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Where Do We Come From?

1 hour ago

If you want to answer the most existential of existential questions, don’t look at the historical record, look in a microscope.

The study of DNA has become so advanced in recent years “that it was transformed into a historical source,” writes geneticist Adam Rutherford. This has upended our understanding of human history and evolution.

Some 130 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed Earth, two dead stars in a far-away galaxy collided violently, after spiraling around each other for millions of years.

The dead stars were neutron stars, exotic objects the size of Mount Everest and with the mass of the sun. Being this small and dense, the gravitational force is fierce. Someone once compared the pull of gravity near the surface of a neutron star to having all the population of Paris tied to your feet.

A year after a computer beat a human world champion in the ancient strategy game of Go, researchers say they have constructed an even stronger version of the program — one that can teach itself without the benefit of human knowledge.

The program, known as AlphaGo Zero, became a Go master in just three days by playing 4.9 million games against itself in quick succession.

For people with diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels in a normal range – not too high or too low – is a lifelong challenge. New technologies to ease the burden are emerging rapidly, but insurance reimbursement challenges, supply shortages, and shifting competition make it tough for patients to access them quickly.

Pez diablo: "devil fish." That's what locals in the Mexican state of Tabasco call the armored catfish that has invaded their waters.

Also known as suckermouths, the species is popular with aquarium owners because the fish eats the algae that pollute tanks. But in the wild, that same behavior erodes shorelines and devastates underwater plant life.

A Mexican social enterprise called Acari is trying to do something about it — by creating a taste for these aquatic terrors.

There are 2,666 emojis available for tweets and texts.

Everything from a butterfly to a croissant to a unicorn.

But global health advocates think there's one important emoji that's missing: the mosquito. It is, after all, the world's deadliest animal. The diseases it spreads, like malaria and dengue, cause one million deaths a year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a wall in Greg LeRoy's office is a frame with a custom-engraved wrench and a photo of workers in front of the Diamond Tool and Horseshoe factory in Duluth, Minn. It's from his days helping unions fight plant closings — when he first started digging into the convoluted financial relationship of corporations and local governments.

These days, LeRoy is the guy to call if you want to know about corporate subsidies. Lately, his phone has been ringing about one company in particular: Amazon.

In a small, windowless room at Johns Hopkins University, pigtail macaques jump around in cages. The braver ones reach out between the metal bars to accept pieces of apricot with their long fingers.

In one cage, a monkey hangs back in the corner. At first it looks like he's all alone in there, until veterinarian Bob Adams points out, "No, he's got a friend." Another monkey is clinging to his back, almost hidden.

How glow worms get their glow on

Oct 17, 2017

Visitors to certain New Zealand caves are treated to an amazing sight: Thousands of little lights twinkling on the cave walls, like Christmas lights. But the little lights aren’t bulbs or even fireflies — they’re glow worms.

“Technically, a glow worm is actually a glowing maggot, but that doesn't sound as romantic," says Miriam Sharpe, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

People who have obsessive-compulsive disorder can get trapped inside a thought. It repeats itself, like a stuck song. Did I lock the door? Is that doorknob clean enough to touch? I better wash my hands again — and again.

The biology underpinning this loop remains murky to scientists, but scientists are beginning to sniff out potential genetic factors behind OCD and shed light on how the disorder affects the brain.

As part of NASA's twins study, astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space while his twin brother, astronaut Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth. That year on the space station makes Scott Kelly the American record holder for consecutive days in space. To get through that year, he had a routine.

Sixteen years ago, a Seattle-based company said it planned to move its headquarters to the city that would make it the best deal.

The company was Boeing and it ultimately chose Chicago over finalists Dallas and Denver.

Now, another Seattle company, Amazon, wants to open a second headquarters elsewhere in North America. This time, Denver's leaders are determined to avoid a repeat of the experience with Boeing.

Two years ago an American robotics company challenged a Japanese robotics company to a duel.

Their weapons of choice? Giant robots.

This long-awaited match between the monstrous robots — built by MegaBots Inc. of the U.S. and by Suidobashi Heavy Industry of Japan — will be broadcast on Tuesday via the online steaming site, Twitch. It's billed as the "first ever giant robot fight."

We take it for granted that nostalgia is an ordinary, harmless emotion. You won't get a referral for a psychologist because you've posted a childhood photo with the caption #ThrowbackThursday, or because you have a weak spot for Lucky Charms or Fruit Roll-Ups. But that's a relatively new way of thinking.

The scientist who coined the term "nostalgia" in 1688 thought of this emotion as a neurological illness caused by demons. Other scientists latched onto this conception of nostalgia as a disease. It took marketers, centuries later, to realize that nostalgia has benefits.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of eight hours of sleep per night for adults, but sleep scientist Matthew Walker says that too many people are falling short of the mark.

"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain," Walker says. "Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."

This archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska is home to one of the busiest commercial fishing ports in the country. Inside the Ocean Beauty seafood plant in Kodiak, where a maze of conveyer belts carry gutted salmon past workers in hairnets and gloves, manager James Turner ticks off everything that contributes to his monthly electricity bill: canning machines, pressure cookers, freezers lights.

"We use a lot of power here," he says.

Brain imaging studies have a diversity problem.

That's what researchers concluded after they re-analyzed data from a large study that used MRI to measure brain development in children from 3 to 18.

Like most brain imaging studies of children, this one included a disproportionate number of kids who have highly educated parents with relatively high household incomes, the team reported Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.

We’re the biggest culprits behind wildfires. Now what?

Oct 16, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast/4971832860/">Josh O&rsquo;Connor/USFWS</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/">Public domain</a>. Image cropped.

In the United States, this year’s wildfire season has been wild, to say the least. Roughly 50,000 fires have scorched more than 8.5 million acres across the country, hitting the Pacific Northwest, California and Montana particularly hard.

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