It’s another busy day for Tony Price, who has a list of around two dozen restaurants and other seafood businesses to visit, to pick up discarded oyster shells. 

Fast and energetic, he moves barrels of smelly shells from restaurants’ back storage areas to his truck. “We do seven pickups a week, plus events on weekends. I’d say we’re getting somewhere between 500 and even 800 bushels a week,” he says.

That’s the beginning of a recycling process, a journey for the oyster shell to return to the water. 

Price is the operation manager with Shell Recycling Alliance, a program run by the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Last year, the program collected 33,400 bushels of oyster shells from restaurants all around the Chesapeake Bay area. Every half shell collected becomes a new home for around 10 baby oysters. 

On the menu

Oysters have been a popular item on the menu of Mike’s Crab House since 1958.

The famous seafood restaurant, in Riva, Maryland, is one of more than 330 restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. that now recycle their oyster shells.

Tony Piera says he and Mike’s other owners joined the program four years ago.

“It’s a win-win for us. It’s a win-win for the environment,” he explains. “Before we did it, the trash would come and get them. Now, the Oyster Recovery comes two days a week, picks them up.”

Mike’s Crab House is one of the top ten contributors to the program this year, with more 822 bushels of recycled oyster shells in 2017.

“I think I’m getting more customers here because they know we recycle here,” Piera says. “They know it’s good for the environment, the Chesapeake Bay.”

Saving oysters, saving the bay

The Oyster Recovery Partnership began in 2010 with 22 restaurants. Spokeswoman Karis King says the program has been well received and is expanding.

“We continue to grow and expand from us basically knocking on doors, trying to get people involved,” she adds. “It’s turned out into getting requests every single day, ‘How do we become part of this program?’ ‘I’m really excited about the program.’ ‘I want to do my part.’ ‘I want to be sustainable.’”

The recycling program offers incentives to encourage more restaurants to join. “In Maryland, tax credits that restaurants can claim based on how many bushels they recycle. We also provide them with support, restaurant training to talk to the servers about what the program is and why it’s important.” 

Multi-step recycling process

Done with his day’s rounds, Tony Price heads to a facility where the first phase of the process – cleaning the shells – begins.

“The shell is taken down here, it’s aged, it sits for about a year. It dries out, sun, wind, rain,” he explains. “(It) kind of decomposes a little all the tissue that’s left. Behind me is the shell washer. There are jets of a high pressure water from a pressure water system tumbles the shells, just give it a nice cleaning. So, it comes out brilliant white as opposed to the stuff on the other side is the raw shell. It’s a little bit grayer.” 

Then, the shells go to the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Oyster Hatchery for further processing. 

Hatchery manager, Stephanie Alexander, says her team gets tiny baby oysters, called spat, ready to be attached to the clean oyster shells. “We get the adult oysters, we spawn them and create the babies. Then, we grow those baby oysters for two to three weeks. Then they mature and we attach them to the shell to become spat on shell.”

Now firmly attached to the recycled natural shells, the spat are put back in the Chesapeake Bay. Here, they will grow and flourish, increasing the oyster population.

Alexander says new generations of oysters are crucially important for the health of the bay. They filter the water.

“That kind of makes them the bay’s kidneys,” she explains. “The cleaner water you have, the more sunlight can penetrate, the more grasses you end up having, which results in nursery area for fish and crabs when they are small and juvenile so they don’t get eaten. They also are spawning and reproducing, adding to the population. They (oyster shells) create habitat for many, many creatures. They are kind of the coral reefs of the bay.”

The success of the Recycling Shell Alliance program encourages more restaurants to join. That’s good for the bay and for people who love to eat oysters.

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The future of parenting may see a big change as scientists and ethicists have a startling prediction about how children will be conceived in the future. Thanks to biomedical advances, parents may be able to choose a child from hundreds of embryos based on their DNA profile. Faith Lapidus reports.

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Facing a rising death toll from drug overdoses, state lawmakers across the United States are testing a strategy to boost treatment for opioid addicts: Force drug manufacturers and their distributors to pay for it.

Bills introduced in at least 15 states would impose taxes or fees on prescription painkillers. Several of the measures have bipartisan support and would funnel millions of dollars toward treatment and prevention programs.

In Montana, state Senator Roger Webb, a Republican, sees the approach as a way to hold drugmakers accountable for an overdose epidemic that in 2016 claimed 42,000 lives in the U.S., a record.

“You’re creating the problem,” he said of drugmakers. “You’re going to fix it.”

