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Tag Archives: research news
Molecular biologists are prodigious napkin users. We doodle. In the molecular biologist’s mind, enzymes and regulatory proteins look like roundish blobs, DNA and RNA are straight lines, and genes are boxes on top of the straight lines. Curved lines with … Continue reading
The latest issue of Science has some encouraging news about the state of global fisheries, which after decades of over-exploitation are, in a few cases, starting to recover. The researchers analyzed ten marine fisheries around the world, and found that … Continue reading
A recent paper in PNAS highlights the lengths – and heights – bacteria go to in order to find suitable habitats. Actually, the bugs in this case are simply hitching a ride on dirt, their usual environment, as it gets picked up into the jet stream during African dust storms. That dirt, and its associated microbes, blows all the way across the Atlantic and lands as far away as the US mainland.
That’s all old news, but the new report shows that the biodiversity of that dirt is nearly as high after its transatlantic trip as it was at the beginning, with hundreds of species of bacteria in it. This imported jungle includes representatives from some nasty genera, too, like Francisella sp. and Bacillus anthracis. That could explain why some highly sensitive “biodefense” detector systems keep sounding false alarms – they could just be detecting the harmless bacteria-laden dust that’s been blowing through our skies for centuries. Continue reading
Microbes are consummate chemical warriors, producing numerous compounds that kill or repel their tiny competitors. The most successful antibiotics in medicine, for example, are almost all derived from naturally occurring chemicals that bacteria and fungi evolved to combat each other. But it seems this chemical warfare doesn’t stop at the microscopic scale, as Burkepile et al. show in the November issue of Ecology:
When we baited traps in a coastal marine ecosystem with fresh vs. microbe-laden fish carrion, fresh carrion attracted 2.6 times as many animals per trap as microbe-laden carrion. This resulted from fresh carrion being found more frequently and from attracting more animals when found. Microbe-laden carrion was four times more likely to be uncolonized by large consumers than was fresh carrion. In the lab, the most common animal found in our traps (the stone crab Menippe mercenaria) ate fresh carrion 2.4 times more frequently than microbe-laden carrion. Bacteria-removal experiments and feeding bioassays using organic extracts of microbe-laden carrion showed that bacteria produced noxious chemicals that deterred animal consumers. Continue reading
Discover a new species of mammal, and your work will make front page news. Discover a whole new phylum of life – that’s the second-biggest categorization in biology – and hardly anyone will notice. At least, that seems to be the lesson from this report in last week’s issue of Nature. The researchers even put out a nice press release to put the work in context, but alas, Tom Brokaw doesn’t seem to be taking the bait. Continue reading
For a story in the print edition of Bioscience Technology, I recently talked to several researchers working on microfluidic devices. These are silicon chips that move and mix tiny quantities of fluid, in order to carry out chemical reactions with minuscule amounts of material. Using small volumes also accelerates the reactions, so one can, for example, analyze the activities of dozens of enzymes in a few minutes.
The cutting edge of this technology is an approach called “digital microfluidics.” These nifty little devices use tiny electrically charged pads to move microscopic droplets at mind-bending speeds. Manipulating the current flowing to the pads makes the droplets scoot around, through the magical interaction of electricity and surface tension. Because there are no pipes, test tubes, or channels etched into the design, one can build generic chips with plain grids of pads on them, then use software to change the way the droplets move. Continue reading
How much energy does it take to produce a new species? The question had never occurred to me – or to most biologists, I suspect – but it’s the topic of a new mathematical modeling paper that just came out in the ”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Normally, mathematical modeling results don’t catch my eye, but this one makes strong, testable predictions and explains some very old observations. Continue reading