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 …

At what point have problems been researched enough?

by Kevin Boehnke

We are in a golden age of scientific technology. More so than ever before, scientists have the tools to decipher how the body works and how exposure to toxins affects our health. For instance, scientists can now understand why smoking tobacco can be so detrimental: They’ve examined the mechanisms of how smoking affects birthweight, changes the bacterial communities in the …

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 …

Expanding the borders of the fecal frontier

by Kevin Boehnke

The uses for feces are expanding rapidly, like the Mongolian empire.

Despite their gross out factor, fecal transplants – essentially, a poop enema – have revolutionized treatment of Clostridium difficile, a violent diarrheal infection commonly acquired in hospitals. Many researchers (myself included) have excitedly speculated about vast number of potential uses for fecal transplants: treating autoimmune disease, gut disorders, and maybe even metabolic syndromes like diabetes. Indeed, fecal transplants are conquering medicine …

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 …

What 3/4 of a giraffe worth of rain and mild weather gets you

by Simon Schreier

The Hoh River

I want to introduce you to a place. When you finish reading this, I want you to have a sense of what makes it so special, and a subtle but persistent desire to go there. So do as Sam Jackson says, and hold onto your butt. By the time I’m done, you’re going to RSVP with a resounding “hell-yes.” The …

Scientific progress: untangling a Gordian knot

by Kevin Boehnke

Last week, my first scientific paper was published. I was overwhelmed with excitement! Joy! Accomplishment! Recognition! And then I was reminded of the achingly slow and frustratingly incremental pace of scientific progress when untangling the Gordian knot of a complex problem. My paper, though big to me, represents a minute loosening of a tiny strand within that knot. The paper examines whether …