Opioids include prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin as well as illegal drugs such as heroin and illicit versions of fentanyl. Public health experts say the crisis started because of overprescribing and aggressive marketing of the drugs that began in the 1990s. The death toll has continued to rise even as prescribing has started to drop.

Pennsylvania bill

A Pennsylvania opioid tax bill was introduced in 2015 and a federal version was introduced a year later, but most of the proposals arose during the past year. The majority of them have yet to get very far, with lawmakers facing intense pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to scuttle or soften the legislation.

Drugmakers and distributors argue that it would be wrong to tax prescription drugs, that the cost increases would eventually be absorbed by patients or taxpayers, and that there are other ways to pay for addiction treatment and prevention.

“We have been engaged with states to help move forward comprehensive solutions to this complex public health crisis and in many cases have seen successes,” Priscilla VanderVeer, a spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement. “However, we do not believe levying a tax on prescribed medicines that meet legitimate medical needs is an appropriate funding mechanism for a state’s budget.”

Two drug companies that deployed lobbyists — Purdue Pharma and Pfizer — responded to questions with similar statements.

A spokesman for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which represents drug distributors, said a tax would mean that cancer patients and those in end-of-life care might not be able to get the prescriptions they need.

The pharmaceutical industry has emphasized that the name-brand drug companies that make up its members already give rebates to states for drugs funded by Medicaid. Those rebates amount to billions of dollars nationwide that states could use to address opioid addiction, the trade group says.

State legislation to tax opioids comes as manufacturers and distributors are defending themselves in hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments seeking damages for the toll the overdose epidemic has taken on communities.

​Delaware effort

David Humes, whose son died from a heroin overdose in 2012, has been pushing for an opioid tax in Delaware, which did not increase funding for addiction treatment last year as it struggles to balance its budget.

“When you think about the fact that each year more people are dying, if you leave the money the same, you’re not keeping up with this public health crisis,” he said.

Humes, a board member of the advocacy group atTAcK Addiction, supports legislation that would dedicate opioid tax revenue for addiction services.

The lead sponsor of an opioids tax bill, state Senator Stephanie Hansen, said drug companies told her they already were contributing $500,000 to anti-addiction measures in Delaware, where there were 282 fatal overdoses from all drugs in 2016, a 40 percent increase from the year before.

“My response is, ‘That’s wonderful, but we’re not stopping there,’ ” said Hansen, a Democrat.

She said if her tax measure had been in place last year, it would have raised more than $9 million.

The drug industry’s current spending on anti-addiction programs has been a point of contention in the Minnesota Legislature. There, the overdose rate is lower than it is in most other states, but opioids still claimed 395 lives in 2016, an increase of 18 percent over the year before.

State Representative Dave Baker, a Republican whose son died of a heroin overdose after getting started on prescription painkillers, said opioid manufacturers and distributors should pay for drug programs separately. He said the rebate — about $250 million in 2016 in Minnesota — is intended to make up for overcharging for drugs in the first place.

Drugmakers not ‘part of the solution’

Another Republican lawmaker, state Senator Julie Rosen, said she walked out of a meeting this month with drug industry representatives, saying they were wasting her time.

“They know that they’re spending way too much money on defending their position instead of being part of the solution,” she said.

Representatives of the pharmaceutical industry say they have met with Rosen multiple times and are “committed to continue working with her.”

Drug companies have a history of digging in to defeat measures that are intended to combat the opioid crisis. A 2016 investigation by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found makers of opioids and their allies spent $880 million on politics and lobbying from 2006 through 2015.

The industry so far has succeeded in stalling the Minnesota legislation, which would charge opioid manufacturers by the dosage. With the bill facing resistance, Rosen and a Democratic co-sponsor, state Senator Chris Eaton, said they were considering changing tactics and amending it.

That could include raising the $235 annual licensing fee on opioid manufacturers or requiring drugmakers and distributors to pay $20 million a year based on the proportion of opioids they sell in the state. That approach is based on one adopted earlier this spring as part of the budget in New York — the only state to implement an opioid tax so far.

Eaton, whose daughter died from a heroin overdose in 2007, said her goal is to find a way to create and fund a structure that will ensure addiction treatment is “as routine as treating diabetes or cardiac arrest.”

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The 4-year-old Cote d’Ivoire boy couldn’t walk, speak or feed himself. He was so unlike most other kids that his grandparents hesitated to accept him. The slightly older Kenyan boy was so restless that his primary-school teachers beat him, until they discovered he was a star pupil.

The two children reveal different faces of autism — and how society sometimes reacts to the condition.

Videos of the boys appear in “Autism: Breaking the Silence,” a special edition of VOA’s weekly Straight Talk Africa TV program. It was recorded Wednesday before a small studio audience of people who live with the condition or deal with it professionally.

