The Search for the Null

by Alex Taylor

Schools of brightly colored fish swirl around you as you set up your video monitoring equipment. As a marine ecologist, you’re hoping to get a reasonable census of the relative abundance of different species in this coral reef. With this data, you can begin to ask what might be driving these patterns. Why are parrotfish so common, and triggerfish so rare? Some possible explanations …

The Mystery of Moray

by Alex Taylor

High up in the Andes, in Moray, Peru, ancient stone rings descend into a hollow in the mountains. The Incas built these curious structures, called muyus, hundreds of years ago as a standalone site in a remote area, far away from any a larger stone city or temple. What was the purpose of this bizarre and monumental structure? Was Moray a site for …

Raunchy Royals

by Alex Taylor

New genetic evidence has unveiled infidelity in the British royal line. King Richard III‘s body was found under a rural parking lot last year. Since the discovery of his rather unceremonious resting place, there has been a flurry of research into the regent’s diet, health, and the circumstances of his death. This new study compared the DNA sequence of Richard III with those of some living descendants …

Resilience, Genetics, and GATTACA: A journey towards eugenics?

by Kevin Boehnke

In the future, should we genotype children for resilience to provide them with better, targeted interventions to help them succeed? This is the underlying thesis of an opinion piece by Dr. Jay Belsky, published last Sunday in the New York Times. Dr. Belsky notes that much money is spent on interventions trying to help children succeed, and that the resilience of the children …

Capsaicin, too hot to handle or hot on health?

by Chris Faulk

After a long summer gardening, your peppers are finally ready. Grinning with excitement, you snap off a tiny bright red pod and gingerly take a tiny bite. It’s crisp and crunchy, a tiny bit spicy, and you smile at your success. Then heat begins to build. It starts to get hot, really hot! At this point you realize, “I’ve made …

Clade-Killers I: An Elegy for the Bats

by Jeff Shi

Years since detection. Infected species. The number of infected US states and Canadian provinces. The ever-increasing body count. The unsustainably high mortality rates (Frick et al. 2010). In some ways, the statistics are sterilizing, objective, and easier to deal with than the stark reality of empty caves, absent roosts, and the silent spring and summer nights. But the numbers are just …

Spectacular Symbiosis: the Root of the Matter

by Alex Taylor

Cover photo: Source: Wikimedia user ninjatacoshell My vegetarian and vegan friends are all obsessed with beans. And lentils, and soy. Is there something about not eating meat that makes legumes irresistibly delicious? Some sort of secret vegetarian conspiracy to hoard all the beans? Actually, it all comes down to protein. Many of the most important parts of your body – muscle fibers, the enzymes that …

Cancer!?!?

by Kevin Boehnke

By definition, cancer is “Something evil or malignant that spreads destructively”, or “A malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth.” Merely hearing the word ‘cancer’ triggers an ominous feeling in nearly every person I’ve met. When I hear the word cancer, I think of tendrils of darkness creeping across a verdant landscape. Everything that each tendril touches contorts, hardens, and withers, becoming a wisp of its former …

Our Slice of the Carbon Cycle: Growing Energy

by Alex Taylor

In this politically frantic time, let’s harken back to a legislative moment of yesteryear. In January 2007, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which provided funding for research into biofuel production and mandated that we mix 36 billion US gallons of the stuff into the fuel supply by 2020. If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, …

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Reflections on Ebola: How do we choose who lives or dies?

by Kevin Boehnke

If you are in America, breathe easy. Ebola is NOT a big threat to your health. Ebola is a public health nightmare in affected African countries. The outbreak is still spreading, and may infect over one million people by next year. This is devastating for both the health of citizens and the stability of governments in affected countries. However, that’s not the whole story. First, …