Seeds of dilemma: Who owns the genes that fill the stomach?

Seeds of dilemma: Who owns the genes that fill the stomach?
Some seed corn is covered by 30 patents. Three firms dominate corn and soybean seed producers, and patents are moving faster into smaller crops. Can the open-source software movement guide us toward an alternative way to breed and sell seed? More »

Ebola’s end: History’s lessons

Ebola’s end: History’s lessons
As Ebola ravages West Africa, we seek answers in past epidemics. How did cholera, plague, smallpox end? Lacking drugs or a vaccine, how can deadly Ebola be controlled? More »

Meet the mosquito: Annoying, deadly

Meet the mosquito: Annoying, deadly

Malaria is declining slowly, but skeeters carry other diseases, including dengue and West Nile. How do mosquitoes reproduce? What are the lessons of the anti-malaria campaign? Why not genetically alter mosquitoes so they will kill the malaria parasite by themselves? More »

Chronic pain: Understanding the roots, finding the cures

Chronic pain: Understanding the roots, finding the cures

Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, even chronic lower back pain are all “centralized pain states” that can result when the brain is abnormally sensitive to pain. Recognizing the brain’s role changes everything about the treatment of syndromes affecting millions of people. More »

Anxious crayfish, anxious people: Surprising similarities

Anxious crayfish, anxious people: Surprising similarities
Crayfish don’t like light, but they tolerate it — unless they are stressed out. Zap them with an electric shock, and they fear light. Give them a prescription med for anxiety — and watch the fear disappear! More »

World Cup raises epidemic questions

World Cup raises epidemic questions
Brazil had 1.2 million cases of dengue (“breakbone”) fever last year. What is the threat to World-Cup spectators? How do scientists predict and track disease outbreaks at mass gatherings for sports and religion? More »

Fundamental facial expressions: are there really 21?

Fundamental facial expressions: are there really 21?
How about sadly disgusted? Fearfully angry or fearfully surprised? We’re happily surprised to see that these categories seem burned into the human psyche. When volunteers are asked to make a “disgustedly surprised” face, they all look pretty much alike. How come? More »

The benefits of watching

The benefits of watching
A fascinating study taps “mirror neurons” to improve hand strength and dexterity. If I watch a movie of somebody cutting with scissors, and then use scissors myself, my brain will change — and my hand will be stronger. No kidding! More »

Does concussion accelerate Alzheimer’s?

Does concussion accelerate Alzheimer's?
As scientists search for the effects of brain injury, a long-term study looks at signs of Alzheimer’s, cognitive ability and past concussion. Links exist, but they are murky. More »

Stimulation: Too much could hurt when you are young.

Stimulation: Too much could hurt when you are young.
Growing brains need blood. But persistent noise or activity both slow formation of new vessels in the brain of a mouse. Mice aren’t people, but this result might interest new parents! More »

Cholera strikes Haiti, spreads

Cholera strikes Haiti, spreads
As Haiti copes with thousands of deaths, scientists try to understand how weather affects cholera, and how to battle a feces-borne disease in a country lacking good sanitation and clean water. More »

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!
Halloween is supposed to be fun, but there’s a disturbing undercurrent of real belief in unreal stuff. Wish The Why Files luck as we struggle to explain why so many people believe in spirits, zombies or communication with the dead! More »

Dangerous viruses: New weapons against new foes

Dangerous viruses: New weapons against new foes
What would better protection against new viruses look like? Old-style outbreak investigations can take years. Mammals may carry 320,000 viruses. Some can start an epidemic if they “jump” to people. Can ecological knowledge support new prevention strategies to block the “jumpers”? More »

Sweet and sour!

Sweet and sour!
Study finds added sugar — equal to 3 cans of soda a day — doubles death rate among female mice, and impairs male reproduction. Even if mice aren’t people, yikes! More »

Bugs for dinner!

Bugs for dinner!
What about farming insects? 2 billion people eat insects, and more should be, according to the UN. As the planet searches for protein sources that are easy on the environment, are you ready for a 6-legged solution? More »