Science & Environment

Shots - Health News
3:56 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Neanderthal Genes Live On In Our Hair And Skin

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 11:11 am

Neanderthals died out long ago, but their genes live on in us. Scientists studying human chromosomes say they've discovered a surprising amount of Neanderthal DNA in our genes. And these aren't just random fragments; they help shape what we look like today, including our hair and skin.

These genes crept into our DNA tens of thousands of years ago, during occasional sexual encounters between Neanderthals and human ancestors who lived in Europe at the time. They show up today in their descendants, people of European and Asian descent.

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The Salt
3:34 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

A Milk Mystery: Did Gloomy Weather Make Us Love The Stuff?

A new study on lactose tolerance among early farmers in Spain challenges a leading theory that humans developed an appetite for milk to avoid calcium deficiency.
iStock

Humans have a love-hate history with milk.

For thousands and thousands of years, adults couldn't digest dairy products without an upset stomach and a trip to the bathroom.

And then one day, poof!

A few changes in our DNA gave about a third of the world's population – mostly Europeans — the ability to knock back cheese, pizza and chocolate ice cream without a care in the world.

But why? Why did this ability to digest lactose suddenly crop up in our European ancestors about 10,000 years ago? That's been a big mystery for scientists.

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Around the Nation
1:36 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

How Industrial Chemical Regulation Failed West Virginia

Jonathan Steele, owner of Bluegrass Kitchen, fills a jug with bottled water from a tank he installed in the back of his Charleston restaurant.
Steve Helber AP

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 7:55 pm

On Jan. 9, people in and around Charleston, W.Va., began showing up at hospitals: They had nausea, eye infections and some were vomiting. It was later discovered that around 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals had leaked into the Elk River, just upstream from a water treatment plant that serves 300,000 people. Citizens were told not to drink or bathe in the water, and while some people are now using water from their taps, many still don't trust it or the information coming from public officials.

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Shots - Health News
1:19 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

A Little Acid Turns Mouse Blood Into Brain, Heart And Stem Cells

A mouse embryo grows from stem cells made by stressing blood cells with acid. The blood cells are tagged with a protein that creates green light.
Courtesy of Haruko Obokata

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 7:24 am

Back in 1958, a young biologist at Cornell University made a stunning discovery.

He took a single cell from a carrot and then mixed it with some coconut milk. Days went by and the cell started dividing. Little roots formed. Stems started growing. Eventually, a whole new carrot plant rose up from the single cell.

Imagine if you could perform a similar feat with animal cells, even human cells.

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Shots - Health News
2:59 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Ancient Plague's DNA Revived From A 1,500-Year-Old Tooth

Graduate student Jennifer Klunk of McMaster University examines a tooth used to decode the genome of the ancient plague.
Courtesy of McMaster University

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 11:11 am

Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of a strain of bacteria that caused one of the most deadly pandemics in history nearly 1,500 years ago.

They did it by finding the skeletons of people killed by the plague and extracting DNA from traces of blood inside their teeth.

This plague struck in the year 541, under the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, so it's usually called the Justinian plague. The emperor actually got sick himself but recovered. He was one of the lucky ones.

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Around the Nation
2:54 am
Wed January 29, 2014

On The Plains, The Rush For Oil Has Changed Everything

Diners at Lonnie's Roadhouse Cafe eat breakfast before heading to work in Williston, N.D.
Annie Flanagan for NPR

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 12:49 pm

A remarkable transformation is underway in western North Dakota, where an oil boom is changing the state's fortunes and leaving once-sleepy towns bursting at the seams. In a series of stories, NPR is exploring the economic, social and environmental demands of this modern-day gold rush.

On a Sunday at dusk, Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder train is jampacked, filled with people heading to their jobs in North Dakota towns like Minot, Williston and Watford City.

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The Two-Way
5:08 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

China's Jade Rabbit Rover May Be Doomed On The Moon

The Chinese flag is seen in front of a view of the moon at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in December, when China's first moon rover touched the lunar surface. That feat was widely celebrated — but observers believe the rover has now run into serious trouble.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:55 pm

China's new moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, may be dead. Chinese officials recently announced the rover was experiencing mechanical difficulties, and now observers believe it's done for.

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Author Interviews
1:57 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Entrepreneurs Looking For 'Windfall' Cash In On Climate Change

A boat skims through the melting ice in the Ilulissat fjord in August 2008, on the western coast of Greenland.
Steen Ulrik Johannessen AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 2:48 pm

In 2008, as scientists documented a record melt in the Arctic ice and Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, a half dozen major investment houses launched mutual funds designed to take advantage of financial opportunities offered by climate change.

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Shots - Health News
3:00 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Stricter Autism Criteria Unlikely To Reduce Services For Kids

Clinical specialist Catey Funaiock took notes while observing a 5-year-old boy at the Marcus Autism Center, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, in September.
David Goldman AP

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 1:55 pm

The clinical definition for when a child has some form of autism has been tightened. And these narrower criteria for autism spectrum disorder probably will reduce the number of kids who meet the new standard.

But researchers say the changes, which were rolled out last May, are likely to have a bigger effect on government statistics than on the care of the nation's children.

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Shots - Health News
1:52 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

You'd Think We'd Have Baby-Making All Figured Out, But No

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 7:41 am

"Oh, just put a pillow underneath your hips during sex, then you'll definitely get pregnant," a good friend told me. "That did the trick for us — twice."

Now, the friend is a smart woman. She has a Ph.D. in biology, for Pete's sake. So she must know what she's talking about when it comes to conception, right?

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