Friday, June 26, 2015

In the News: Tracing History, from Roman Times to Chernobyl

Fig.1. A radiation warning sign hangs on barbed wire outside a cafe in Pripyat, a city forced to evacuate after the Chernobyl disaster (Credit: D. Markosian, 2011)

Repositories can hold an amazing wealth of information, from genomic data on human evolution to environmental records of political change. Learn about these unique collections and the institutions that hold them in this Follow Friday post:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Drug Discovery in your Backyard

Fig.1. Example plates of fungi being isolated from soil samples in the Natural Products Discovery Group citizen science project at the University of Oklahoma (Credit: Candace Coker, University of Oklahoma).

Editor’s Note: For the second article in our International Year of Soils series, learn about how to find the next generation of medicine in your own backyard!

In 1928, Alexander Fleming returned from holiday to find something amazing growing on his Petri dishes. Once full of Staphylococcus bacteria, it was now growing mold. Secretions from this mold, later identified as Penicillium notatum, proved to kill a host of harmful bacteria and became the first true antibiotic. Robert Cichewicz, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma, would classify Fleming’s bacteria-killing compounds as natural products, a term applied to many types of compounds made by cells, but are not necessary for their survival like essential proteins or lipids.

Friday, June 19, 2015

In the News: What's the Buzz?

Fig.1. This Paranthidium jugatorium is bee from the eastern United States, whose species is experiencing a population decline. Plant some woodlands sunflowers to attract this beautiful bee! (Credit: USGS via Flickr, 2015)

Happy National Pollinator Week! To accompany our Wednesday post on bats, we found other articles which celebrated pollinators with interesting facts and calls for conservation. Read to learn about these special animals, big and small, that contribute to ecosystems, agriculture, and more:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Surviving White-nose: A New Hope

Fig.1. A Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris mexicana) feeding at a flower. (Credit: USFWS, 2012)

Nearly 80 percent of all flowering plants and three fourths of food crops are reliant on animal pollinators. Well-known pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths - as well as more unusual ones like lemurs and geckos - are being celebrated right now for National Pollinator Week, an effort promoted by United States agencies and the nonprofit group Pollinator Partnership. This event is an opportunity for researchers and activists to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators to ecosystems and agriculture, as well as to address precipitous declines in some of these animal species. While many people already know about the disappearance of Monarch butterflies and honeybees, the loss of bats is lesser known and yet has been called North America’s “largest wildlife crisis.”

Friday, June 12, 2015

In the News: Collecting for the Future

Fig.1. This N’Dama cattle herd in West Africa may hold the answer to livestock diseases which are sweeping across Africa and threatening food security (Credit: ILRI via Wikimedia, 2008)

Museums, herbaria, and genebanks all work to preserve the past so we can prepare for the future. Read about collections-holding institutions that must be protected in order to understand biodiversity, preempt epidemics, study dinosaurs, and more:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Beneath the Surface

Fig.1. Permafrost thaw ponds in Northern Canada are formed when collapse of ground levels associated with permafrost occurs and creates depressions. Such land surfaces are called thermokarst. (Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr, 2008)

Editors Note: This article is the first in a series that focuses on the International Year of Soils, a global effort that aims to increase the awareness of the importance of soil for food security and the environment. Future articles of ours will address the role soil plays in these areas and why soil repositories matter.

The frozen tundra of northern Alaska may not seem like a hotbed of life on Earth, but it is actually teeming with communities of microorganisms. These microbes currently live within the frozen soil, or permafrost, of Arctic regions and will soon play a very important role in environmental change. Increased temperatures have started to thaw permafrost soils, which cover 24% of the exposed land surface in the Northern Hemisphere. As the soil thaws, microbes metabolize ancient litter and animal remains trapped underground, releasing carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases can accelerate climate change and contribute to the vicious cycle of warming and carbon release.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Monday Morning Coffee Break: June 8

Editor's Note: In honor of World Oceans Day, we wanted our weekly installment of Monday Morning Coffee Break to reflect the day. Enjoy the very cool article about Google using its Street View technology beyond the streets.

(Credit: Google

Friday, June 5, 2015

In the News: On the Brink of Extinction

Fig.1. Saiga antelope, like these shown above, are in dire straights after a mass die-off in central Kazakhstan, likely due to an unknown disease (Credit: Richard Reading, USFWS via Flickr, 2011)

After mass die-offs due to unknown pathogens, two species on different continents are on the brink of extinction. Read about these events and other diseases which threaten animal and human populations around the world:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Leprosy's Missing Link

Fig.1. A photo-micrograph of Mycobacterium leprae, the pathogen which causes leprosy (Hansen’s disease) taken from skin lesions of an infected patient. The red rods are M. leprae bacteria (Credit: CDC, 1979)

More often found in the Bible than in modern vernacular, leprosy has been treated with fear and social stigma for centuries. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, still exists today in small pockets around the world but is curable and not very contagious. New molecular techniques have allowed some scientists to track the causative agent Mycobacterium leprae through time and space to hopefully inform modern health care professionals on possible treatment guidelines. A recent study published in PLOS One may not only shed light on the pathogen’s evolution but also show how human migration can be traced through disease.