Sunday, October 13, 2013

"The Extinct Woolly Mammoth"
and other science news from VOA

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Barbara Klein.

This week, we will tell about a genetic map for an animal that disappeared long ago. We will tell about an unusual-looking insect from South America. And we will tell about a reported link between animals and health problems in children.

Scientists say they have completed most of a genetic map for an ancient creature -- the woolly mammoth. The map is said to be the first to show the genetic structure of an animal that no longer exists.

Biologists at the Pennsylvania State University studied the remains of two woolly mammoths from Siberia. One mammoth lived twenty thousand years ago. The other lived at least sixty thousand years ago.

The woolly mammoth belongs to a species, or group, linked to the modern African elephant. With its thick, long hair, the now extinct mammoth was able to survive in cold weather. Lead researcher Stephan Schuster says the mammoth and African elephant share more than ninety-nine percent of their genetic material.

STEPHAN SCHUSTER:"So this tells you that they are very, very similar. And also, just because the mammoth is extinct does not mean it is an ancient elephant. It is as modern as an Asian or African elephant. But unfortunately, it had the bad luck to go extinct before today."

Mr. Schuster and the research team studied genes, or DNA, that were found in long pieces of mammoth hair. They say genes from hair are better to study than those from bones or other remains. That is because the genes from hair are less likely to mix with other kinds of DNA.

The researchers say they were able to uncover about seventy percent of the mammoth's genome, or genetic structure. They also say the study will help scientists better understand how elephants evolved, or developed.

Mr. Schuster says the information shows the mammoth evolved from the African elephant six million years ago. Mammoths disappeared about ten thousand years ago.

The researchers hope their work will also increase understanding of how the woolly mammoth evolved and why it died out. Their findings were reported in the publication Nature.

The study also provides some information that would be needed to re-create the mammoth. But scientists say such an animal would not be possible any time soon -- if ever.

Some researchers like to study animals that disappeared long ago. But others want to discover new species -- creatures that may have existed for thousands of years, but remain unknown to scientists.

One recent discovery was made in Brazil. This is where a researcher from the United States discovered a new ant species. Christian Rabeling is a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin. He believes the species could be linked to some of the earliest kinds of ants to have evolved. The ant has a very unusual appearance. It is extremely light in color and has no eyes. It also has large extensions from its head called mandibles. These are likely used to capture food.

Because of its appearance, the ant was given the scientific name Martialis heureka. The name means "ant from Mars."

The insect is two to three millimeters long. Scientists believe its appearance resulted from changes that took place for the ant to better live under the ground.

Genetic testing shows the ant belongs to a new ant subfamily. There are twenty-one known ant subfamilies. The discovery marks the first time since nineteen twenty-three that a new ant subfamily has been identified. Since then, new subfamilies have only been found from fossilized ant remains.

The genes of the new ant also show that it comes from a species that first evolved from the wasp. Ants developed from these insects more than one hundred twenty million years ago. Some species changed to live in trees or in their leaves.

Scientists believe others like the new species may have evolved to live in the dirt. That would explain the ant's loss of eyes and light color.

Christian Rabeling collected the only example of the new species in two thousand three. It was found among leaves in the Amazon rainforest. Mr. Rabeling reported on the discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He says finding new ant species could help scientists understand more about the evolution of ants. He believes many other species have yet to be discovered in warm climates.

Many families in the United States have at least one pet. The most popular are dogs, cats and fish. Some Americans own exotic, less traditional pets. They care for animals like hedgehogs, monkeys or snakes.

Recently, a report warned that non-traditional pets may cause serious health problems in children. The report appeared in Pediatrics, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It says families with children less than five years old should not have exotic pets. It says children that age should avoid contact with such animals in petting zoos, schools and other public places.

The report says the number of exotic pets available in the United States has increased since nineteen ninety two. Many people find them easier to care for than other pets. For example, more than four million American homes have reptiles like snakes and turtles as pets.

Another exotic pet, the hedgehog, is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. But hedgehogs can now be found in forty thousand homes. Yet the animal also can spread salmonella infections. The sharp spines on their back also make it easier to spread infections like E. coli. Exotic pets also can cause allergic reactions and sicknesses like rabies.

Larry Pickering was a lead researcher in the study. He says eleven percent of salmonella infections in children are believed to be caused by touching lizards or other reptiles. Salmonella can cause the uncontrolled expulsion of body wastes. It also can cause high body temperatures and stomach problems.

Children can become sick by kissing or touching animals and then putting their fingers in their mouths. Young children are especially at risk because their natural defenses against disease are still developing. Also at risk are other persons with weakened defense systems, older adults and pregnant woman.

