Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

As dense smoke from regional wildfires spread through communities across western Montana last summer, public health agencies faced an indoor problem, too: Residents suddenly needed filters to clean the air inside homes and public spaces, but there was no obvious funding source to pay for it.

Ellen Leahy, the health officer in charge of the Missoula City-County Health Department, says in the past, when wildfire smoke polluted the air outside, nobody really talked about air filters.

Every morning at a supermarket called Auchan in central Paris, Magdalena Dos Santos has a rendezvous with Ahmed "Doudou" Djerbrani, a driver from the French food bank.

Dos Santos, who runs the deli section of the store, is in charge of supervising the store's food donations. She sets aside prepared dishes that are nearing their expiration date.

Opening a giant fridge, Dos Santos shows what else the store is giving away – yogurt, pizza, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese.

We spend a lot of time talking to Alexa and Siri. Imagine if such artificial personalities were put inside a cute, adorable robot. That's what Alexander Reben has done. The artist created what he saw as the perfect interview machine to see how much he could get people to reveal to the robot.

Jean Loesch and her family live in Seeley Lake, Mont., which saw the longest and most intense smoke from Montana's wildfires this summer. Loesch has 10 children, adopted or in her foster care, and they are learning what it's like to have lingering respiratory problems.

Last summer, Loesch says, the smoke was so thick outside, the family couldn't see the trees across the street, so they stayed inside. It was still really hard to breathe.

"These guys were miserable," Loesch says. "I think each one of them ended up having to go to the doctor." Everyone needed inhalers.

The technology that drives science forward is forever accelerating, but the same can't be said for science communication. The basic process still holds many vestiges from its early days — that is the 17th century.

Some scientists are pressing to change that critical part of the scientific enterprise.

Here's what they're confronting: When researchers studying the biology of disease make a discovery, it typically takes nine months for them to get their results published in a journal.

In Greek mythology, the Olympians were said to drink ambrosia, which bestowed upon them immortality. Occasionally, athletic heroes like Heracles were also gifted a sip. But the myths don't say much about the golden-amber liquid getting them all drunk.

The Seychelles have brokered a novel deal that will allow the island archipelago to swap millions of dollars in sovereign debt for protecting nearly one third of its ocean area.

It's hailed as the first of its kind. "Seychelles is clearly breaking new grounds and with it, it has positioned itself as a world leader in ocean governance and management," Seychelles vice president Vincent Meriton said in remarks announcing the new protections.

The origin of the universe, the nature of space, the reality of time: These are ancient questions.

Libraries across the world are filled with heavy books that are, themselves, heavy with equations on these issues. But how many graphic novels are exploring these questions? More importantly, how many graphic novels written and drawn by expert theoretical physicists are there?

One of the most common reasons patients head to an emergency room is pain. In response, doctors may try something simple at first, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. And, at least up until recently, if that isn't effective, the second line of attack has been the big guns.

"Percocet or Vicodin," says Dr. Peter Bakes, an emergency medicine specialist at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colo. "Medications that certainly have contributed to the rising opioid epidemic."

President Trump made coal jobs a core of his presidential campaign, repeatedly vowing to bring back "beautiful" coal despite the industry's decades-long decline. And in pockets of the U.S. during Trump's first year in office, it may well have felt like a turnaround was underway.

A review of data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows 1,001 more U.S. coal jobs last year compared with 2016, although energy analysts say the reasons are short term and have nothing to do with White House policies.

The fishing industry has long been hard to monitor. Its global footprint is difficult even to visualize. Much fishing takes place unobserved, far from land, and once the boats move on, they leave behind few visible traces of their activity.

A Mongolian horse that has long been hailed as the last truly wild horse species in existence isn't really all that wild.

It turns out that Przewalski's horses are actually feral descendants of the first horses that humans are known to have domesticated, around 5,500 years ago.

What's more, the modern horses that people ride today cannot be traced to those early steeds. That means humans must have tamed wild horses once again later on, somewhere else, but no one knows where or when.

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket Thursday morning.

But the hard part came next: trying to catch the rocket's falling nose cone with a big net on a ship in the ocean.

Wait, what?

When humans talk to each other or walk alongside each other, we tend to match each other's subtle movements.

