GMOs and the Risk to our Genetic Heritage

by Alex Taylor

In 2001, high in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca mountains of southern Mexico, UC Berkeley graduate student David Quist hiked along some of the world’s oldest cornfields. Quist was sampling cobs for DNA testing, and what he found kicked off a scientific firestorm and brought attention to a subtle threat to the future of global agriculture. In those ancient Mexican varieties, Quist detected the DNA signature of genetically modified (GMO) corn. A living …

Wild Bees and the Pollinator Pantheon

by Paul Glaum

Whenever you see a bumble bee bumbling about its flower of choice, you are witnessing a quiet example of a long and complicated evolutionary process. Over a hundred millions years of interactions between different flowering plants and pollinators have led to an assorted array of unique plant and pollinator species all across the globe. All this plant and pollinator diversity …

The Fecal Frontier: Deluxe Edition

by Kevin Boehnke

Written for the prompt: What is the most important fundamental mystery in biology today that, if unlocked by basic research, would yield the greatest dividends for human health? Poop. This ubiquitous, noxious substance provokes an instinctive reaction of disgust, and for good reason – it harbors deadly pathogens. Despite the near-universality of poop and fart jokes, humans have spent much …

Clade Killers II: Things Fall Apart

by Jeff Shi

There is something special about the body. Without a well-defined body, it is difficult to actualize a self in humans. Even for non-human animals, we cannot help but anthropomorphize their endless forms most beautiful into arms and legs and heads – another living self. One of the most horrifying things about sea star wasting disease (SSWD) is the utter distintegration of an …

Cedar, Jelly, Rust, and Apples

by Katie Grzesiak

  The aliens have landed?  All hail His Noodly Appendages?  Shiny Tangela?  Koosh gone wrong?  Or is this one of those Japanese cartoons…? Ok, none of those; it’s a fungus fruiting on the branches of that eastern red cedar. I saw this gall (and quite a few more) on a hike the other week in Ionia County while dodging rainstorms.  It only looks …

Our Slice of the Carbon Cycle: Spread the Pain

by Alex Taylor

As humans around the world grow in wealth and number, our cities and farms are eating into the space and energy available for wild ecosystems. This series so far has focused on ways to be more efficient in our consumption of space and natural resources, to give more breathing room to the living things with which we share this planet. But there’s a geographic component to solving …

The Romance of the Garden: Busy Bees

by Alex Taylor

It’s that time of year again. Here in Michigan, crocuses are coming out, birds are starting to sing, and the air no longer hurts my face. As spring unfurls, my obsessive love of vegetable gardening is also beginning to emerge and bloom again. I feel compelled to write once again about the garden, that tiny kingdom where you can call upon thousands of years …

Decoding the Stories of our Ancestors: Battle of the Sexes

by Alex Taylor

DNA is a treasure trove of information, bundled up in our cells. A sample of your DNA can tell quite a bit about you, from your disease risk of certain diseases to eye color to ancestry. Genetic evidence can also be used to examine how human history unfolded. In this occasional series, we’ve seen how analysis of DNA confirmed our African origins and our interbreeding with Neanderthals, which ended up allowing …

An Ode to Oak Openings

by Alex Taylor

When European colonists arrived in North America, they marveled at the bountiful forests blanketing the landscape. One ecosystem in particular, the “oak openings,” caught their eye. Stout chestnuts, oaks and hickories littered the ground with nuts, providing rich food for humans and game animals alike. These massive trees stood far apart, letting sunlight to drench the understory and allowing for lush meadows in between, bursting forth with …

Monitoring the Movements of Mysterious Marine Megafauna

by Alex Taylor

In the depths of this arctic February, I have often found my mind wandering to memories of sun-drenched beaches, colorful umbrellas and the smell of sunscreen. But while nothing is more mellow than a day at the beach, I always find my relaxation punctuated by at least a moment or two of awestruck, almost existential unease. When looking out over …