Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The U.S. Embassy in Chile says it is sending an additional $740,000 for protective equipment and firefighting tools, as the country continues to battle more than 70 active wildfires that have killed at least 11 people in the past two weeks.

Genetically engineered crops are nothing new. But emerging technology that allows scientists to alter plants more precisely and cheaply is taking genetically engineered plants from the field to the kitchen.

The first version of the Arctic Apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious, is headed for test markets in the Midwest in February, according to the company that produced it. It is the first genetically engineered apple, altered so that when it is cut, it doesn't turn brown from oxidation.

When scientists first read out the human genome 15 years ago, there were high hopes that we'd soon understand how traits like height are inherited. It hasn't been easy. A huge effort to find height-related genes so far only explains a fraction of this trait.

Now scientists say they've made some more headway. And the effort is not just useful for understanding how genes determine height, but how they're involved in driving many other human traits.

To Catch Prey, Frogs Turn To Sticky Spit

Jan 31, 2017

Frog spit might be some of the catchiest spit on the planet.

That's according to new research on frog saliva, which shows that the sticky stuff is tailor-made to grab bugs.

It helps to explain how frogs can snatch flies out of the air at incredible speeds, and hang on to them using only their tongues.

Researchers had suspected a frog's saliva might be an important tool for hunting.

An archaeologist has launched a citizen science project that invites anyone with an Internet connection to help look for evidence of archaeological site looting.

For years, the satellites of America's Global Positioning System have been carrying sensors that measure the weather in space.

The information has been kept by the military, which manages the satellites, because solar storms and other space weather can damage satellites.

Today, as the result of an executive order signed last October, the government released 16 years of that space weather data to the public for the first time.

Scientists have described a new kind of sea creature in what's now central China. It lived 540 million years ago, and the tiny, baggy organism could occupy a peripheral spot on our own evolutionary tree.

When scientists like Simon Conway Morris discover a new animal, they get to name it. He and his colleagues in China don't seem to give compliments where they aren't deserved.

Mika Peck, a conservation ecologist at England's University of Sussex, was frustrated. He'd been researching and publishing papers for years on the near-extinction of the Ecuadoran brown-headed spider monkey, and not much was happening to change the primate's extremely threatened status.

Not much, that is, until he started connecting the monkeys to gourmet chocolate.

Can New DNA Science Help Keep Our Fish Safe?

Jan 29, 2017

Biologist Shaun Clements stands in the winter mist in a coastal Oregon forest, holding a small vial of clear liquid.

"We should be safe mixing it now, right?" he asks his colleague, Kevin Weitemier, above the sound of a rushing stream a few feet away.

Weitemier brings a second vial, full of stream water. In deliberate, seemingly choreographed movements, they pour the liquid back and forth between the small containers, mixing two, then three times — never spilling a drop.

A tiny self-propelled drug-delivery device might someday make taking antibiotics safer and more efficient. Think of it as a tiny submarine scooting around inside your stomach, fueled by the acid there.

Oral antibiotics are commonly prescribed life-saving drugs. Once an antibiotic is swallowed, it takes a trip to the stomach, where there's lots of acid. That stomach acid can break chemical bonds in the antibiotic and deactivate it.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republican lawmakers meeting in Philadelphia this week say they want their replacement of Obamacare to be done by spring. There is no consensus on a plan yet, but several Republicans in Congress have already circulated proposals that could reduce or eliminate features of the federal health law that have benefited older Americans.

Here are some examples:

Prescription drugs

"Rogue" accounts that have the look of those by real federal agencies are spreading like wildfire on Twitter.

The AltUSNatParkService Twitter account has gained more than 1 million followers and inspired the creation of many more "unofficial resistance" accounts for specific national parks and other entities, including accounts like Rogue NASA and AltUSForestService.

The government of Chile says wildfires that have killed at least 10 people are the worst blazes in the country's history.

Several firefighters are among the dead.

"We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile," President Michelle Bachelet said earlier this week, after her administration declared a state of emergency. "The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires."

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts during a routine test on the launchpad. The accident shocked NASA as the agency was rushing to meet President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to have men on the moon by the end of the decade.

The test was a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 1 crew — Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The ultimate goal was to check out the command module, NASA's first three-man spacecraft that would take astronauts to the moon.

Scientists are reporting the results of controversial experiments that they say are encouraging them to continue to try to develop embryos that are part-human and part-animal.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

What Einstein did for physics, a Spaniard named Santiago Ramón y Cajal did for neuroscience more than a century ago.

Back in the 1890s, Cajal produced a series of drawings of brain cells that would radically change scientists' understanding of the brain.

And Cajal's drawings aren't just important to science. They are considered so striking that the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis has organized a traveling exhibition of Cajal's work called The Beautiful Brain.

This week, President Trump's transition team put new restrictions on government scientists' freedom to communicate. The restrictions are being characterized as temporary, and some have already been lifted.

Heavy precipitation is erasing years of extremely dry conditions in parts of California, with the latest federal report showing that just over 51 percent of the state remains in drought — and no areas have the worst rating, "exceptional drought."

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is "really, really smart," and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

An underground pipeline that runs through multiple Midwestern states has leaked an estimated 138,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to the company that owns it, Magellan Midstream Partners.

Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio reported diesel leaking from a 12-inch underground pipe was initially spotted in a farm field in north-central Worth County, Iowa, on Wednesday morning. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Iowa Department of Natural Resources joined representatives of Magellan and other local officials at the site, Masters reported.

The minute hand on the Doomsday Clock ticked closer to midnight Thursday, as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said it's seeing an increase in dangers to humanity, from climate change to nuclear warfare. The group took the "unprecedented" step of moving the clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, to leave it at 2 1/2 minutes away.

The setting is the closest the symbolic clock has come to midnight since 1953, when scientists moved it to two minutes from midnight after seeing both the U.S. and the Soviet Union test hydrogen bombs. It remained at that mark until 1960.

If Twitter accounts fall silent in the woods, can they still make a sound? Turns out, yes — lots.

Tuesday afternoon, a new Twitter account called "AltUSNatParkService" appeared and began tweeting out facts about climate change, support for the National Parks and comments in opposition of President Trump, who has called climate change a hoax created by China.

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Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A red panda named Sunny has escaped from the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk. The search is under way as we speak.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tom Coleman is busy pruning branches off pistachio trees that aren't budding at an orchard just north of Fresno, Calif. He farms and manages more than 8,000 acres of pistachios across the state.

"Here's an example of some hanging down nuts from last year that just wouldn't come off because of the position on the tree, so we want to remove that," says Coleman.

Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who want to publish or present their scientific findings likely will need to have their work reviewed on a "case by case basis" before it can be disseminated, according to a spokesman for the agency's transition team.

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