About 45 minutes into the program, Benie Blandine Yao of Cote d’Ivoire holds her 4-year-old son, who has autism.

The program’s goal: to help demystify and deepen understanding of autism spectrum disorder. It affects the brain’s normal development, often compromising an individual’s ability to communicate, interact socially or control behavior. The condition can range from mild to severe.

New CDC findings

New findings released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate an increase in autism’s prevalence in the United States.

The agency estimates it affects 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 68 several years ago and 1 in 150 almost two decades ago. The research is based on studies of more than 300,000 8-year-olds in 11 U.S. states.

Globally, one out of every 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder, the World Health Organization reports. Rates of autism are harder to determine in low- and middle-income countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa with limited access to clinicians.

Everywhere, “poor people get diagnosed later,” Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, said in a video overview that set the stage for discussion. “… There’s more services today than ever before but there’s nowhere near the services needed for all who need help.”

A complex condition

Stigma and superstition can heighten the challenges.

In parts of Africa, youngsters with autism “are labeled as devils and they’re not diagnosed and they are not given treatment,” Bernadette Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone who runs BK Behavioral Health Center in a Washington suburb, commented from the audience.

Some people believe the disorder is punishment for a parent’s bad behavior or an affliction that can be prayed away, said Mary Amoah, featured with 15-year-old daughter Renata in a related VOA video. 


“They don’t understand this is purely a medical condition. It can happen to anyone regardless of your background,” said Amoah, coordinator at a treatment center in Accra, Ghana, for children with disabilities. “A lot needs to be done in our part of the world in terms of education, acceptance and understanding.”


Researchers haven’t determined the exact cause of autism, though they cite genetic and environmental factors. 

Panelist Susan Daniels, who directs the office of autism research coordination for the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, stressed that research supported by the NIH and CDC shows no link to childhood vaccines.

Though the condition has no cure, early intervention can improve the quality of life for people with autism and their families.

Parents need to observe their children closely from infancy, advised Dr. Usifo Edward Asikhia, clinical director of the International Training Center for Applied Behavior Analysis in Lagos, Nigeria.

“When you have a baby at the age of 12 [months] that cannot babble, that’s a signal,” he said. Another is an inability to grasp objects, a sign of low muscle tone common in autism.

Other hallmarks include lack of eye contact or sensitivity to sounds, Daniels said. She added that a definitive diagnosis “can’t really be done accurately until age 2. But most kids aren’t diagnosed by then.”

“Children with autism in Africa tend to be diagnosed around age 8, about four years later, on average, than their American counterparts,” the Spectrum Autism Research News site reported in December.

​Call for cultural sensitivity

Some of those indicators could mislead when assessing African children, said panelist Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, a Texas-based member of the Autism Women’s Network.

“In a lot of African cultures, it’s customary not to make direct eye contact. That’s not a red flag,” said Onaiwu, whose parents came from Nigeria and who learned she was autistic only when two of her own six kids were positively identified with autism. “In terms of not babbling? We speak when we have something to say. … Certain things culturally may be missed because of the way diagnostic criteria are viewed through Western standards.”

While autism generally is associated with low IQ, the condition also affects people with high mental abilities. 

If they can “express themselves in some way, they’re actually geniuses,” said panelist Tracy Freeman, a Washington-area physician who has an autistic child. “Their challenge is neurodiversity and getting people to recognize their intelligence.”

At one point in the discussion, moderator Linord Moudou noticed Onaiwu twisting a metal coil in her hands. Onaiwu explained that the repurposed Christmas ornament is a “stimming” device for repetitive motion that provides relaxing sensory stimulation.

“It helps to calm me,” Onaiwu said. She has other strategies: “Sometimes you might see me rocking. … This kind of helps me to navigate in the neurotypical world.”

Growing role for governments?

Asikhia said families dealing with autism had few public supports in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. Most schools lack training in developmental delays that should be flagged for physicians, he said. 

“Those teachers just don’t know what to do,” he added.

Many African countries lack laws ensuring public education or health interventions for youngsters with autism or other developmental disorders.

But Chiara Servili, a child neuropsychiatrist and WHO technical adviser on mental health, sees rising interest. Representatives of more than 60 countries supported a 2014 WHO resolution urging member nations to develop policies and laws to ease “the global burden of mental disorders” and to devote “sufficient human, financial and technical resources.”

Many governments once focused just on improving child mortality rates, she said in a phone interview. Now, there’s “much more awareness not only that they survive but thrive. There is a new focus on early childhood development.”

