Science & Health

The Salt
8:56 am
Fri December 28, 2012

An Evolutionary Whodunit: How Did Humans Develop Lactose Tolerance?

Thousands of years ago, a mutation in the human genome allowed many adults to digest lactose and drink milk.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 11:41 am

Got milk? Ancient European farmers who made cheese thousands of years ago certainly had it. But at that time, they lacked a genetic mutation that would have allowed them to digest raw milk's dominant sugar, lactose, after childhood.

Today, however, 35 percent of the global population — mostly people with European ancestry — can digest lactose in adulthood without a hitch.

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Research News
3:20 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

Birds Hang Around Mistletoe For More Than A Kiss

Researchers in Australia found that when they removed mistletoe from large sections of forests, vast numbers of birds left.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 8:40 pm

For the Druids, mistletoe was sacred. For us, it's a cute ornament and maybe an excuse to steal a kiss. And of course it's a Christmas tradition.

But for a forest, mistletoe might be much more important. It's a parasite, shows up on tree branches and looks like an out-of-place evergreen bush hanging in the air.

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U.S.
2:31 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

An Abundance Of Extreme Weather Has Many On Edge

A parking lot full of yellow taxis is flooded as a result of Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 30 in Hoboken, N.J.
Charles Sykes AP

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 8:40 pm

Opinion polls show 2012's extreme weather — producing wildfires, floods and drought — has more people making a connection with climate change. For Marti Andrews in southern New Jersey, a turning point was the summer's hurricane-like derecho.

"I don't want to say I freaked out about it, but holy crap, it scared me," she says. It packed winds up to 90 miles per hour and nonstop lightning, which Andrews says looked like some wild disco display in the sky.

"I've never seen anything like that," she says. "I sat there on the couch thinking, 'Oh my God, we're all gonna die!' "

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The Picture Show
1:48 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

The Mars Rover Takes A Self-Portrait

Curiosity's self-portrait, captured on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
NASA/JPL/Caltech

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 3:45 pm

Who hasn't turned a camera around at arm's length to snap a picture to send to friends or family? It always seems like it takes a few tries to frame the shot just right to capture both you and that awesome mountain summit behind you.

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Shots - Health News
9:39 am
Thu December 27, 2012

Random Acts Of Kindness Can Make Kids More Popular

A hug is good for Mom, and good for her daughter.
iStockphoto.com

In the aftermath of Christmas, a parent could be forgiven for thinking that materialism has trumped human kindness.

Take heart. Children can easily become kinder and more helpful. And that behavior makes them more positive, more accepting and more popular.

At least that's how it worked for fourth- and fifth-graders in Vancouver, Canada. Researchers there have been studying empathy and altruism in schoolchildren for decades.

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Joe's Big Idea
2:26 am
Thu December 27, 2012

The Quest For The Perfect Toothbrush

A drawing from Michael Davidson's 2012 patent for "Toothbrush And Method Of Using The Same."
Patent 8,108,962 U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 3:34 am

There are some consumer products where every year brings new innovations. Computers get faster, cellphones get lighter, cars get new bells and whistles.

It's easy to imagine why inventors are drawn to redesigning these products — the technology for making them is changing all the time.

But what about consumer products that have been around for a long time? For the toothbrush, the answer is a resounding yes.

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Shots - Health News
2:22 pm
Wed December 26, 2012

Despite Uneven Results, Alzheimer's Research Suggests A Path For Treatment

Brain scans using Amyvid dye to highlight beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. Clockwise from top left: a cognitively normal subject; an amyloid-positive patient with Alzheimer's disease; a patient with mild cognitive impairment who progressed to dementia during a study; and a patient with mild cognitive impairment.
Slide courtesy of the journal Neurology

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 6:24 pm

It's been a mixed year for Alzheimer's research. Some promising drugs failed to stop or even slow the disease. But researchers also found reasons to think that treatments can work if they just start sooner.

Scientists who study Alzheimer's say they aren't discouraged by the drug failures. "I actually think it was a phenomenal year for research," says Bill Rebeck, a brain scientist at Georgetown University.

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The Salt
2:22 am
Wed December 26, 2012

Don't Fear That Expired Food

The expiration date on foods like orange juice and even milk aren't indicators of when those products will go bad.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 7:57 am

Now that the Christmas feast is over, you may be looking at all the extra food you made, or the food that you brought home from the store that never even got opened.

And you may be wondering: How long can I keep this? What if it's past its expiration date? Who even comes up with those dates on food, anyway, and what do they mean?

Here's the short answer: Those "sell by" dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you're worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

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The Salt
2:59 pm
Tue December 25, 2012

Computers May Someday Beat Chefs At Creating Flavors We Crave

Does bell pepper and black tea sound appetizing? A computer may think so.
Ryan Smith NPR

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 9:06 am

Mario Batali, watch your back.

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Energy
1:25 pm
Tue December 25, 2012

Texas Man Takes Last Stand Against Keystone XL Pipeline

David Daniel, an east Texas landowner, was so determined to block the Keystone XL pipeline from coming through his forest that he built an elaborate network of treehouses eight stories above the ground.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Tue December 25, 2012 3:20 pm

An east Texas landowner was so determined to block the Keystone XL pipeline from coming through his forest that he took to his trees and built an elaborate network of treehouses eight stories above the ground.

"It popped into my head a long time ago, actually," says 45-year-old David Daniel. "If I had to climb my butt on top of a tree and sit there, I would. It started with that."

It turned out to be Daniel's last stand in a long battle against the Keystone XL, a pipeline project that would bring oil from Canada all the way to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast.

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