NPR Picks

Thursday
Aug162018

Scientists Race To Improve 'Living Drugs' To Fight Cancer

"Aaron Reid is lying in a hospital bed at the National Institutes of Health when doctors arrive to make sure he's ready for his experimental treatment."

"'How's your night? Any issues?"' asks Dr. Katherine Barnett, a pediatric oncologist, as they begin to examine Reid."

"Reid, 20, of Lucedale, Miss., has been fighting leukemia ever since he was nine years old. He's been through chemotherapy and radiation twice, a bone marrow transplant and two other treatments."

"But the leukemia keeps coming back. This time, the cancer is all over his body. He can feel the pain in his bones. He's here today for what could be his last hope."

"'The big plan for the day: Get the cells," says Dr. Andrea Gross, another pediatric oncologist."

"The cells are an experimental version of a relatively new cancer therapy called CAR-T. These CAR-T cells are sometimes called 'living drugs' because they are engineered from patients' own immune system cells."

 

Wednesday
Aug152018

Florida's Gulf Coast Battles Deadly And Smelly Red Tide

"Florida this week declared a state of emergency because of a slow-moving natural disaster — red tide."

"Red tide is toxic algae that have persisted off Florida's Gulf Coast for nearly a year. In recent weeks, the algae bloom has worsened, killing fish, turtles and dolphins and discouraging tourism on some of the state's most beautiful beaches."

"Scores of dead fish were visible on the shore of Manatee Beach on a recent morning. There was a smell from the fish, but something more — an acrid smell that can make you cough. Mary Vanswol, who was at the beach with her husband, James, said, 'Uh, the smell is terrible. And it's affecting my lungs. I'm coughing, not so much him, but I am. It's just sad to see all the dead fish.'"

"The Vanswols live nearby and usually go swimming. But not today. After getting a look at the dead fish and the murky, slightly reddish-hued water, Mary Vanswols said they were leaving. 'I wouldn't even walk along the edge of it. I just don't think it's safe,' she said."

Tuesday
Aug142018

Uh-Oh, Germany Is Rapidly Running Out Of Beer Bottles

"In Germany, beer consumption is up as temperatures remain unusually high. This is good and bad news for the beer industry."

"While the breweries have more than enough beer to go around, they're running out of bottles because customers are not returning their empties quickly enough."

"Germans care about the environment about as much as their beer; that's why the glass bottles are recycled. Customers pay a small deposit on each one, which they get back when they return it to a store."

"There are about 4 billion beer bottles in circulation somewhere in Germany, and each bottle is refilled up to 30 times, according to Inside magazine, which caters to the drink industry. But as Germans drink more in this heat, and empty bottles pile up by the back door at home, trouble is brewing for the beer-makers."

"Christian Schuster, from the Greif brewery in Bavaria, recently appealed to customers to return their crates of empty vessels promptly or go without beer."

 

Monday
Aug132018

Ambitious 'Human Cell Atlas' Aims To Catalog Every Type Of Cell In The Body

"If you flip open a biology textbook or do a quick search on Google, you'll quickly learn that there are a few hundred types of cells in the human body."

"'And it's true, because in broad categories, a few hundred is a good characterization,' says Aviv Regev, a core member of the Broad Institute, a genetics research center in Cambridge, Mass."

"But look a little closer, as Regev has been doing, and a far more complicated picture emerges."

"'No one really knows how many there will be,' she says. Immunologists had already counted more than 300 in the immune system alone. The eye's retina, other research showed, has more than 100. How many in the whole body? Regev won't even try to predict."


Sunday
Aug122018

In Parts Of California Blanketed With Wildfire Smoke, Breathing Is 'A Chore'

"Debbie Dobrosky noticed a peculiar hue in the sky on August 6 — "a very ugly yellow casting" — as she peeked outside. A large cloud of smoke had begun to cover the sun."

"By the next day, the smoke was so heavy that "even inside my apartment I've had to use my inhaler twice this morning, which is not a normal thing," says Dobrosky, a Riverside County, Calif., resident who lives about 30 miles from a fast-growing fire in the Cleveland National Forest."

"'Today I'm stuck inside, there's no going out,' says Dobrosky, 67, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung condition."

"At least 17 large fires are burning across California, and dozens more throughout other Western states, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres, sending toxic pollutants into the air and contaminating water supplies. The air quality in certain areas — particularly near California's massive Mendocino Complex Fire in the northern part of the state — is among the worst officials have ever seen."

"With temperatures at times reaching into the triple digits, unpredictable winds and desiccated brush that serves as kindling, there's no end in sight to this year's fire season."