The WHO is trying to improve supports for family caregivers as well as for teachers, social workers and other professionals in positions to encourage clinical evaluation, Servili said.

With international partners, the organization has developed a guide for caregivers, usually parents, to nurture children with developmental issues. For instance, “we teach them strategies so they can better engage children in play. Sit down at the level of the child. Provide some toys or some object from the house, observe what the child is doing and try to follow the lead,” Servili said. “… Reinforce any attempt to communicate.”

For a copy of the WHO Caregiver Skills Training program, contact Servili at

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Thousands of years of sediment carried by the Mississippi River created 25,000 square kilometers of land, marsh and wetlands along Louisiana’s coast. But engineering projects stopped the flow of sediment and rising seas thanks to climate change have made the Mississippi Delta the fastest-disappearing land on earth. Louisiana State University researchers created the river system in miniature to try to stop the erosion and rebuild the delta. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from Deborah Block.

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A new approach for detecting food poisoning is being used to investigate the recent outbreak of E.coli bacteria in romaine lettuce grown in the U.S. state of Arizona. The tainted produce has sickened at least 84 people in 19 states. The new method, used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relies on genetic sequencing. And as Faiza Elmasry tells us, it has the potential to revolutionize the detection of food poisoning outbreaks. VOA’s Faith Lapidus narrates.

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European Union countries backed a proposal Friday to extend a partial ban on the use of insecticides known as neonicotinoids that studies have shown are harmful to bees.

The full outdoor ban will be on the use of three active substances: imidacloprid, developed by Bayer CropScience; clothianidin, developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience; as well as Syngenta’s thiamethoxam.

“All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected,” the European Commission said in a statement.\

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A prehistoric sloth hunt is frozen in time in footprints preserved in the New Mexico desert, according to new research.

It’s an extremely rare find that authors say could revolutionize our understanding of how ancient humans interacted with large animals.

It also may shed light on whether our ancestors drove the giant ground sloth to extinction.

Footprints in footprints

In the gypsum sediments of New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, scientists found more than 100 prints dating back approximately 10,000 to 15,000 years.

The footprints seem to show humans stalking giant ground sloths, animals that could reach the size of an elephant. The creatures went extinct around the end of the last Ice Age, at roughly the same time as humans arrived on the scene.

In some of the prints, the humans walked in the sloth tracks, even though the stride of a giant sloth was longer than that of a human. One human appears to draw near a sloth on tip-toe.

Where the human tracks approach the sloth tracks, the animal suddenly changes direction. The researchers found what they call “flailing circles,” rounded heel prints and knuckle and claw prints where it looks like the animal reared up on its hind legs to defend itself with its front limbs.

Risky hunting

Hunting an animal the size of a giant sloth, with long arms and sharp claws, “would have come with huge amounts of risk,” said Bournemouth University geology professor Matthew Bennett, senior author of the research, published in the journal Science Advances. 

“If you were chasing a small rabbit or something, [there’s] little risk associated,” he added. “But going head to head with a sloth, the chances are that you might come off badly.”

With the newly discovered footprints, “we can begin to understand how they did it,” Bennett said.  “That gives us a better understanding whether we are guilty or not” of hunting the animals to extinction.

“It is very rare, if not unique, to see unequivocal evidence of human interactions with large vertebrates based on tracks,” said retired University of Colorado Denver paleontology professor Martin Lockley, who was not involved with the new research.

“There are only a handful of ancient human footprint sites in North America, making this one of the best,” he added.

The authors say there are likely more tracks to be found at the White Sands site.

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International scientists have identified 44 genetic variants that can increase the risk of developing major depression and found that all humans carry at least some of them.

The new findings could help explain why not everyone treated with antidepressants sees their condition improve, the scientists said, and point the way towards new medicines.

In the largest study of its kind, scientists also found that the genetic basis for depression is shared with other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and that a number of the variants are linked to the targets of antidepressant drugs.

Major depression affects around 14 percent of people worldwide and is the biggest contributor to long-term disability in the general population. Yet only about half of patients respond well to existing treatments.

“The new genetic variants discovered have the potential to revitalize depression treatment by opening up avenues for the discovery of new and improved therapies,” said Gerome Breen of King’s College London, who worked on the research team.

The study was a global effort, with data covering more than 135,000 patients with major depression and around 344,000 controls as comparisons.

“This study has shed a bright light on the genetic basis of depression, but it is only the first step,” said Cathryn Lewis, another King’s College London expert who worked on the study.

“We need further research to uncover more of the genetic underpinnings, and to understand how genetics and environmental stressors work together to increase risk of depression.”


