#ScienceSnapshot

A campaign for Two Photon that illustrates and summarizes recent research into bitesize pieces.

 
 

March 25, 2019

The American West has a unique relationship with fire. From chaparral to coniferous forests, you can find plants that have either evolved to withstand fire, or depend on it for growth! Lodgepole pines, for instance, have cones covered with resin that must be melted off to open the cone and release its seeds.

While fires can promote the vitality of an ecosystem, too frequent fires and an ever-warming climate can reshape the landscape. A new study suggests that tree seedlings are having an increasingly difficult time regenerating post-fire. If such trends continue, large trees like Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs may be replaced by grasslands which are better suited for hotter and drier conditions.

Learn more by reading “"Wildfires and Climate Change Push Low-elevation Forests Across a Critical Climate Threshold for Tree Regeneration," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s not open-access, however you can read a re-cap of the study: “Iconic Forests Reaching Climate Tipping Points in American West, Study Finds” by Phil McKenna for Inside Climate News.


March 12, 2019

Energy for humans comes in the form of food. Our cells release electrons from the sugars we eat and pass them onto oxygen molecules - a process that creates a chain reaction that powers our bodies.

Many bacteria living by volcanoes, hot springs, and other extreme environments, don’t have easy access to oxygen. Instead, they extract electrons from organic compounds and dump them onto metals outside the cell, conducting electricity in the process. There’s lots of research exploring how this process can be used to convert toxic waste into less harmful substances while also generating electricity for low power applications.

A study published just last week (Mohamed et al. In situ enrichment of microbial communities on polarized electrodes deployed in alkaline hot springs) examines these heat-loving bacteria in Yellowstone’s Geysers. Although this study isn’t open access, there are lots of resources available online where you can learn more about these enigmatic microbes! We’d recommend “There are microbes that eat and poo nothing but electricity” by Jasmin Fox-Skelly for the BBC.


February 14, 2019

Not much love for the great white sharks in South Africa. In a study published yesterday in Scientific Reports, researchers monitored white sharks for almost two decades and found that the population is disappearing.

When apex predators leave the community, sometimes another species will take its place. In this case, it’s the sevengill shark (which closely resemble relatives from the Jurassic era). How this shift will influence species dynamics down the food web is largely unclear.

Learn more by reading “Disappearance of white sharks leads to the novel emergence of an allopatric apex predator, the sevengill shark” by Hammerschlag et al (it’s open access). Also, check out the relationship between orcas, sea otters, urchins, and kelp forests in the PNW. It’s a classic example of how the removal of one keystone species can have cascading impacts on the rest of a community’s structure.


January 31, 2019

Cells are much like cities, composed of different structures and mechanisms that help it run smoothly. One of these processes is the cell’s recycling mechanism called autophagy which breaks down unnecessary or dysfunctional cell parts. A recent study demonstrates that autophagy also plays a pivotal role in preventing cancer by promoting cell death.

Every time a cell divides its DNA, telomeres, protective caps at the end of each chromosome, get shorter and shorter. When these caps get too short, they loose their protective capacity and the DNA becomes at risk of damage. The cell responds by entering a state of crisis. It stops replicating and undergoes a self-programmed death to prevent malignant cell growth. This death is typically associated with the process called apoptosis, however researchers suggest the cell’s recycling process, autophagy, also plays a central role.

By forcing cells into crisis and measuring biomarkers for both autophagy and apoptosis, researchers found that autophagy was the more dominant mechanism, particularly when DNA damage occurred via telomere loss.
 
Learn more by reading the article published in Nature - Nassour et al. Autophagic cell death restricts chromosomal instability during replicative crisis, or the piece on Science Daily.


January 25, 2019

Venom, deployed by some animals as a form of defense or attack, also serves medical application for humans.  Many studies examine venom’s protein and molecular structures, but what about its microbe content? Microbes can influence venom’s potency by either breaking down or synthesizing vital molecular structures.

The initiative for venom associated microbes and parasites, or iVAMP, is a group of over 20 venom researchers worldwide seeking to answer just how many unique microbes are living in venom, and why. Covering all backgrounds and career stages, iVAMP members want to know if there may be previously undiscovered microbial biodiversity in venom that may also be of biomedical assistance to those in need. Many studies suggest that venom possesses antimicrobial properties against clinical pathogens, but only a handful have studied the venom itself as a microenvironment.

iVAMP is also interested in public engagement as a larger mission for scientists to better connect their research with the public in real time. Visit their website to learn more and become involved: http://sabahzero.github.io/ivamp/

This #ScienceSnapshot was a collaborative piece with PhD candidate Sabah Ul-Hasan of @thebiotaproject and featured in a talk presented by @maddreptiles at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2019 Annual Meeting.


November 19, 2018

Sometimes you really do need to walk the walk if you’re going to talk the talk. At least when it comes to addressing sustainability and climate change. A recent study looking at a US solar panel installation program found that community organizers who themselves installed solar panels were able to recruit 62.8% more residents to install solar panels than community organizers who did not. The researchers suggest that actions, rather than words, reveal more about a person’s true beliefs.

