Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn't know existed.

There aren't any bones or ancient DNA to prove it, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call "ghost" DNA from an unknown ancestor.

The Trump administration is proposing a regulatory change to ensure that companies that accidentally kill migratory birds during the course of their operations will no longer face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Wildlife protection groups are decrying the proposal as an attempt to rip the teeth out of a century-old law that protects migratory birds, while industry groups say they have long been hamstrung by the threat of legal action.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering tightening the rules for taking service animals on planes after increased customer complaints and lobbying from the airlines who think current regulations are too lenient.

For decades, scientists have been trying to create machines that mimic the way birds fly. A team from Stanford University has gotten one big step closer.

The team created the PigeonBot — a winged robot that it says approximates the graceful complexities of bird flight better than any other robot to date.

The U.S. killing of a top Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani, in an airstrike in Baghdad this week has raised thorny legal questions. Experts disagree over whether the U.S. had the legal authority to launch the deadly strike.

President Trump stated that Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and American personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him."

For decades, major tobacco companies have fought against raising the age limit to buy their products from 18 to 21. But recently, some cigarette and e-cigarette giants have started lobbying for the minimum age to rise.

"Raising the purchase age to 21 reduces underage access," a radio ad from e-cigarette giant Juul declared. "That's why Juul Labs supports making 21+ the law nationwide."

When President Trump signed a $738 billion defense spending bill on Friday, he officially created the Space Force. It's the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Services, and the first new military service since the Air Force was created in 1947.

"Space is the world's newest war-fighting domain," President Trump said during the signing ceremony. "Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we're leading, but we're not leading by enough. But very shortly we'll be leading by a lot."

The dark little blob would be easy to overlook at an archaeological site.

Hannes Schroeder, a paleogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen, says a student brought it to him from a Stone Age site in Denmark and had a question: "Can we get DNA out of this?"

Schroeder remembers replying: "We don't know, haven't really tried, so let's give it a go."

Scientists say they have found the oldest known figurative painting, in a cave in Indonesia. And the stunning scene of a hunting party, painted some 44,000 years ago, is helping to rewrite the history of the origins of art.

Until recently, the long-held story was that humans started painting in caves in Europe. For example, art from the Chauvet Cave in France is dated as old as 37,000 years.

An electric eel in Chattanooga, Tenn., is sparking a little holiday cheer.

Every time Miguel Wattson the electric eel releases a jolt of electricity, a festively-decorated Christmas tree next to his tank at the Tennessee Aquarium flickers and glows.

"There is a sensor directly in his exhibit that picks up when he produces electricity," Aquarist Kimberly Hurt, who cares for the electric eel, tells NPR.

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