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Scientists in Kenya believe they have discovered a new way to combat malaria. As Faith Lapidus reports, a common medication, already used to treat a host of illnesses, makes people’s blood poisonous to the anopheles mosquito, which spreads the deadly disease.

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It’s a punchline that sends every 12-year-old boy into a fit of giggles. Now it has been proven to be true. Uranus stinks!

Scientists using a huge telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano found the seventh planet from the sun is surrounded by clouds made up of hydrogen sulfide, the gas that smells like rotten eggs and bad flatulence.

The study by scientists from the California Institute of Technology, University of Oxford and the University of Leicester was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’ clouds they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions,” Patrick Irwin of the University of Oxford wrote.

Not that they would live long enough to sniff it. “Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium and methane would take its toll long before the smell,” Irwin wrote.

Despite previous observations by ground telescopes and the Voyager 2 spacecraft, scientists had failed to determine the composition of Uranus’ atmosphere.

The new data was obtained by using a spectrometer on the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. It should help scientists better understand the formation of Uranus and other outer planets.

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A customer from Beijing and one from Hong Kong walk into Starbucks. A chair blocks the path between the counter and their seats. Who of the two moves the chair?

It’s not a joke. It’s a psychology experiment, designed to test the long-lasting imprints of a culture’s agrarian past.

A new study in the journal Science Advances says that over thousands of years, rice farmers in southern China have evolved a culture of interdependence not found in northern, wheat-growing parts of the country. 

The authors say those influences persist even in China’s modern, relatively wealthy cities, among people who have never farmed. And they show up in how people behave in their daily lives — even as they navigate their local coffee shop.

Rice theory

The study found people were much less likely to move the Starbucks chair in southern China, where rice has been the staple crop for thousands of years, than those in the wheat-farming north.

According to what the researchers call the “rice theory of culture,” growing rice demands more cooperation than growing most other crops. Neighbors in rice-farming villages have to coordinate when they will flood and drain their paddies, for example.

And since rice requires about twice as much labor as wheat, rice-growing villagers often share the workload.

Over the centuries, people developed “folkways and habits of thoughts and behavior norms that, once they’re established, you’re not even thinking, ‘I’m doing this because I’m a rice farmer.’ If you’re thinking about it at all, you’re thinking about it as, ‘I’m doing this because I’m a good person. Because that’s how I was raised. Because that’s what they talk about in school,’ ” said psychologist Andrew Ryder at Concordia University in Montreal, who was not part of the research team.

Moving the chairs

To test their theory, University of Chicago psychologist Thomas Talhelm and colleagues went to Starbucks in five cities: Beijing and Shenyang in the wheat-growing north; and Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong in the rice-growing south.

They chose the Western coffee chain for its uniformity, introducing fewer variables in the environment that might complicate the results.

Researchers put two chairs a hip’s width apart in high-traffic aisles and watched how customers got past them.

In southern China, almost everyone squeezed through them. Just 6 percent moved a chair.

In the north, on the other hand, 16 percent were chair-movers.

“Previous research has found that when people in independent cultures like the United States encounter a problem, they’re more likely to want to change the environment to solve that problem,” Talhelm said. “But when people in interdependent cultures like Japan encounter problems, they’re more likely to try to fit [themselves] into the environment.”

Moving the chair rather than squeezing past it suggests a more independent mindset, he said.

The study also found northerners were more likely than southerners to sit alone: There were about 10 percent more singletons in northern Starbucks shops compared with southern ones during the week, and about 5 percent more on weekends.


Talhelm said the findings go against the common theory that “as areas become more wealthy, more modernized [and] more urbanized, people become more individualistic or more Western.”

Even in Hong Kong, among the wealthiest, most modern and most urban cities in China, chair-movers were rare and few people sat alone.

“People’s farming legacies seem to be more important than GDP in explaining their behavior,” he added.

The researchers also checked population density, age, gender, climate and disease presence. Nothing explained the results as well as the rice versus wheat split.

The findings fit with a different type of study Talhelm and colleagues did that tested students on measures of thinking style. They found the same cultural differences between rice-growing regions and wheat-growing regions, even among students from rice-growing or wheat-growing regions of the same county.

The rice theory had been “floating around for quite a long time,” Ryder said, but “I think people hadn’t even necessarily expected that it would be all that testable.” 

Now, he noted, several studies from different approaches are converging on the same results. 

And, he added, it’s an important reminder that China is not a cultural monolith. No country is.

“Get away from ‘one country equals one culture,’ ” he said.

Next, Talhelm is testing the theory in India, another country with a rice/wheat split. 

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