Listen

Michaeleen Doucleff

Michaeleen Doucleff is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She reports for the radio and the Web for NPR's global health and development blog, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, drug development, and trends in global health.

In 2014, Doucleff was part of the team that earned a George Foster Peabody award for its coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. For the series, Doucleff reported on how the epidemic ravaged maternal health and how the virus spreads through the air. In 2015, Doucleff and Senior Producer Jane Greenhalgh reported on the extreme prejudices faced by young women in Nepal when they're menstruating. Their story was the second most popular one on the NPR website in 2015 and contributed to the NPR series on 15-year-old girls around the world, which won two Gracie Awards.

As a science journalist, Doucleff has reported on a broad range of topics, from vaccination fears and the microbiome to beer biophysics and dog psychology.

Before coming to NPR in 2012, Doucleff was an editor at the journal Cell, where she wrote about the science behind pop culture. Doucleff has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berkeley, California, and a master's degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis.

Only six people in the world know how to do what Sergio Pacheco is about to do.

A middle-aged man who rarely smiles, Pacheco stands in the middle of a crowd on the National Mall, wearing a feathered headdress, beaded necklace and wrinkled dress that's been hand painted with a large, maroon bird on the front.

"What I'm about to show you is the way we heal in my community," Pacheco says in his native language, Harakmbut, while a translator quickly interprets. "If someone has faith, they will be cured."

It's about the size of an "energy shot." You take it just like a shot of whiskey — bottoms up.

But this little ounce-and-a-half of liquid is more potent than caffeine or alcohol.

It's a cheap, oral vaccine against cholera. It could prevent deadly outbreaks, like the current one in Haiti that has killed nearly 10,000 people.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Almost two months after Liberia was declared Ebola-free, the disease has cropped up again — this time in a rural town outside the capital city.

So far, there's only one new case, but health officials are rushing to stop its spread.

Liberia's deputy health minister, Tolbert Nyenswah, said Tuesday that a 17-year-old boy died of Ebola at his home in Nedowein, a village near the country's international airport.

Compared to other cultures around the world, Americans are big stoners.

About 40 percent of Americans say they've tried marijuana at some point in their lifetimes, a large survey found. That rate was the highest reported across 17 countries, and it's nearly 10 times higher than the global average.

But when it comes to reefer madness, nobody can top the Aka — a group of traditional hunter-gatherers in the Congo Basin.

Editor's note, June 10: We have added an acknowledgement of several sources that Esther Gokhale used while developing her theories on back pain. These include physiotherapy methods, such as the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method, and the work of anthropologist Noelle Perez-Christiaens.

An outbreak of a deadly virus in South Korea has set off alarms across the region.

In the past week, South Korea's confirmed cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome have more than tripled to 41, with at least three deaths. About 1,600 people are quarantined and more than 1,000 schools are closed.

It's the largest outbreak of MERS outside Saudi Arabia. And researchers around the world have been trying to figure out why the outbreak in South Korea has gotten so large, so fast.

Now researchers have a clue: a superspreader event.

Making morphine — or heroin*, for that matter — isn't easy. You have to know a bunch of fancy chemistry to synthesize the drug from scratch. Or you have to get your hands on some opium poppies and extract morphine from the flowers' milky juice.

The latter is tougher than it sounds. Sure, the beautiful flowers grow across millions of acres around the world. But farming and trading poppies are tightly regulated both by laws and by drug kingpins.

Eighteen years ago, Dean Karlan was a fresh, bright-eyed graduate student in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wanted to answer what seemed like a simple question:

"Does global aid work?" Karlan says.

He was reading a bunch of studies on the topic. But none of them actually answered the question. "We were tearing our hair out reading these papers because it was frustrating," he says. "[We] never really felt like the papers were really satisfactory."

Here at the Goats and Soda blog, we talk a lot about tiny critters moving around the globe — and often causing trouble.

Last summer it was Ebola hopping on a plane to Texas. Then a painful virus from eastern Africa, called chikungunya, found its way to Florida via the Philippines and the Caribbean.

But it's not just viruses and microbes that take advantage of Boeing 747s, vacationers and international development.

Back in the 1960s, the U.S. started vaccinating kids for measles. As expected, children stopped getting measles.

But something else happened.

Childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted. Even deaths from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea were cut by half.

Scientists saw the same phenomenon when the vaccine came to England and parts of Europe. And they see it today when developing countries introduce the vaccine.

The first genetically modified crop wasn't made by a megacorporation. Or a college scientist trying to design a more durable tomato. Nope. Nature did it — at least 8,000 years ago.

Well, actually bacteria in the soil were the engineers. And the microbe's handiwork is present in sweet potatoes all around the world today.