Saturday
Aug112018

A Songwriting Mystery Solved: Math Proves John Lennon Wrote 'In My Life'

"Lennon-McCartney is likely one of the most famous songwriting credits in music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote lyrics and music for almost 200 songs and The Beatles have sold hundreds of millions of albums. The story goes that the two Beatles agreed as teenagers to the joint credit for all songs they wrote, no matter the divide in work."

"Over the years, Lennon and McCartney have revealed who really wrote what, but some songs are still up for debate. The two even debate between themselves — their memories seem to differ when it comes to who wrote the music for 1965's 'In My Life.'"

"If the songwriters' memories (perhaps tainted by the mind-altering era they were writing in) have failed, how can this mystery ever be solved? Well, we can get by with a little help from math."

"Mathematics professor Jason Brown spent 10 years working with statistics to solve the magical mystery. Brown's the findings were presented on Aug. 1 at the Joint Statistical Meeting in a presentation called 'Assessing Authorship of Beatles Songs from Musical Content: Bayesian Classification Modeling from Bags-Of-Words Representations.'"


Friday
Aug102018

NASA Braves The Heat To Get Up Close And Personal With Our Sun

"Early Saturday morning, if all goes as planned, 91-year-old Eugene Parker will watch a NASA spacecraft named after him blast off on an unprecedented mission to study the sun."

"'It's my first rocket launch, so that will be very interesting,' says Parker, a retired astrophysicist who lives in Chicago."

"NASA has never named a spacecraft after a living person before. But Parker's colleagues say it's appropriate that this one bears his name. The Parker Solar Probewill get up-close-and-personal with the fiery sun, closer than any spacecraft ever, and Parker is almost a God-like figure among those who study this special star."

"'In our field, he's definitely a celebrity,' says Angela Olinto, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, where Parker worked for decades. 'Most of science is done by a lot of small steps by a lot of different people. He is one of those few people that we know that have made big breakthroughs a few times.'"

"His first came in 1958, when Parker predicted that the sun was constantly spewing out a stream of charged particles at supersonic speeds. He called it the solar wind."

 

Thursday
Aug092018

Hawaii Volcano Quiets After Months-Long Eruption

"After more than three months, the volcanic eruption on Hawaii's Big Island appears to be slowing."

"Geologists at the Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory say the flow of lava from a crack in the earth at the foot of the Kilauea volcano has greatly diminished in recent days. It was lava from that vent, Fissure 8, that ran toward the coast in a molten river, inundating two seaside communities and reshaping the island's southeast coast."

"That doesn't mean the event is over. Tina Neal, the scientist in charge of the observatory, noted that eruptions like this typically wax and wane."

"'It could be weeks or months before we feel comfortable calling the eruption and the summit collapse over,' she said in a press release."

"Still, any reprieve is welcome news to the residents of the Big Island's Puna District, who have been living in a state of uncertainty since the eruption began on May 3."

 

Wednesday
Aug082018

For Berlin, Invasive Crustaceans Are A Tough Catch And A Tough Sell

"In a shaded stream in the middle of Berlin's rambling Tiergarten park, fisherman Klaus Hidde lowered himself into the water recently. Several children stood on a platform above him and watched him wade in, wearing high rubber overalls. Hidde pulled a netted trap out of the water and shook it in the air."

"'There's too few,' Hidde says, shaking his head."

"Hidde and his son are the only people licensed to catch thousands of Louisiana crawfish that have invaded the waters of two parks in Berlin. The goal is to solve the problem by selling the catch to chefs and businesses. But on this day, there are a scant 100 crawfish between three nets."

"'They're not even a hundredth of a percent' of the solution to the problem, Hidde says, as he shakes the dark red crustaceans into a black bin."

"This is the third year Louisiana crawfish have been seen in Berlin. City wildlife officer Derk Ehlert says when crawfish first appeared, the city released eels into the waterways, hoping they'd catch the crawfish and eat them. But then the next year, there were still 3,000 crawfish in the parks. This year there are 10 times as many and they seem to be spreading. At one point, hundreds of crawfish clambered out of the lake and ambled along the Tiergarten's shaded paths."

 

Tuesday
Aug072018

Last Surviving Crew Member Has 'No Regrets' About Bombing Hiroshima

"On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had been used in warfare."

"There were three strike planes that flew over Hiroshima that day: the Enola Gay, which carried the bomb, and two observation planes, the Great Artiste and the Necessary Evil."

"Russell Gackenbach was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and a navigator on the mission. Today, the 95-year-old is the only surviving crew member of those three planes."

"Gackenbach enlisted in the Army Aviation Cadet Program in 1943. After completing his training, he was approached by Col. Paul Tibbets, who was recruiting officers for a special mission. Tibbets said it would be dangerous but if they were successful, it could end the war."