Called interpersonal movement synchrony in the science literature and mirroring in the popular media, it's an often-unconscious process during which we match our gestures and pace to that of our social partner of the moment.

A quarter of a million Americans die every year from sepsis, which is the body's reaction to overwhelming infection. This cascade of organ failure can be nipped in the bud if health care workers know it's ramping up, but that's often not easy to do.

Back in October 2017, women took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement went viral, spurring a national and global discussion on the issue.

Many women have since come forward with their experiences of being sexually harassed by colleagues and bosses, costing influential men in the entertainment industry and the media — including journalists here at NPR — their jobs.

This story of a man who nearly died in the hospital actually started in the woods of Washington's Cascade Mountains last summer.

"I was cutting for a logging outfit up on these rock cliffs and I felled a 150-foot fir tree into [some] maple trees," says Kristopher Kelly, a 51-year-old lumberjack. The maples "had a bunch of dead tops — they call 'em widow makers," Kelly says. "You don't want to get under them because they'll make you a widow."

Arizona farmer Terry Button grew up eating beans in New England.

"I never sit down to eat a little portion of beans," he said, grinning. "I eat a big bowl of beans."

They were his favorite food — baked beans, great northern beans, navy beans, lima beans mixed with corn in succotash.

"But we didn't have tepary beans," Button said. "Never saw a tepary bean until I got here, and they became my favorite bean."

Who has no regrets about things done in the past? Wouldn't it be nice if, somehow, we could go back to tweak a couple of bad decisions?

This sounds (and as we will see, is, to a certain extent) like science fiction.

Shaorong Deng is sitting up in bed at the Hangzhou Cancer Hospital waiting for his doctor. Thin and frail, the 53-year-old construction worker's coat drapes around his shoulders to protect against the chilly air.

Deng has advanced cancer of the esophagus, a common form of cancer in China. He went through radiation and chemotherapy, but the cancer kept spreading.

Botanist David Fairchild grew up in Kansas at the end of the 19th century. He loved plants, and he loved travel, and he found a way to combine both into a job for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Catastrophic wildfires. Devastating hurricanes. Extreme temperatures. Sea levels that are too high. Ice levels that are too low.

Needless to say, planet Earth (and by extension, humanity) is going through a lot right now.

Could our future be in the stars?

Hidden Brain: A Study Of Airline Delays

Feb 20, 2018

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you've taken a flight any time recently, you may have heard the pilot make one of those announcements - ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be arriving about 10 minutes early.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: (Laughter).

Animals that live in the ocean communicate with sound — humpback whales, for example. But these voices could soon be drowned out by powerful sonic booms from vessels searching for oil and gas.

Food scientists at the University of Massachussetts Amherst have come up with a technique they say could make it a lot easier to avoid food poisoning.

The main piece of equipment? Your smartphone.

Currently, to identify the bacteria that can get you sick, like E. coli or salmonella, food scientists often use DNA testing.

They obtain samples from, say, raw spinach or chicken skin, by rinsing the food and collecting a tiny bit of bacteria from the water. Then they let that bacteria multiply over 24 hours to get a big enough sample.

After Virginia Harrod was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014, she had a double mastectomy. Surgeons also removed 16 lymph nodes from under her armpit and the area around her breast, to see how far the cancer had spread and to determine what further treatment might be needed. Then she underwent radiation therapy.

Each year, about 31,000 men and women in the U.S. are diagnosed with a cancer caused by an infection from the human papillomavirus, or HPV. It's the most common sexually transmitted virus and infection in the U.S.

In women, HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer, which leads to about 4,000 deaths per year. In men, it can cause penile cancer. HPV also causes some cases of oral cancer, cancer of the anus and genital warts.

Beer has fueled a lot of bad ideas. But on a Friday afternoon in 2007, it helped two Alzheimer's researchers come up with a really a good one.

In the brave new world of synthetic biology, scientists can now brew up viruses from scratch using the tools of DNA technology.

The latest such feat, published last month, involves horsepox, a cousin of the feared virus that causes smallpox in people. Critics charge that making horsepox in the lab has endangered the public by basically revealing the recipe for how any lab could manufacture smallpox to use as a bioweapon.

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