Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

It's a cold, damp fall day in London. But in a windowless basement laboratory, it feels like the tropics. It's hot and humid. That's to keep the mosquitoes happy.

"In this cage, we have the adult mosquitoes," says Andrew Hammond, a genetic engineer at Imperial College London, as he picks up a container made out of white mosquito netting.

The lab is buzzing with hundreds of mosquitoes. "Everything in this cubicle is genetically modified," Hammond says, pointing to the container of mosquitoes.

As Ben Franklin noted, some of you have "the Power of changing, by slight means, the smell of another discharge ... our water. A few stems of asparagus eaten, shall give our urine a disagreeable odour." Apparently this is so common a power that the 18th century French botanist Louis Lémery wrote that asparagus causes "a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine, as everybody knows."

Everybody except me, anyway.

Ever since NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, it's been slowly making its way along hills, dunes and mesas, collecting rock samples all along the way.

But last week, as it started climbing up a gently sloping mountain, called Mount Sharp, it started acting weird. NASA engineers now say that a part of the extendable arm, the drill that bores into the Martian rock, keeps getting jammed.

Just as the tip hovers a few inches off the ground, the drill stops.

Updated Dec. 15, 11:30 a.m. ET

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke to be his interior secretary, the transition team announced Thursday morning.

Zinke is a first-term congressman and a former Navy SEAL commander who served in Iraq and was awarded two Bronze Stars. He was re-elected to a second term last month with 56 percent of the vote.

Female orchid mantises are dazzlingly beautiful, with pinkish legs that appear to form a delicate flower blossom. They're also double the size of their far plainer male counterparts.

The Department of Energy is refusing the Trump transition team's request to name those who have worked on climate change within the department, because of concerns about what the incoming administration will do with the names. President-elect Donald Trump has denied climate change is real.

Scientists released this year's so-called Arctic Report Card on Tuesday, and it is a dismal one.

Researchers say the Arctic continues to warm up at rates they call "astonishing." They presented their findings at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.

NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Susanne Rust, senior reporter and director of the Energy and Environment Reporting Project at Columbia University, about Exxon Mobil's climate change policies under the leadership of CEO Rex Tillerson, who is President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state.

Some New England fishermen are pinning their hopes on a new kind of trawl net being used in the Gulf of Maine, one that scoops up abundant flatfish such as flounder and sole while avoiding species such as cod, which are in severe decline.

On a crisp New England fall day, college freshman Jordan Taylor was playing Ultimate Frisbee when he collided with another player. Taylor was rushed to the hospital, where doctors realized he'd been hit hard enough to tear the delicate covering of his spleen, and he was bleeding internally. A quick surgery fixed the spleen, but doctors saw something strange while they were operating.

"As the doctor was speaking to me post-surgery, he mentioned he'd noticed I had a bunch of extra spleens," Taylor says. We asked if the additional organs gave him spleeny superpowers.

Thousands of Earth scientists are in San Francisco this week to talk about climate change, volcanoes and earthquakes.

And another tectonic topic: President-elect Donald Trump.

As president, Trump will oversee a huge government scientific enterprise. Agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have satellites collecting valuable data on the climate. Other agencies employ scientists studying that data, or modeling future climate shifts.

Republicans in Congress say they'll vote to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act early next year — even though they don't yet have a plan to replace it.

But they also insist that they don't want to harm any of the millions of people who got their health insurance under the law.

Erick Ask still remembers the first time he heard about the food ingredient that would become the focus of his professional life. He was in ninth grade.

"Mr. Elslip, my biology teacher, said to us one day, 'How many of you have eaten seaweed?' " Ask recalls. "And nobody raised their hand. And he says, 'Well, how many of you have eaten ice cream?' And we all raised our hands. And he says, 'Well, then you have eaten seaweed!' "

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will not consider a challenge to the terms of a concussion-related settlement between the National Football League and more than 20,000 retired players.

The deal settled a class-action filed by former players who accused the NFL of covering up what it knew about the link between playing professional football and the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

If you got 13 percent back on your investments every year, you'd be pretty happy, right? Remember, the S&P 500, historically, has averaged about 7 percent when adjusted for inflation.

What if the investment is in children, and the return on investment not only makes economic sense but results in richer, fuller, healthier lives for the entire family?

Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories

Dec 11, 2016

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Behold A Robot Hand With A Soft Touch

Dec 11, 2016

Robotics researchers at Cornell University made a hand that has something close to a human touch — it can not only touch delicate items but also sense the shape and texture of what it comes into contact with.

Such a soft robot hand is a step forward for the growing field of soft robotics — the kind of technology that's already used in warehouses to handle food or other products. But it also holds promise for better prosthetics, robots to interact directly with people or with fragile objects, or robots to squeeze into tight spaces.

A cable that's as long as six football fields has been launched into orbit — and when it's deployed, it'll test an idea to knock out orbital debris. Japan's space agency sent the electrodynamic tether into space along with supplies for the International Space Station.

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If you could change the way a monkey or an ape's brain is wired, that animal would be capable of producing perfectly intelligible speech.

That's the conclusion of a study that closely tracked the movements of a monkey's mouth and throat with X-rays, to understand the full potential of its vocal tract.

Any pet owner will tell you that their animal companions comfort and sustain them when life gets rough. This may be especially true for people with serious mental illness, a study finds. When people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were asked who or what helped them manage the condition, many said it was pets that helped the most.

"When I'm feeling really low they are wonderful because they won't leave my side for two days," one study participant with two dogs and two cats, "They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it."

Scientists in Ireland are using a rather unexpected material to make an extremely sensitive pressure detector: Silly Putty.

The Irish researchers combined the kids' plaything with a special form of carbon, and came up with a remarkable new material — one they think could someday be useful in making medical devices.

The surprise find of smallpox DNA in a child mummy from the 17th century could help scientists start to trace the mysterious history of this notorious virus.

Smallpox currently only exists in secure freezers, after a global vaccination campaign eradicated the virus in the late 1970s. But much about this killer remains unknown, including its origins.

In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn't a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

Giraffes are dying at an alarming rate and could face extinction if the trend doesn't reverse, according to a new conservation report on animal populations worldwide.

The report was released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the so-called Red List of species threatened with extinction.

One of the fundamental ways scientists measure the well-being of a nation is tracking the rate at which its citizens die and how long they can be expected to live.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

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President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, announcing his decision in a statement Thursday.

As attorney general, Pruitt has made no secret of his disdain for the EPA.

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