It took 15 years and hundreds of millions of vaccines. But North America and South America have officially eradicated rubella, health authorities said Wednesday. Rubella is only the third virus eradicated from people in the Western Hemisphere.

Also known as German measles, rubella causes only a mild illness in children, with a rash and sometimes a fever.

Looks like many of us don't have the right stomach for a paleodiet. Literally.

Two studies give us a glimpse into our ancestors' microbiome — you know, those trillions of bacteria that live in the human gut.

And the take-home message of the studies is clear: Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped a few dozen species right out of our digestive tracts. One missing microbe helps metabolize carbohydrates. Other bygone bacteria act as prebiotics. And another communicates with our immune system.

It began with anxiety and depression. A few months later, hallucinations appeared.

Then the Texas man, in his 40s, couldn't feel the left side of his face.

He thought the symptoms were because of a recent car accident. But the psychiatric problems got worse. And some doctors thought the man might have bipolar disorder.

Eventually, he couldn't walk or speak. He was hospitalized. And about 18 months after symptoms began, the man died.

Right after birth, trillions of microbes rush into a baby's gut and start to grow. Most of these critters come from the mom's skin, birth canal and gut.

But exactly which types of bacteria take up residence in an infant's gut can depend on the mother's DNA, scientists reported Thursday.

The study, published in the journal Microbiome, focuses on a microbe called Bifidobacterium that potentially benefits babies.

Selling breast milk is big business.

Each year tens of thousands of women post ads on websites, offering their extra milk for $1 to $3 an ounce: "My rich milk makes giants!" promises one seller. "Organic and Gluten Free Breastmilk," claims another. Then there's this one: "470 oz. of breastmilk must go!!!"

But some women online aren't delivering what they're advertising.

Scientists at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed 102 samples ordered from popular websites and found about 10 percent of them were "topped off" with cow's milk.

This time last year, a painful new virus was knocking on our doorstep. Travelers were bringing chikungunya to the U.S. And eventually, the mosquito-borne virus set up shop in Florida.

Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says another nasty pathogen is hitching a ride to the U.S. with travelers: multidrug-resistant Shigella.

Hidden inside all of us are likely thousands of viruses — maybe more. They just hang out, harmlessly. We don't even know they're there.

But every once in a while, one of these viral inhabitants might help us out.

Young people infected with a type of herpes virus have a better immune response to the flu vaccine than those not infected, scientists at Stanford University report Wednesday. In mice, the virus directly stops influenza itself.

Back in August, scientists published a worrisome report about Ebola in West Africa: The virus was rapidly changing its genetic code as it spread through people. Ebola was mutating about twice as fast as it did in previous outbreaks, a team from Harvard University found.

The videos are almost unbelievable. Ketchup slides out of the jar and you don't even have to give it a thump. Glue slips out of the bottle without a molecule left inside. And what about getting that last smidgen of toothpaste from a used tube? No problem.

Welcome to the world of LiquiGlide.

Sorry bacon lovers, we've got some sad news about your favorite meat.

To get those sizzling strips of pork on your plate each morning takes more antibiotics than it does to make a steak burrito or a chicken sausage sandwich.

Pig farmers around the world, on average, use nearly four times as much antibiotics as cattle ranchers do, per pound of meat. Poultry farmers fall somewhere between the two.

Malaria is one of the oldest scourges of mankind. Yet it's been a mystery how the deadliest form of the disease kills children.

One doctor in Michigan has dedicated her life to figuring that out. Now she and her team report their findings in this week's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The key to solving the mystery was looking inside the brain.

It's March. It's freezing. And there's half a foot of snow on the ground. When is this winter going to end?

For centuries, arsenic was the go-to poison for murder.

If you wanted to knock off an heir to the throne or speed up the arrival of your inheritance, all you had to do was add a dollop of rat poison to your rival's food. They wouldn't see or taste it. And the police wouldn't detect it — at least not until a chemist developed a test for the element in the early 19th century.

The Ebola epidemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children.

More than 1,000 children have died from the disease. Even more have lost parents, grandparents and siblings.

Speed. That's key to ending the Ebola epidemic, health officials have been saying for months. Now there's a new tool to help do the trick.

The World Health Organization approved the first quick test for Ebola Friday. The test gives results in about 15 minutes, instead of hours. So people infected can get treatment and be quarantined more quickly.

"It's definitely a breakthrough," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Friday in Geneva.

With all his homemade gadgets and cool scientific tricks, MacGyver is an engineering superhero.

A few months ago, I met a grandpa whom I'll never forget.

His name is Edwin Koryan. And he's a pharmacist in Voinjama, Liberia. Edwin remembers the moment he felt the first symptoms of Ebola. He was taking care of his 5-year-old granddaughter Komasa. They were sharing a room and a bed.

Pages