Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

When the phone rang, Rebecca Richards-Kortum thought it was a telemarketer. Instead, it was the MacArthur Foundation calling her at home to tell her she'd just won a grant totaling $625,000. And she hadn't even been aware that she'd been nominated for the prestigious award.

A scientist in Sweden has started trying to edit the DNA in healthy human embryos, NPR has learned.

The step by the developmental biologist Fredrik Lanner makes him the first researcher known to attempt to modify the genes of healthy human embryos. That has long been considered taboo because of safety and ethical concerns.

The holidays on the horizon promise golden opportunities to shamelessly stuff your face. But munch carefully: All that grub comes at a cost. Researchers averaged the daily weights of 3,000 people in Germany, Japan and the U.S. for a year and saw a spike in weight gain following every major holiday.

A rare genetic disorder is helping scientists understand our mysterious ability to sense where we are in space, known as proprioception.

This "sixth sense" is what dancers and gymnasts rely on to tell them the exact position of their body and limbs at every moment. It also tells them how much force each muscle is exerting.

3,000-Year-Old Cooking Fail Found At A Danish Dig Site

Sep 21, 2016

Denmark currently holds the title of world's happiest country. But we could imagine at least one Norseman back in time who, after a failed cooking attempt, probably felt little of the famed Danish hygge.

In a hilly wetland north of Silkeborg, archaeologists have unearthed a wholly intact Bronze Age clay pot containing a cheesy and charred residue burned to its inside.

A mysterious glowing "blob" in outer space has puzzled astronomers for more than 15 years. Now, a team of researchers says it has uncovered the secret behind the blob's eerie light.

The blob was first spotted back in the late 1990s by Chuck Steidel, an astronomer at Caltech, and some colleagues. They were observing a bunch of galaxies in the distant reaches of the universe, he recalls, "but we also saw these big blotchy things."

Farmers Enlist Chickens And Bugs To Battle Against Pests

Sep 20, 2016

In an effort to turn away from chemical pesticides, which have the potential to damage the environment, some farmers are looking in a new direction in the age-old struggle against pests. They're warding off intruding insects and noxious weeds with bugs and chickens.

I'm the health reporter covering the Zika story here at WLRN in Miami, and I'm a pregnant woman.

When Florida Gov. Rick Scott made free Zika testing available to all pregnant Floridians through the Florida Department of Health, I was one of the more than 2,200 women who took him up on the offer.

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain.

A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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No chemical used by farmers, it seems, gets more attention than glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. That's mainly because it is a cornerstone of the shift to genetically modified crops, many of which have been modified to tolerate glyphosate. This, in turn, persuaded farmers to rely on this chemical for easy control of their weeds. (Easy, at least, until weeds evolved to become immune to glyphosate, but that's a different story.)

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Cancer Immunotherapy At A Crossroads

Sep 17, 2016

It was in 1909 that Nobel Prize-winning German physician Paul Ehrlich proposed the idea that our bodies are fighting constant battles with cancer and that, thankfully, most of the time we win.

Ehrlich was a visionary in recognizing the interaction between cancer and the immune system. Specifically, that cancerous cells are continuously arising in the body but that our immune defenses in many if not most cases keep them at bay.

Universities and drug companies that use human volunteers for research face tough new rules designed to make sure that valuable information from these volunteers is widely available, not only to the volunteers themselves but to scientists trying to advance medical science.

The rules currently on the books are confusing and often ignored.

Pokemon Go trainers will do almost anything for a rare find, including getting into a car and speeding around to catch them. And then they tweet about it. According to a study, there were over 113,000 social media messages in 10 days last July that showed people getting into potentially unsafe traffic situations while trying to catch cute virtual monsters.

This year’s Alabama’s Coastal Cleanup event is set for this weekend.

Volunteers will be combing Alabama’s beaches and waterways tomorrow morning removing as much trash as possible. Event organizers say over the 28 years of Coastal Cleanup, Alabama volunteers have managed to clear over 1.5 million pounds of trash from the state’s coast and rivers during the one-day effort.

Angela Underwood is the State Coordinator for Alabama Coastal Cleanup. She explains why the annual event is so important.

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Privately insured people with cancer were diagnosed earlier and lived longer than those who were uninsured or were covered by Medicaid, according to two recent studies.

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Cat-scratch disease, as the name suggests, is spread by cats. It has long been considered a mild illness, but a study finds that people are getting more serious complications, which can be fatal.

And kissing kittens increases the risk of being infected.

The floods that hit Louisiana last month were caused by rainfall that was unlike anything seen there in centuries. Most of the southern part of the state was drenched with up to 2 or 3 inches in an hour. A total of 31 inches fell just northeast of Baton Rouge in about three days; 20 parishes were declared federal disaster areas.

Climate scientists and flood managers suspect there could more like that to come — in Louisiana and in other parts of the country.

Yes, It Is Possible To Get Your Flu Shot Too Soon

Sep 15, 2016

The pitches from pharmacy chains started in August: Come in and get your flu shot.

Convenience is touted. So are incentives. CVS offers a 20-percent-off shopping pass for everyone who gets a shot, while Walgreens donates toward international vaccination efforts.

The start of flu season is still weeks, if not months, away. Yet marketing of the vaccine has become an almost year-round effort that starts when the shots become available in August and is hyped as long as the supply lasts — often into April or May.

From anthrax outbreaks in thawing permafrost to rice farms flooded with salty water, climate change seems to play a bigger and bigger role in global health each year.

Sugar shocked.

That describes the reaction of many Americans this week following revelations that, 50 years ago, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists for research that shifted the focus away from sugar's role in heart disease — and put the spotlight squarely on dietary fat.

What might surprise consumers is just how many present-day nutrition studies are still funded by the food industry.

Donald Trump sat down with controversial TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz on his show, set to air Thursday, to discuss his personal health and medical history.

Health care providers and insurers agree that it's in everyone's best interest to refer women for genetic testing if their family history of breast or ovarian cancer puts them at higher risk. What they don't agree on is what should happen before testing — whether women need to be advised by a certified genetic counselor or someone with similar training before the test is ordered.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Vampire bats are thirsty creatures. And they drink only one beverage: mammalian blood.

Each night, they hop on the ground, crawl up to an unsuspecting victim and latch onto its ankle.

Then the little critters use razor-sharp incisors to slice a deep, tiny wound into a victim's skin. As blood flows out of the wound, the bat laps it up — about a tablespoon per bite.

Most of the time, these bites are harmless – if not a bit uncomfortable. But if the bat carries rabies, a quick nip can be deadly.

When It Comes To Our Politics, Family Matters

Sep 12, 2016

It can happen anywhere: that moment when you gaze at the people around you and realize you simply can't understand their politics.

How can these people – be they our friends, colleagues or, worst of all, our spouses – believe as they do, when facts and reason clearly point in the opposite direction? How can they support political candidates whose views are so antithetical to our definition of common sense?

They're questions voters across the country have been asking a lot this election season – voters like Kate Burkett of Indiana and Tom Barnes of Maryland.

It's 3 a.m. and Whiskers has decided it's time for breakfast. He jumps up on your bed, gently paws at your eyelids and meows to be fed. Annoyed? Cat behavior specialist Sarah Ellis says you have only yourself to blame.

Ellis says that cat owners reinforce negative behaviors when they give in to them. "Cats are not necessarily born meowing and screaming at us for food, it's a behavior that they learned," Ellis tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.