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Men may soon be able to take their own sperm count — at home. With a smartphone. Yes, there's an app for that.

You may be asking yourself, why?

Low sperm count is a marker for male infertility, a condition that is actually a neglected health issue worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

How far should scientists be allowed to go in creating things that resemble primitive human brains, hearts, and even human embryos?

That's the question being asked by a group of Harvard scientists who are doing exactly that in their labs. They're using stem cells, genetics and other new biological engineering techniques to create tissues, primitive organs and other living structures that mimic parts of the human body.

Their concern is that they and others doing this type of "synthetic biology" research might be treading into disturbing territory.

Biomedical research and public health are among the big losers in the Trump administration's proposed budget.

The proposal promises:

  • A "major reorganization" in the National Institutes of Health, which supports most of the nation's research on diseases and treatments. That includes a cut of $5.8 billion, about 20 percent of NIH's $30 billion budget.

An orangutan named Rocky is helping scientists figure out when early humans might have uttered the first word.

Rocky, who is 12 and lives at the Indianapolis Zoo, has shown that he can control his vocal cords much the way people do. He can learn new vocal sounds and even match the pitch of sounds made by a person.

Should the Irish Giant be allowed to rest in peace?

That's the question swirling around the bones of Charles Byrne, a literal giant from Ireland who was an 18th century celebrity.

Oh sure, the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, capturing breathtaking images of the beringed gas giant and illuminating a once-obscure pocket of our solar system for the sake of scientific inquiry.

But — you're surely asking — what good is all that if the craft hasn't taken any quality photographs of space ravioli?

Scientists have taken another important step toward creating different types of synthetic life in the laboratory.

An international research consortium reports Thursday that it has figured out an efficient method for synthesizing a substantial part of the genetic code of yeast.

"We are absolutely thrilled," says Jef Boeke, a geneticist at New York University School of Medicine, who is leading the project. "This is a significant step toward our goal."

What if your friend the robot could tell what you're thinking, without you saying a word?

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET

Spending time in space changes people: Not just their outlook on life, but also their eyesight.

For years, a North Texas doctor has been trying to find out what is causing this vision change among astronauts. His latest research provides some clues — and connects astronauts on the International Space Station, cancer patients on a roller coaster plane flight, and high-tech sleeping sacks.

Wildfires can start when lightning strikes or when someone fails to put out a campfire. New research shows that people start a lot more fires than lightning does — so much so that people are drastically altering wildfire in America.

Fire ecologist Melissa Forder says about 60 percent of fires in national parks are caused by humans: "intentionally set fires, buildings burning and spreading into the forest, smoking, equipment malfunctions and campfires."

In my head, a person with the name Danny has a boyish face and a perpetual smile. Zoes have wide eyes and wild hair and an air of mild bemusement.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that, well, space is pretty neat.

If you're in the southern hemisphere and you happen to look up Sunday morning — or, for everyone else, if you happen to have Internet access — you may have the chance to see an annular solar eclipse. Unlike a total solar eclipse, this one will leave just a sliver of sunlight shining at the rim of the moon's shadow as passes between Earth and the sun.

It was a balmy Sunday evening in early 1999, and Dr. Kaw Bing Chua hadn't had lunch or dinner.

There wasn't time to eat. Chua was chasing a killer. And he thought maybe he had finally tracked it down.

He slid the slide under the microscope lens, turned on the scope's light and looked inside. "A chill went down my spine," Chua says. "The slide lit up bright green, like bright green lanterns."

From humble origins as the daughter of Eastern European immigrants, raised in the Bronx in the depths of the Great Depression, Mildred Dresselhaus scaled to great heights in the scientific community and attained the status of royalty — even if only in nickname.

To Test Zika Vaccines, Scientists Need A New Outbreak

Feb 23, 2017

Researchers are eager to test promising vaccines against Zika, the virus that sparked a global health emergency last year.

But uncertainty over whether the Zika epidemic will continue affects researchers' ability to finish testing vaccines. They need locations with an active viral outbreak to conduct large-scale human trials and make sure the vaccine actually protects against disease.