Learn more by reading the article published in Nature (it’s open access) - Kraft-Todd et al. 2018. Credibility-enhancing displays promote the provision of non-normative public goods. We’d also recommend reading Leor Hacker Gregg Sparmann’s article on Slate entitled “Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Still Matters.” It provides some great insight into the importance of collective action, not just for reducing GHGs, but for catalyzing political change.


September 25, 2018

With eight tentacles, three hearts, zero bones, and a slew of other unusual traits, octopuses aren’t exactly our closest relatives. Still, despite having been separated by over 500 million years of evolution, researchers have discovered a key similarity between us and these curious creatures - thanks to the drug MDMA.


Octopuses typically lead asocial lives and don't interact unless it’s time to mate. But when given MDMA, researchers found that the octopuses were much more friendly, even hugging in some cases! MDMA causes greater release of serotonin, a chemical that regulates moods and contributes to feelings of well-being.


Both octopuses and humans share a similar gene that encodes a protein that transports serotonin. By better understanding how sociality is coded, we can answer questions about how sociality is spread throughout the animal kingdom, from our distant boneless relatives, and beyond.


September 12, 2018

From our tightly packed landfills to the ever-growing Great Pacific garbage patch, it seems our planet is overflowing with junk. Look beyond Earth and you’ll find stray satellites, rocket shards, and other miscellaneous debris competing for space, in space!

It’s estimated that nearly 20,000 objects are in orbit around the Earth. Researchers are looking for ways to measure and clean up this congestion to prevent a debris crash from triggering a cascade of uncontrollable space collisions.

Learn more by reading “The quest to conquer Earth’s space junk problem” by Alexandra Witze for Nature.


August 2, 2018

Hot and dry weather leaves more than just mammals parched. A recent study demonstrates that mosquitos get thirsty too, resulting in higher frequencies of biting and aggression.

This contradicts previous assumptions that warm, wetter conditions lead to more mosquito-bourne illnesses, as mosquitos need water for laying their eggs. Linking drought and dehydration to feeding behavior can better inform how we track the rates and spread of disease transmissions.

Learn more by reading “Bloodthirsty - Dehydrated mosquitos may bite more frequently” by Rachel Nuwer for Scientific American. Or read the article published in Scientific Reports (it’s open access) - Hagen et al. Dehydration prompts increased activity and blood feeding by mosquitoes.


July 22, 2018

Hundreds of millions flock to U.S. national parks every year to escape the bustle and smog of the city. A recent study published in Science Advances suggests the air in America’s most iconic landscapes might not be as fresh as we thought.


Researchers compared 33 popular national parks with 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas and found that from 1990 to 2014, the concentration of ozone was statically indistinguishable.


Depending on where it’s found, ozone can be either beneficial or harmful. Good ozone is found naturally in the upper atmosphere where it protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Bad ozone is the primary component in smog and occurs at the ground level. It’s created when pollutants like car emissions chemically react with light.

Learn more by reading “Visiting a National Park this Summer? Hold Your Breath” by Daniel Ackerman for Scientific American. OR read the article published in Science Advances (it’s open access) - Keiser, Lade, and Rudik. Air pollution and visitation at the U.S. national parks.


July 16, 2018

Researchers at the Univ of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) have designed a rechargeable battery that uses salt. The molten salt iron-oxide battery works at higher temperatures, resulting in higher energy storage capacity and longer service life. They’re cheaper than conventional batteries, making then a viable energy alternative .

Learn more: “Salt is a key ingredient for cheaper and more efficient batteries” press release from the University of Nottingham available on their website and on ScienceDaily


June 26, 2018

Ocean acidification stresses corals, causing them to release algae living in their tissues. Not only does this result in coral bleaching (algae is what gives coral their color), recent research has found that ocean acidification is dissolving some coral faster than it can build itself back up.

Learn more: "Corals Are Dissolving Away" by Chelsea Harvey for E&E News.


June 17, 2018

Spinal cord injuries result in dense scar tissue that block nerve cells from communicating with each other. Depending on where the damage occurs, one could lose some or all their ability to control their limbs. A groundbreaking gene therapy performed in rats causes cells to dissolve this scar tissue using an enzyme called chondroitinase, allowing the severed nerves to reconnect and giving rats the ability to move their paws again
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Learn more: “New Gene Therapy Could Stitch Together Damaged Spinal Cords” by Dan Robitzski for Futurism. OR read the research article published in Brain (it’s open access) Burnside et al. Immune-evasive gene switch enables regulated delivery of chondroitinase after spinal cord injury.


June 15, 2018

Intelligent robot design just got an upgrade. Nvidia recently unveiled its Jetson™️Xaxier™️, a computer specifically designed to power autonomous robots. According to the press release, it has six kinds of high preforming processors that allow a robot to “perceive the world around them with superhuman capabilities.” .
Learn more: “Nvidia launches AI computer to give autonomous robots better brains” by James Vincent for The Verge.


June 13, 2018

A new study found the speed of hurricanes slowed down around 10 percent between 1949 and 2016. These lingering hurricanes spend more time dumping rain, intensifying the damage of areas in which they strike.

Learn more: “Hurricanes Slow Their Roll around the World” by Giorgia Guglielmi for Nature magazine.