"The 509th Composite Group, lead by Tibbets, spent months training in Wendover, Utah, before being shipped off to an American air base on the Pacific island of Tinian."

"Their planes were reconfigured B-29 Superfortress bombers. They had different engines, fewer guns and a larger bomb bay."

Monday
Aug062018

Diet Hit A Snag? Your Gut Bacteria May Be Partly To Blame

"Have you ever been on a diet but didn't hit your goal weight? Your gut bacteria may be part of the explanation."

"New research suggests the mix of microbes in our guts can either help — or hinder — weight-loss efforts."

"'We started with the premise that people have different microbial makeups, and this could influence how well they do with dieting,' explains Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn."

"As part of the study, Kashyap and his collaborators tracked the progress of people who were enrolled in a lifestyle-intervention program for weight loss. The participants were advised to follow a low-calorie diet, and they were tracked closely for about three months."

"'We found that people who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight had a different gut bacteria as compared to those who did not lose 5 percent of their body weight,' Kashyap explains. Their findings are published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings."

 

Sunday
Aug052018

Europe Deals A Blow To CRISPR Technology, U.S. Approves 'Bleeding' Veggie Burger

"Last week was a momentous one for the future of genetically engineered foods, both in the U.S. and in Europe. On July 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Impossible Burger, an all-veggie burger that 'bleed' and sizzles just like meat. The burger's star ingredient — a protein called heme that renders blood red and helps make meat a carnivore's delight — was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. In 2015, the FDA had required that the $400 million Silicon Valley startup, Impossible Foods, demonstrate that their heme, made by genetically modified yeast, was safe."

"But across the pond, two days later, Europe's highest court issued a very different decision: it ruled that in Europe, gene-edited crops should be subject to the same strict regulations the continent uses for genetically modified (GM) organisms. It was a major setback for advocates of genetically engineered crops."

"Predictable reactions followed. While Impossible Foods celebrated its approval, an environmental advocacy organization Friends of the Earth (FOE) called the FDA ruling tremendously disappointing. Dana Perls, senior food and agriculture campaigner for FOE, says the ruling 'is exactly why we need an overhaul of our regulations with the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the FDA.' Meanwhile, Nigel Halford, a crop geneticist at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK, told Nature News that the European ruling was 'a real hit to the head,' noting that companies in Europe will not be willing to invest in a technology with no commercial application."

 

Saturday
Aug042018

San Diego Researchers Measure The Highest Ocean Surface Temperature In A Century

"At a pier in San Diego, researchers on Wednesday recorded the warmest sea surface temperature since record-keeping began there in 1916."

"Every day, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego collect data — by hand — from the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier."

"Wednesday's 78.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the pier surpassed a previous record of 78.4 degrees in 1931, researchers said in a statement on Thursday."

"'It really is weird,' Clarissa Anderson, a Scripps research scientist, told NPR. 'We have different records going back decades and while [our ocean water] temperature is tightly connected with the equator, we're now seeing [temperatures] stabilize at the equator while temperatures in southern California keep going up.'"

"Anderson said that it's not clear why southern California's ocean temperature patterns appear to be diverging from the equator's."

 

Friday
Aug032018

Scientists Are 'Spying On Whales' To Learn How They Eat, Talk And ... Walked?

"We think of whales as creatures of the sea, but scientists now believe that 40 million to 50 million years ago, whales had four legs and lived at least part of their lives on land."

"'We can tell that they're whales based on key features of their anatomy — specifically parts of their skull,' paleobiologist Nick Pyenson says. 'But they were certainly not like the whales that you would see today.'"

"As the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Pyenson has examined whale fossils that are tens of millions of years old. He has also learned about modern whales by attaching sensors to them in the wild and by studying their carcasses at commercial whaling sites."

"'We live in the golden age of whale science because there's so many new tools that we have to investigate their hidden lives,' he says."

"Pyenson notes that the largest whales alive today are the biggest vertebrates that have ever existed: 'No dinosaur was heavier. No other mammal exceeded their length or width," he says. "They are absolutely the largest vertebrate animals to have ever evolved in the history of life on Earth.'"

 

Thursday
Aug022018

2017 Was One Of The Hottest Years On Record

"NOAA has released the latest State of the Climate report, its annual checkup on our planet."

"So, how did Earth fare in 2017?"

"Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: highest concentrations ever. Global surface temperature: near-record high. Sea surface temperature: near-record high. Global sea level: highest on record."

"Warm global temperatures have been a strong trend in recent years: the four warmest years on record all occurred since 2014, and last year was among them. In fact, 2017 was the warmest non-El Niño year ever recorded."

