Virus vs Bacteria: The grand scheme

Author: Ada Hagan

Editors: Patricia Garay, Ellyn Schinke, Irene Park

In “Virus vs Bacteria: Mortal combat” we learned that bacteriophage (phage) are a group of viruses that literally prey on bacteria and archaea. Phage fill a predatory role in their native ecosystems, helping to keep prey populations in check, in turn preventing exhaustion of available resources. We also explored in “Virus vs Bacteria: Enemy of my enemy” how humans can exploit these bacterial predators to be useful in a number of ways. But there’s quite a bit more to phage than meets the eye. New research is beginning to show us additional ecological impacts phage have on their environments—ones that can play a role in challenges humans face such as climate change and antibiotic resistance.

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Interpreting ancient DNA: Not so easy a caveman could do it

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Alex Taylor, Jimmy Brancho, Bryan Moyers

Imagine the year is 1856 and you are toiling in a quarry in the Neander Valley, a few kilometers from Düsseldorf, Germany. Strangely, something is abruptly sticking out of the landscape. You dig around and find ribs, a skull, and other bones—your best guess is that you have stumbled upon the final resting place of a bear. However, what you have actually found are the first identifiable remains of ancient hominins, later named Homo neanderthalensis.

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Camouflaged: Finding cephalopods

Written by: Irene Park

Edited by: Ada Hagan, Alisha John, Bryan Moyers, Kevin Boehnke

When I was watching Finding Dory, one character caught my eye: Hank the octopus (or septopus since he’s missing a tentacle). Throughout the movie, Hank uses his camouflage ability to blend into his surroundings, a very useful skill for Dory’s quest to reunite with her family without getting noticed by humans.  

I could not help but think how helpful Hank’s camouflage ability would be for different professions: hunters, nature photographers, and perhaps even people in the military. Unsurprisingly, researchers are already taking notes from cephalopods — which include octopuses like Hank, as well as squids and cuttlefishes — to develop better camouflage technology.

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The “FADS2” diet: How vegetarian populations have different genomes

By Bryan Moyers

It turns out that what your ancestors ate can influence your ideal diet. At least, that’s what researchers at Cornell University and the University of Pune, in India, have announced after analyzing several hundred peoples’ genomes and blood samples in the United States and India.

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Communicating science: From Michigan, across the world (wide web)

By Ada Hagan

“Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone” – Albert Einstein

We’ve discussed it on the blog before, but science has a communication problem. Sure, research is performed and shared via research articles or at scientific conferences, but rarely do scientists directly relay results outside of their academic niches. Few scientists disagree with broader science communication in theory, especially since much of the funding for research is provided by taxpayer dollars. And we learned in our first “Science behind-the-scenes” post that the final step of the scientific method is to “communicate your results.” So why is it that researchers don’t interact more with non-researchers regarding science? Part of the issue is that the intense specialization of researchers into a narrow topic, combined with a lack of effective communication training, makes effective communication a difficult task.

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Communicated, not classified: The importance of collaboration in science (Science behind-the-scenes)

By Molly Kozminsky

Close your eyes and picture a scientist. What do you see?

In 1983, David Wade Chambers published results from a study conducted on 4,807 children as they progressed from kindergarten through fifth grade in the United States and Canada. The test? To draw a scientist. In what must rank as one of the most adorable research experiences ever, the drawings were scored for seven indicators of a “standard image of a scientist:”

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Science and social media: How “oversharing” is helping human genetics

By Christina Vallianatos

We live in an age where oversharing is overabundant. From your best friend’s artsy food pictures (#boozybrunch), to your coworker live-Tweeting her labor experience (“C-section in 20 minutes!”), it seems like we know the intimate details of everyone’s lives, all the time.

But what if some of those TMI moments weren’t necessarily “too much information”? What if they’re actually helping to solve one of the biggest dilemmas in human genetics: the identification of disease-causing genes?

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Defending human health: A thankless job

By Ellyn N. Schinke

Growing up, I was an avid soccer player. But, I never wanted the glory of being a team’s leading scorer. Defense was my home. That is until I scored my first goal. I was elated, but quickly realized that I had never in my time on defense received anywhere near the validation that I had for that goal. I could save goals or shut down the other team’s star player, but that usually went unnoticed. If anything, I was typically criticized for something I didn’t do more often than I was praised for something I did. This experience taught me something important – defense is a thankless job.

The same pattern that I saw in my soccer experience happens all the time with public health.

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Science behind-the-scenes: Correlation and causation

By Bryan Moyers

When talking about scientific issues, the phrase “Correlation doesn’t imply causation” is sometimes thrown around.  But what does it mean?  Science makes statements about cause and effect.  Smoking causes lung cancer.  Carbon emissions cause climate change.  Higher temperatures cause increased violence.  Clearly, scientists have some way of inferring causal relationships.  But how do they grapple with the idea that “Correlation doesn’t imply causation”?  If they don’t use correlation, what tools do they use to infer causation?

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Evolvability: The race against extinction

By Bryan Moyers

It’s easy to think that evolution only works over long periods of time.  As much as 4.1 billion years ago, life began on Earth.  Some 420 million years ago, animals found their way onto land. Around 65 million years ago, an asteroid wiped out most dinosaurs. Two million years ago, our genus, Homo, emerged.  It almost seems like evolution is a strictly theoretical field.  After all, evolution doesn’t affect things in our lifetime…  right?

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