time in space than any other human — the equivalent of nearly two and a half years on five different flights.

Padalka, whose latest 168-day stay on the ISS gives him a total of 879 days in space, has smashed the previous record, which was set by fellow Russian Sergei Krikalev in 2005, by two months .

Scientists today laid out a truly worst-case scenario for global warming — what would happen if we burned the Earth's entire supply of fossil fuels.

Virtually all of Antarctica's ice would melt, leading to a 160- to 200-foot sea level rise.

"If we burn it all, we're going to melt it all," says Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

In California's blazing hot San Joaquin Valley, millions of pistachio trees are now buried in clusters of small pinkish-green fruits — what would seem like a bumper crop.

But for many growers of the popular nut, the season is shaping into a disaster. Jeff Schmiederer, who farms 700 acres of family-owned pistachio trees on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley, says about 90 percent of the nuts he has sampled from his trees are hollow — what growers call "blanks."

When It Comes To Kids, Is All Screen Time Equal?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

About Dimitri Christakis' TED Talk

Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis explains how different forms of screen time affects kids and their ability to learn and develop.

About Dimitri Christakis

How Are Our Screens Changing Us Now?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

Host Guy Raz raises the curtain on a special two-part TED Radio Hour episode about our ambivalent relationships with our screens.

We hear audio from a Facebook press conference call in which CEO Mark Zuckerburg describes virtual reality as a development that will revolutionize our lives — like the PC, the Internet and the smartphone.

What Happens When We Step Inside The Screen?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 6 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

About Chris Milk's TED Talk

Filmmaker Chris Milk uses cutting edge technology to create a film experience that immerses the viewer. He explains how virtual reality has allowed him to create the "ultimate empathy machine."

About Chris Milk

How Are Screens Changing The Face Of War?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

About P.W. Singer's TED Talk

Today airstrikes involve generals dictating - and soldiers carrying out - orders behind screens. Strategist P.W. Singer describes how screens have complicated the nature of war.

About P.W. Singer

Will Our Screens Soon Be Able To Read Our Emotions?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

About Rana el Kaliouby's TED Talk

Despite their powerful computing capability, our screens have no way of knowing how we feel. Computer scientist Rana el Kaliouby says that's about to change.

About Rana el Kaliouby

Are Our Devices Turning Us Into A New Kind Of Human?

Sep 11, 2015

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode Screen Time - Part I.

About Amber Case's TED Talk

Anthropologist Amber Case says our technology is changing us into cyborgs. She argues we have become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of Homo sapiens.

About Amber Case

Colstrip, Mont., is true to its name — it exists because of coal.

"Our coal's getting deeper, like everywhere else, because everybody's mining. They're getting into the deeper stuff," says Kevin Murphy, who has worked in the Rosebud Mine for 15 years running a bulldozer in the open pits.

Everything about the mine is enormous, especially the dragline, a machine as big as a ship with a giant boom that extends 300 feet up into the air. The dragline perches on the lip of the pit, scraping away hundreds of feet of rocky soil to reveal the black seam of coal below.

New images of the dwarf planet Ceres give fresh detail to its most intriguing features: a cluster of bright spots that NASA says "gleam with mystery" and are intensely different from anything else on Ceres' surface.

Taken from fewer than 1,000 miles away, the images may finally help NASA figure out what's behind the brightness.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of an unusual human-like creature that lived long ago. Exactly how long ago is still a mystery — and that's not the only mystery surrounding this newfound species.

The bones have a strange mix of primitive and modern features, and were found in an even stranger place — an almost inaccessible chamber deep inside a South African cave called Rising Star.

Acoustic biologists who have learned to tune their ears to the sounds of life know there's a lot more to animal communication than just, "Hey, here I am!" or "I need a mate."

From insects to elephants to people, we animals all use sound to function and converse in social groups — especially when the environment is dark, or underwater or heavily forested.

Teenagers get dissed for being irrational and making bad decisions, which can lead to very bad things, like drunken driving, risky sex and drug use.

But what if the problem is really that teens are just a little too rational?

That's the argument of Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

He and other researchers were wondering about the presumptions we make about rational/good and irrational/bad when it comes to decision-making.

Let me say a few things about Lily: She has never tried to herd people, children, cats or dogs. She does not look like a classic herding dog. You wouldn't mistake her for Lassie or the border collie in Babe. And we have no particular reason to think she's been yearning to herd sheep.