"The past three years were 'substantially warmer than the previous — kind of establishing a new neighborhood in terms of global temperature,' said Deke Arndt, a climatologist at NOAA and the lead editor of the report. 'And 2017 reinforced that.'"

Wednesday
Aug012018

To Combat Rhino Poaching, Dogs Are Giving South African Park Rangers A Crucial Assist

"Ruben de Kock has been training South Africa's park rangers for over two decades — but last month was the first time one of his former students was killed on the job."

"The July 19 incident, in which 34-year-old Respect Mathebula died in a shootout, marks the first instance in 50 years of a ranger being killed by poachers in Kruger National Park. Yet given the intensity of rhinoceros poaching in the region, the milestone is as surprising as it is tragic."

"Home to roughly 80 percent of the world's rhino population, South Africa has seen poaching explode over the past decade. In 2007, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers. Last year, that number was 1,028 — down from a peak of 1,215 three years earlier, according to TRAFFIC, a monitoring network for wildlife trade. African rhinos include the near-threatened white rhino and critically endangered black rhino species."

"The escalating aggression of poachers — who are widely reported to be connected to criminal syndicates in Asia, where rhino horn, valued for its purported medicinal qualities, trades on the black market for tens of thousands of dollars per pound — means rangers face greater risks in the field, says de Kock, who oversees ranger training at South Africa's Southern African Wildlife College."

Tuesday
Jul312018

South Africa Overturns Diplomatic Immunity For Grace Mugabe

"It's unlikely that former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe will be making a trip to South Africa anytime soon."

"A South African court has overturned a government decision to grant the wife of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe diplomatic immunity in connection to her alleged assault of a South African model with an extension cord."

"The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg described that decision as an "error of law," according to South Africa's News 24."

"Last August, Grace Mugabe was allowed to return to Harare after former minister of international relations and cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane granted her immunity."

"'That the minister has the power to confer immunity on Dr Mugabe is neither doubtful or debatable,' the judge said, according to News 24. 'She, however, has to exercise this power in a manner that is constitutional and lawful.'"

Monday
Jul302018

Off Your Mental Game? You Could Be Mildly Dehydrated

"Was it hard to concentrate during that long meeting? Does the crossword seem a little tougher? You could be mildly dehydrated."

"A growing body of evidence finds that being just a little dehydrated is tied to a range of subtle effects — from mood changes to muddled thinking."

"'We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don't do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,' says Mindy Millard-Stafford, director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology. She published an analysis of the evidence this month, based on 33 studies."

"How long does it take to become mildly dehydrated in the summer heat? Not long at all, studies show, especially when you exercise outdoors."

"'If I were hiking at moderate intensity for one hour, I could reach about 1.5 percent to 2 percent dehydration,' says Doug Casa, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, and CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute."

For an average-size person, 2 percent dehydration equates to sweating out about a liter of water.

 

Sunday
Jul292018

Mugabe's Gone, But Zimbabwe Still Has A Serious Cash Shortage

"It's a little after 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in downtown Harare, and Brandon Moyo has been waiting in line for the ATM for over four hours already. He's hoping to withdraw $20 — but it's not looking promising. There are over 20 people in front of him and bank officials have already warned they might run out of cash before he gets to the front."

"Moyo is from a small farming town about 65 miles outside of Harare. He says banks in his town usually don't have any cash at all these days, so he takes a bus into the Zimbabwean capital city twice a week to wait in a line like this. He has to pay for that bus ride in cash, and if the bank runs out before he can get some, he sometimes has to stay overnight until he can try again."

"Zimbabwe has been facing a major cash shortage for the past two years, a symptom of the country's larger and longer economic crisis. After Robert Mugabe was ousted from power by the military last November, his replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has claimed that Zimbabwe is now "open for business." But getting cash into the country is complicated, and access to physical currency hasn't improved with the leadership change."

 

Thursday
Jul262018

What Friday's Extra-Long Lunar Eclipse Can Tell Us About The Earth

"Let's get the bad news out of the way first: You won't be able to see this Friday's epic lunar eclipse in person if you live in North America (aside from a very small portion of eastern Canada and parts of the eastern Caribbean)."

"But here's the good news: if you are almost anywhere else, you'll probably be able to see at least a portion of the event."

"Prime viewing is in eastern and southern Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe and south Asia, based on a NASA map."

"The most noteworthy thing about this particular eclipse is its extraordinary length – in fact, NASA expects it to be the longest lunar eclipse this century. The total lunar eclipse is projected to last for an hour and 42 minutes, with the entire event lasting over 6 hours."

"To figure out precisely when the eclipse will hit your area, you can calculate it at Timeanddate.com."