Scientists around the United States are getting ready to do an unprecedented experiment: They plan to march en masse in Washington, D.C., and other cities on April 22, to take a stand for the importance of public policies based on science.

Some researchers predict that this March for Science will release much needed energy and enthusiasm at a time when science is under threat; others worry it will damage science's reputation as an unbiased seeker of truth.

An "atmospheric river" is a colorful term for a sinuous plume of moisture that travels up from the tropics — a single plume can carry more water than the Mississippi River at its mouth. But new research shows that atmospheric rivers are also among the most damaging weather systems around.

The atmospheric rivers that soaked California this winter did some good — they ended an epic drought in the state.

Creating some form of art is commonly believed to help older people stay mentally and physically healthy. Scientific research hasn't quite caught up with that belief.

But that hasn't deterred the dozen or so older adults in Janet Hoult's poetry workshop. She refers to them all as "my poets." They meet weekly at the Culver City Senior Center in Culver City, Calif. Hoult is 80. Her eldest pupil, Ruth Berman, is 91.

Ed Ronco / knkx

 

For the last 20 years, the National Audubon Society has encouraged people to go into their backyards or to their local parks and count the birds they see. It's called The Great Backyard Bird Count. It began in the U.S. and Canada. Now, 130 countries participate in the global data-gathering weekend. 

Scientists may have solved the mystery of nodding syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that has disabled thousands of children in East Africa.

On Wednesday morning, NASA rewarded five members of the public — two doctors, a dentist, an engineer and a product designer — for their creative ideas for how to poop in a spacesuit.

Yes, it sounds a little bit funny. But unmet toilet needs could have life or death consequences for an astronaut in an emergency situation.

That's why thousands of people spent tens of thousands of hours on the "Space Poop Challenge," brainstorming, modeling, prototyping and number-crunching to come up with a crowd-sourced solution to the problem of human waste in a spacesuit.

About 3,000 years ago, a potter near Jerusalem made a big jar. It was meant to hold olive oil or wine or something else valuable enough to send to the king as a tax payment. The jar's handles were stamped with a royal seal, and the pot went into the kiln.

Over the next 600 years, despite wars destructive enough to raze cities, potters in the area kept making ceramic tax jars, each one stamped with whatever seal represented the ruler du jour.

They didn't know it, but in the process, the ancient potters were not just upholding centuries of tax bureaucracy.

Each year, fish farms produce a massive amount of carp — so much that if you put all that fish on one side of a scale, and all the people living in the U.S. on the other side, they'd pretty much balance each other out by weight.

But for the past couple of decades, carp have been plagued by a type of herpes virus, known as Koi herpesvirus.

Will Algorithms Erode Our Decision-Making Skills?

Feb 8, 2017

Algorithms are embedded into our technological lives, helping accomplish a variety of tasks like making sure that email makes it to your aunt or that you're matched to someone on a dating website who likes the same bands as you.

This newly discovered gecko species from Madagascar is a master escape artist.

It's extremely fast. Like other lizards, it can lose its tail and grow a new one. And it can shed its scales — the largest of any gecko — in order to flee a predator.

Researchers from the U.S., Germany and Colombia described the species Geckolepis megalepis in the journal PeerJ. But as lead author Mark D. Scherz tells The Two-Way, a skilled escape artist is an "absolute nightmare" to study.

A widely used blood test to measure blood-sugar trends can give imprecise results, depending on a person's race and other factors. This test means diabetes can sometimes be misdiagnosed or managed poorly.

Doctors have been cautioned before that results from the A1C test don't have pinpoint accuracy. A study published Tuesday underscores that shortcoming as it applies to people who carry the sickle cell trait.

One of the problems with bats, if you're a robotics expert, is that they have so many joints.

That's what robotics researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Caltech quickly learned when they set out to build a robot version of the flying mammal.

For years, the satellites of America's Global Positioning System have been carrying sensors that measure the weather in space.

The information has been kept by the military, which manages the satellites, because solar storms and other space weather can damage satellites.

Today, as the result of an executive order signed last October, the government released 16 years of that space weather data to the public for the first time.

Updated at 8:40 a.m. ET on Jan. 24

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released crisp, color images of Earth from its newest orbiting weather satellite.

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