The report says parents need to be educated about the health risks caused by exotic pets. And, it says, families with children under the age of five should not own such animals.

It says parents should first talk with their children's doctors and animal experts to see if there is cause for concern. And, it suggests washing hands often to help decrease risks for disease.

Bacterial meningitis must be treated with antibiotic drugs as soon as possible or the infection can cause hearing loss and brain damage. It can also kill.

A large area in Africa holds the world record for the most meningitis cases. Known as the meningitis belt, this area extends from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. More than two hundred fifty thousand people got sick there in nineteen ninety-six and nineteen ninety-seven. Twenty-five thousand of them died from meningitis. The disease still strikes the area from time to time.

Nations along the meningitis belt agreed in September to support a campaign to protect their populations with a new vaccine. The World Health Organization will provide technical aid with the vaccine.

The campaign will also get help from weather experts. One partner in the effort is America's National Center for Atmospheric Research. It will make long-term weather predictions along the meningitis belt. Local health officials can then plan the best times to vaccinate people.

The disease often strikes during dry, dusty weather. One possible reason is that dust can affect the breathing passages and people may be more open to infection. Another theory is that people may stay in their homes more during the dry season, making it easier to catch meningitis from others. The infections usually stop when the rainy season begins.

Weather experts will provide fourteen-day forecasts of atmospheric conditions. The weather program will start in Ghana next year.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Lawan Davis, Jerilyn Watson and Brianna Blake, who was also our producer. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Emerging Explorers" from Voice of America

I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Every year, the National Geographic Society honors scientists, wildlife experts and others for their work. Each honoree receives a ten thousand dollar award to help them with their research and future projects. This week we learn about the latest National Geographic Emerging Explorers.

One of the honorees is searching for life in faraway places.

KEVIN HAND: “The big picture for me and many of my colleagues is the search for life beyond Earth. So if we’ve learned anything about life here on Earth, it’s that in general where you find the liquid water, you find life.”

That is Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist and astrobiologist who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. This lab works with the American space agency on projects including looking for life in outer space. Kevin Hand is assiting with plans to send an orbital device to Europa, a moon of the planet Jupiter. Space agency officials hope to launch the device in about twenty-twenty.

Europa is covered in ice. Under the ice are deep oceans, which could be home to living organisms. However, this moon is not easy to explore. Depending on its orbit, Europa can be over nine hundred million kilometers from Earth. Its environment is freezing, with intense radiation and no atmosphere.

KEVIN HAND: “And when it comes to actually searching for this life, that’s a great challenge. We send these robots off as our little planetary emissaries to go and do the science. These robots basically have to take the scientific laboratory with them so they can do the experiments and chemical analysis on the planets.”

Kevin Hand and coworker Robert Carlson have recreated an environment like Europa in a laboratory to study its conditions. Mister Hand also has visited extreme places on Earth to see how organisms survive in cold climates. This could help experts know what to look for when looking for possible life forms on Europa.

The work of several Emerging Explorers aims to improve the lives of people in different ways. Juan Martinez grew up in poverty in the city of Los Angeles. In high school, he won a trip to learn about nature in the Teton Science Schools program in Wyoming. He says experiencing the wilderness and mountains changed his life.

Today, Mister Martinez campaigns to get young people, especially at-risk youth, interested in nature and the outdoors. He works with groups like the Sierra Club to get young people interested in the environment. And, he heads the Natural Leaders Network of the Children and Nature Network. The group creates links between environmental organizations, businesses, government and individuals to connect children with nature.

Jennifer Burney is an environmental scientist. She has studied links between climate change, food production and food security. She is especially interested in how people can use new technologies to create a better, more sustainable food system.

One of her projects is in northern Benin. She has worked with the Solar Electric Light Fund to build a water supply system for farming. Energy from the sun provides power for the project.

JENNIFER BURNEY: “This system enables farmers to cultivate vegetables year around and to cultivate new types of crops and to generally increase the area that they cultivate so they have much more food for their home consumption but are also able to sell a large majority of it and earn income that way.

Jennifer Burney also works with a group in India. They are studying the effects of replacing traditional cook stoves with safer, more environmentally-friendly cooking technologies. Traditional cook stoves produce a harmful black smoke.

JENNIFER BURNEY: “We know that it is a component of particulate matter which makes people sick, but it’s also a very potent climate warming agent.”

Miz Burney says replacing old stoves with safer ones could have a huge effect on improving human health and slowing climate change.

Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah is a cultural educator who grew up in Jerusalem. After his brother was jailed and killed, Mister Abu Sarah was filled with hatred and publicly acted out his anger. He refused to learn Hebrew, which he considered the language of his enemy. But he knew he would have to learn the language to go to college and get a good job in Jerusalem. In Hebrew class, he met Jewish men and women who were not soldiers with guns. He learned they were human beings, just like he is.

Aziz Abu Sarah has spent his career working to break down emotional barriers between Arabs and Jews. In the United States, he helps lead the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. He also created a travel company that helps bring people to the Middle East for multicultural visits.

Two Emerging Explorers are working to turn waste into a valuable resource. Ecologist Sasha Kramer is helping to fight poverty in Haiti. She also is working to solve one of the country’s environmental problems. Living in Haiti, Sasha Kramer learned that only sixteen percent of Haitians had access to toilets. Many people throw out bodily waste in the ocean, rivers, and empty areas. She helped create a non-profit organization that helps turn waste into fertilizer. This fertilizer helps improve the quality of Haiti’s soil. And it helps poor farmers increase their harvests.

Ashley Murray is a wastewater engineer living in Ghana. She is working to persuade governments that turning wastewater into clean water can be profitable. She says the profits made from reusing waste could change waste treatment systems and health around the world.

Several of the Emerging Explorers are working to protect and explore undeveloped areas.

Ecologist Paula Kahumbu heads an organization called WildlifeDirect, which has offices in Kenya and the United States. The organization’s website describes over one hundred conservation projects. The goal of WildlifeDirect is to connect scientists working to protect the environment with people who want to help. The group also helps spread information quickly to raise support during environmental crises.

Tuy Sereivathana is working to save endangered elephants in Cambodia. Up until now, many Cambodians have hunted elephants to protect their land and crops. Tuy Sereivathana works with Cambodians to educate rural populations on how to be successful farmers without harming the animals and the areas where they live. The National Geographic Society says his program has been very successful. But he says there is still much work to be done in getting government and developers to support growth that does not harm the environment.

Adrian Seymour is an ecologist and filmmaker. He studies the Indonesian population of a small meat-eating creature called the Malay civet. He says studying creatures at the top of the food chain can help explain what is happening in the whole ecosystem. He also makes movies about human issues linked to environmental efforts.

Four Emerging Explorers study creatures. Çağan Şekercioğlu is a biology professor at the University of Utah. The Turkish native has studied the effects of environmental pressures on decreasing bird populations. He helps to show people how important birds are for health, farming, and the environment.

Jorn Hurum studies the ancient fossil remains of animals in northern Norway. He and his team have found important fossils of sea reptiles, including several huge creatures that once stood over fifteen meters tall. In Germany, he helped unearth a forty seven million year old fossil of a primate. Jorn Hurum feels strongly about making his scientific publications available free of cost so that this knowledge can be seen by everyone.

Dino Martins is a scientist who studies insects. He studies environments in which bees and other pollinating insects are threatened. He helps educate farmers and others in east Africa about the importance of these insects in food production and how they can be protected.

Kakani Katija is a bioengineer who studies the power sources responsible for the ocean’s movements. Winds and tides drive the oceans, but so do the movements of swimming animals. Her research shows that the movement of sea creatures has a big effect on climate systems by continuously mixing the seawater. Mixing the water moves oxygen and nutrients from one layer of water to another.

We close this program with Hayat Sindi, a Saudi-born health technology expert. She is helping to spread the use of a low-cost, paper device that can help people in poor, rural areas to find disease. The device is the size of a postage stamp. It is being used to help people learn if they have health problems like liver damage. The device quickly provides important information to people in areas without medical workers or a laboratory. The National Geographic Society says the device she and her team developed holds promise to be an invention that will save millions of lives.

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Golden Gate's Guardian" a video from Karmatube

The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic landmark of San Francisco, drawing millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most popular suicide destinations in the world. California Highway Patrol Sergeant, Kevin Briggs, has saved hundreds of people from jumping over the famous railings in his 26 years of patrolling the bridge through his compassion and dedication - a true everyday hero.

"Golden Gate Guardian", Comprehension Check from
Eve Tarquino: ESL Instructor at Mission Campus of
City College of San Francisco.

1. Where and for whom does Kevin Briggs work?

2. Who does Kevin help?

3. When Kevin talks about the people he helps, he says, “Their sight is very narrow”. What does this mean?

4. How long is the bridge?

5. What does ‘despondent’ mean?

6. How long has Kevin be a highway patrol officer?

7. Where was Kevin raised?

8. What is the general success rate of preventing suicide?

9. What difficulty had Kevin been through when he was younger?

10. Has Kevin been 100% successful?

11. What was the longest time Kevin had to talk someone out of jumping, and why did he finally decide not to jump?

For more history of the Golden Gate Bridge see "The Golden Gate Bridge's 75 Birthday" from VOA

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"The Disability Rights Movement"

Ed Roberts

The disability rights movement began in the 1960s, encouraged by the examples of the African-American civil rights and women’s rights movements.

