Friday, October 30, 2015

In the News: The Creepy and the Curious

Fig.1. Dermestid beetles on a skull (Credit: Josh More via Flickr, 2014)

From parasite collections to ship graveyards, creepy and curious science is featured in this week's news. Read to learn about the importance of flesh-eating beetles to natural history museums, the sheer diversity of spider species, worms that look like vermicelli, and more:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Striking Gold (Teeth) with Ancient Plague DNA

Fig.1. Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis bacteria mass in foregut of a flea
(Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, 2010)

Since the beginning of the year, fifteen people in the United States have been infected with the bubonic plague, and four of those individuals have died. This disease, often only mentioned in context of the Black Death (1346-1353 AD) or the Justinian Plague (541-542 AD), still exists today in pockets around the world. The causative pathogen Yersinia pestis hides in natural reservoirs, such as black-tailed prairie dogs in the southwestern United States or marmots in the Eurasian Steppe, only to flare up in human populations when rodents and the fleas they carry get too close.

Despite the deadly history of the disease - the Black Death killed an estimated 60 percent of the European population - Y. pestis evolved from a much less virulent ancestor that caused symptoms closer to the common cold. Previous research pinpointed the first appearance of this bacterium in skeletal remains at 1,500 years ago, but a study released last week in the journal Cell pushes that date back to more than 5,000 years ago.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scientific Collections in Disease Response

One year ago, some of the world's leading minds in emerging infectious disease research met at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to discuss the role of scientific collections in disease response. Scientific Collections International (SciColl) brought people together from different disciplines and across various collections to create connections and spread ideas. Read to learn more about how collections are placed in a larger dialogue about disease research and response:

Workshop Report

Press Release 

Monday Morning Coffee Break: Oct. 26


Friday, October 23, 2015

In the News: Beautiful Biodiversity

Fig.1. Psychrolutes marcidus, otherwise known as the blobfish
Credit: Kinskarije via Flickr

The blobfish, seductive monkeys, and sea snakes are only some of the unusual museum specimens in the news this week. Read to learn about how to catalog and protect these amazing (if not quite beautiful) animals:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The woman with the (specimen) solution

After nearly three decades with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Elaine Gunter was looking for a change. Since 1978, her role in the central laboratory for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey included designing specimen collections for various field studies, managing personnel, and developing assays.

In 2001, she was promoted to a the deputy director position of the Division of Laboratory Sciences at CDC. While working in the management and operations realm, she found she was dealing with the “suits” of Washington, D.C., who were trying to run science agencies as a business.

That’s when she took the leap.

Friday, October 16, 2015

In the News: A Celebration of Bones

Fig.1 chalicothere in a Miocene grassland
Credit: National Fossil Day™ 2015)

In honor of National Fossil Day this week, learn about exciting finds in paleontology and paleoanthropology. From human migration to climate change, these bones open a new window into ancient history:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ancient DNA and a History of Human Migration

Fig.1. Members of the Ari tribe in modern southwest Ethiopia are probably direct
 descendants of the Mota man (Credit: Carsten ten Brink via Flickr)

Around 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, modern humans migrated out of Africa and proceeded to populate every corner of the world. Although ancient DNA analyses have added complexity to the routes of human migration, from Neolithic farmers to early hunter-gatherers in Europe, the birthplace of humanity has remained elusive. Among other challenges, regional hot temperatures that quickly degrade genetic material barred ancient African remains from such studies. However, in research published last week in the journal Science, a skeleton found in a remote cave in Ethiopia produced Africa’s first ancient human genome.

Friday, October 9, 2015

In the News: Heart Valves and Human Migration

Fig.1. Frogs around the world are going extinct (Credit: Theodore Scott via Flickr)

Frog collections, iconic trees, and heart valves take center stage in the news this week. These unique collections help to elucidate the origins of human culture, preserve genetic material, protect biodiversity, and much more:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Brief History of Malaria

Fig.1. Tu Youyou (right) and tutor Lou Zhicen in 1950s (Credit: Xinhua News Agency

In 1967, Mao Zedong held a meeting in Beijing to discuss the major problem of drug-resistant malaria affecting soldiers on the front lines of the Vietnam War. Efforts in the United States resulted in the discovery of the drug mefloquine, but the North Vietnamese turned to China for aid. A program was formed that involved more than 500 scientists from around China to develop effective antimalarial medication. Among those scientists was Tu Youyou, a pharmacologist who is now a 2015 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine for her work in drug development.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In the News: Museum Closure

Fig.1. The Illinois State Museum is closed to the public
 (Credit: Mike Linksvayer via Flickr)

The closure of a top natural history museum, a withdrawal from the ‘doomsday’ vault, and the arrival of a huge dinosaur skeleton herald major changes underway for these top research institutions and museums around the world:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Old Blood and New Science

Fig.1. This Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopicts) can carry dangerous emerging diseases (Credit: James Gathany, CDC)

Little over a year ago, the first locally acquired case of the mosquito-borne disease chikungunya appeared in the continental United States. This virus had only been recognized seven months prior in the Western Hemisphere, but quickly joined diseases such as Ebola and hantavirus on the ever-growing list of emerging infectious diseases.