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Q&A: How does the U.S. monitor the mental health of airline pilots?

Jim Vanderploeg is a professor of Aerospace Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

As part of his job he works with the FAA to evaluate airline pilots who are being treated for depression or substance abuse and who want to get back into flying. 

We spoke to him about how the mental health of pilots is monitored and tested in the United States.

What are the red flags you look for when you evaluate a pilot?  

When a pilot comes to me they have already been through treatment of some sort or another through their company airline or on their own and are at a point where they want to get their medical certification back.

When you are dealing with things like anxiety or depression the typical red flags are if they are not sleeping well, a change in eating -- either more or less -- and if there are any family problems developing with their kids or spouse. Those are life stressors that could indicate that there are some unresolved and undiagnosed mental health issues...

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Obama to drug-resistant superbugs: We are coming after you

The Obama administration is taking fresh aim at antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a growing cadre of microscopic foes that threatens to undermine public health and economic security throughout the world.

The White House on Friday unveiled a five-year plan to fight these deadly pathogens. Part of the strategy depends on slowing the spread of these bacteria by being more judicious in prescribing and using antibiotics. It also counts on scientists to develop new drugs that can replace antibiotics that are no longer effective.

Each year, more than 2 million Americans are sickened by these superbugs and about 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has warned that drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise in every part of the globe.

The recent outbreak of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, tied to contaminated duodenoscopes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is just one example of the problem. As many as...

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What a cluster: When dark matter collides, things get weird

Dark matter just got a shade more mysterious. Scientists studying a smashup between giant clusters of galaxies have watched how each cluster’s dark matter passes through the collision – and found that it seems to contradict certain theories of how dark matter behaves.

The findings, published in the journal Science, show that further study of  these dramatic collisions could shed light on a very dimly understood part of the cosmos. But for the moment, they leave wide open the question of what dark matter is.

Dark matter can’t be touched or seen, but it makes up 84.1% of all the matter in the universe. That means that for every one share of normal matter – the stuff that makes up the stars, galaxies, black holes, our planet, every proton and elctron and other subatomic particle – there are more than five shares of this unknown stuff called dark matter.

And yet, in spite of its overwhelming presence, scientists have little idea what dark matter is. It makes its presence known through its...

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30 never-before-seen species of flies discovered in Los Angeles

Scientists have found 30 never-before-seen species of flies buzzing about in the city of Los Angeles.  

The discovery suggests that we know less about the diversity of our winged neighbors than was previously thought. 

The flies are all members of the phorid family, and were captured in 30 insect traps set up in the backyards of homeowners around the city. Phorid flies are a little smaller than the fruit flies that hover over your bananas. 

"Most people don't even notice them, but they do an incredible array of different things that are important to helping our ecosystem function," said Brian Brown, curator of entomology at the museum and a phorid fly expert.

Some phorids prey on insect pests, others eat fungi, and still others eat decaying matter. There is even a species known as the coffin fly that can burrow several feet into the dirt to lay their eggs in a corpse.

"Really, the world couldn't function without these small creatures," Brown said. 

All 30 flies were discovered through...

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NASA aims to pluck boulder from asteroid, bring it to the moon

NASA's next marquee mission might be described as the great asteroid boulder pluck.

At a news conference Wednesday, agency officials said they had revised their original plan to capture an asteroid and drag it into deep lunar orbit.

The new plan calls for a spacecraft with two robotic arms to remove a boulder of up to 12 feet in length from the surface of an asteroid and bring that into orbit around the moon instead. 

The agency still plans to send two astronauts to collect a sample of the boulder once it is in a stable orbit around the moon.

The new plan may seem less dramatic than the original concept for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) first announced in 2013, but NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot said the boulder-plucking plan ultimately utilizes more of the technologies needed for humans to eventually get to Mars.

"ARM is an important part of the overall mission of us taking humans further into space," he said. "The systems we are going to bring into play are the...

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Ebola virus not mutating as quickly as feared

Throughout the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, health officials have feared that widespread transmission would give rise to an even more virulent and contagious form of the virus.

However, new research published Thursday in the journal Science suggests that the virus is undergoing only limited mutational changes, and is no more virulent than when the outbreak began.

"Despite the extensive and prolonged human-to-human transmission in this outbreak, the virus is not mutating at a rate beyond what is expected," wrote lead study author Thomas Hoenen, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues.

The conclusion comes as a bit of a relief. Early reports had suggested that the Ebola virus was mutating twice as fast as it had in other outbreaks. If in fact it were changing that quickly, it could possibly evolve ways of evading diagnostic tests or develop protections against experimental vaccines and treatments such as ZMapp or TKM-Ebola.

"Our data...

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