Science & Health

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We've all been caught in that hazy tug of war between wakefulness and sleep. But the biology behind how our brains drive us to sleep when we're sleep-deprived hasn't been entirely clear.

In a basement office at Purdue University in Indiana, associate professor of engineering practice Brad Duerstock has designed a special space.

A handful of scientists around the United States are trying to do something that some people find disturbing: make embryos that are part human, part animal.

The researchers hope these embryos, known as chimeras, could eventually help save the lives of people with a wide range of diseases.

One way would be to use chimera embryos to create better animal models to study how human diseases happen and how they progress.

Perhaps the boldest hope is to create farm animals that have human organs that could be transplanted into terminally ill patients.

Researchers in Arizona are fighting fire with fire. They're collecting new data on a wasp that may help slow the spread of citrus greening, a plant disease that has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops, particularly in Florida.

As the population of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder keeps growing, so does the number of people with that diagnosis who aren't finding employment.

Though many young adults on the spectrum are considered high functioning, recent research shows 40 percent don't find work — a higher jobless rate than people with other developmental disabilities experience.

In a dimly lit hut made of mud and straw, a shaft of sunlight slices through a hole in the ceiling and lands on a bag of rice. Debendra Tarek, 80, pulls out a handful of the rough brown grains and holds them up to the beam of light.

His bare chest is sunken, and his eyes glow deep in their sockets. "This resists the saltwater," the village elder explains through an interpreter. This variety of rice, he says, allows his family to remain here on Ghoramara, the island where they were born.

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

Before I had a child, I only occasionally set foot in the many parks in our neighborhood. Now I spend so much time in them that I can tell you about every swing set, picnic table and unfenced patch of grass within a two-mile radius. Also the location and cleanliness quotient of every park restroom.

The National Academy of Sciences — probably the country's most prestigious scientific group — has reaffirmed its judgment that GMOs are safe to eat. But the group's new report struck a different tone from previous ones, with much more space devoted to concerns about genetically modified foods, including social and economic ones.

Sundarbans literally means "beautiful forest," but as the novelist Amitav Ghosh writes, "There is no prettiness here to invite the stranger in." The largest mangrove forest in the world — home to man-eating tigers and hungry tides — is already seeing the impact of climate change.

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

Plains All American Pipeline company is facing criminal charges after one of its pipelines ruptured last year, spilling about 140,000 gallons of crude oil that fouled miles of California coastline near Santa Barbara.

A California grand jury indicted the company and one of its employees on 46 criminal counts. Four are felony charges — including one charge of knowingly discharging a pollutant into state waters, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said at a Tuesday news conference.

A man moves to a city in Florida and decides he wants to be mayor. He wins the election. He's happy. Then he's told his city is slowly going underwater. Not financially. Literally.

James Cason had settled in Coral Gables, a seaside town near Miami, six years ago. He ran for mayor on the Republican ticket and, soon after he won, heard the lecture by scientists about sea level rise and South Florida that left him flabbergasted.

The jet sitting at Air Hollywood's studio near the Burbank airport in Southern California was once the charter plane of the Los Angeles Lakers. These days, it serves a much different role — mostly as the set for movies and TV commercials.

But the group walking on board the day I recently visited wasn't there to film a scene. They were part of a two-day class for fearful fliers.

For participant Ronnie Michel, it was the first time in six years that he'd seen the inside of a plane.

Gently bouncing up and down in microgravity aboard the International Space Station, NASA's Jeffrey Williams delivered a message to the people of Earth.

"Monday, May 16, 2016, at 06:10 at GMT, the ISS will begin its 100,000th orbit as it crosses the equator," Williams said in a video, calling the feat a "significant milestone."

Before there was Star Wars' C-3PO and the robot who famously warned of "Danger, Will Robinson!" on TV's Lost in Space, there was Eric — one of the world's first real robots. He was built in 1928, less than a decade after the word "robot" was first used.

As researchers work to understand the human genome, many questions remain, including, perhaps, the most fundamental: Just how much of the human experience is determined before we are already born, by our genes, and how much is dependent upon external environmental factors?

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross the answer to that question is complicated. "Biology is not destiny," Mukherjee explains. "But some aspects of biology — and in fact some aspects of destiny — are commanded very strongly by genes."

Pork shoulder, cauliflower and cheese curds are all trending in 2016, according to Google's tracking of food-related searches. That list might either nauseate you or make your mouth water.

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

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

Tukaram Jadhav was barely surviving off of his tiny cotton farm when he killed himself last September. His widow, a petite mother of two, pulls her purple sari tightly around her, and says she discovered her husband as he lay dying.

"I was the one who found him. I was sleeping and woke up to the powerful smell of pesticides that we use to farm," Bhagyashree Jadhav says. She says she thought there had been a spill. "I asked my husband if he smelled it, then I realized he couldn't speak. He'd swallowed the pesticide." Tukaram languished in the hospital for two days before dying.

Sir Harold Walter Kroto died on April 30, and I've been thinking a lot about him ever since.

Harry, as he preferred to called, was one of the most remarkable people I've ever known.

We met in 2013 when I was moderating a panel of Nobel laureates at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. He was obviously smart, having co-discovered new forms of carbon called buckminsterfullerenes — or buckyballs — and sharing a Nobel prize for that work in 1996.

The massive bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is likely that country's "biggest ever environmental disaster," says Dr. Justin Marshall, who has studied the reef for three decades.

Only 7 percent of the reef has escaped bleaching, according to researchers at the ARC Center of Excellence. Marshall, a professor at the University of Queensland, says the destructive phenomenon is happening in an area the size of Scotland.

mosquito
Wikimedia

Mosquito season is approaching, and public health officials in Alabama are working to get a better understanding of what resources are available for mosquito control efforts amid rising concerns over the Zika virus.

Alabama Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness Director Andy Mullins says his office is awaiting the results of an assessment to determine what kinds of mosquito control resources are available at the city and county level throughout the state.

Copyright 2016 WWNO-FM. To see more, visit WWNO-FM.

Reviving Memory With An Electrical Current

May 14, 2016

Last year, in an operating room at the University of Toronto, a 63-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease experienced something she hadn't for 55 years: a memory of her 8-year-old self playing with her siblings on their family farm in Scotland.

It's not easy being a dung beetle.

Besides the obvious fact that they eat, well, dung, the act of just getting a meal is an involved process.

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

A prominent and outspoken fisheries scientist at the University of Washington is under attack from Greenpeace for not disclosing industry funding in several scientific papers stretching back to 2006.

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