Coastal Flooding, Elephants and Cancer, Yosemite Bears. August 17, 2018, Part 1 | WBEZ
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Science Friday

Coastal Flooding, Elephants and Cancer, Yosemite Bears. August 17, 2018, Part 1

More than five years after the devastating 14-foot high waters of Superstorm Sandy flooded New York and New Jersey, the Army Corps of Engineers is studying methods for reducing the damage of future high waters in the New York Bay and Hudson River estuary—whether with levees, seawalls, beach nourishment, or even a gate that would span from Sandy Hook to the Rockaways. But would such barriers be sufficient as sea levels rise? Is building big structures—like those protecting the Netherlands—the best use of resources? 

Cancer happens when a cell picks up a mutation that causes it grow and divide out of control. Statistically, you would think then that larger-bodied organisms would have more cells and therefore more opportunities for mutation—increasing the risk of cancer. But for some bigger animals, this idea doesn’t hold true. This conundrum was first observed by epidemiologist Richard Peto and has become known as Peto’s Paradox. The elephant is one animal that falls under this paradox and has a lower cancer risk despite its large size. Scientists investigated the elephant genome to try to understand why this might happen—and identified a “zombie” gene, which is dormant in most mammals, but in elephants identifies and kills cells with damaged DNA. 

People love seeing black bears when they visit Yosemite National Park in California. But encounters don’t always go well. The park has come up with a new way to keep humans and bears safe. But tracking data from the past few years points to a new trend: Bears are being hit by cars, and speeding is now their biggest threat. Leahy says 28 were hit in 2016, and many of them died. In 2017, 23 bears were hit and four died. “You’re talking about 10 percent of our bears potentially being hit by vehicles each year,” said Yosemite National Park wildlife biologist Ryan Leahy in 2017. “Just slowing down a little bit will give you that stopping distance required to prevent a collision.” The key, he says, is education. His team has created an interactive map-based website where the public can track the lives of selected bears and see general areas where they’re hit the most.

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