It was at this time that disability rights advocacy began to have a cross-disability focus. People with different kinds of disabilities (physical and mental handicaps, along with visual- and hearing-impairments) and different essential needs came together to fight for a common cause. In 1948 a movement started to first prove that there were physical barriers for the handicap in public places and also research ways to modify these areas to provide access. This process continued over 40 years.

One of the most important developments of the disability rights movement was the growth of the independent living movement, which emerged in California in the 1960s through the efforts of Edward Roberts and other wheelchair-using individuals. This movement says that people with disabilities are the best experts on their needs, and therefore they must take the initiative, individually and collectively, in designing and promoting better solutions and must organize themselves for political power.

Ed Roberts (1939-1995) is often called the father of the disability rights movement. He contracted polio at the age of fourteen in 1953, two years before the Salk vaccine put an end to the epidemic. He spent eighteen months in hospitals and returned home paralyzed from the neck down except for two fingers on one hand and several toes. He slept in an iron lung at night and often rested there during the day. He attended school by telephone hook-up until his mother Zona insisted that he go to school once a week for a few hours. At school he faced his deep fear of being stared at and transformed his sense of personal identity. He gave up thinking of himself as a "helpless cripple," and decided to think of himself as a "star." He credited his mother with teaching him by example how to fight for what he needed.

He went on to become an international leader and educator in the independent living and disability rights movements. He fought throughout his life to enable all persons with disabilities to fully participate in society. Ed was a true pioneer: he was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. He was a founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, which became the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) and over 400 independent living centers across the country. He was one of the early directors of CIL. He was the first California State Director of Rehabilitation with a disability; he was awarded a MacArthur fellowship; and he was co–founder and President of the World Institute on Disability.

In 1973 the (American) Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. This was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

In 1983, Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) was responsible for another civil disobedience campaign also in Denver that lasted seven years. They targeted the American Public Transport Association in protest of inaccessible public transportation; this campaign ended in 1990 when bus lifts for people using wheelchairs were required nationwide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and it provided comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history. It orders that local, state, and federal governments and programs be accessible, that employers with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities and not discriminate against otherwise qualified workers with disabilities, and that public places such as restaurants and stores not discriminate against people with disabilities and that they make “reasonable modifications” to ensure access for disabled members of the public. The act also ordered access in public transportation, communication, and in other areas of public life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Patriotic Millionaires" from VOA

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report in Special English.

Congressional leaders and the Obama administration have begun budget negotiations. They are trying to avoid what is being called “the fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and budget cuts that many experts worry could harm the economy.

However, a group of rich Americans has formed to try to influence those negotiations. More than twenty of them traveled to Washington recently to call on lawmakers to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The group calls itself “Patriotic Millionaires.” Members of the group have incomes of at least one million dollars a year. Their message is simple: “tax us more -- we can take it.”

They are worried about the growing gap between the upper- and middle-classes in the United States.

The group supports President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on rich Americans as part of a budget agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” If an agreement is not reached by the end of this year, taxes will go up for most Americans, and federal spending will go down sharply. President Obama says the country can avoid that if Republicans agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

“When it comes to the top two percent, what I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars.”

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives -- John Boehner, a Republican -- says taxes for wealthy Americans do not have to go up.

“I have outlined a framework for how both parties can work together to avert the fiscal cliff without raising tax rates.”

The Patriotic Millionaires believe their taxes need to be raised. They also do not agree with the idea that increasing taxes on those who create jobs means fewer jobs will be created. T.J. Zlotnitsky is the head of iControl Systems, a data management company.

“When I make a decision about whether or not I’m going to hire people to help grow my business, I make those decisions strictly on the basis of whether the company needs them, whether the customers demand them, whether doing so would grow the business. In terms of my own personal tax rates, that never factors in.”

The group says increasing taxes on middle-class Americans -- but not on rich Americans -- would be bad for the economy. Frank Patitucci is the chief of NuCompass Mobility.

“It is especially important about the middle class. If you lose the middle class, you’re losing customers. So a strong middle class that’s helped by a fair tax system leads to long-term to a healthy economy.”

Patriotic Millionaires has more than two hundred members across the country. Members of the group work in finance, entertainment, technology and other areas.