Monday, July 29, 2013

Do scientists and radio mix well? My interview with Public Radio International's Living on Earth

Last week, I had the fun and terror of recording an interview for Public Radio International on their Living on Earth environmental news magazine segment. They got in touch about our lab's work on speciation microbiomes and the hologenome (link to io9 story). 

Nothing can really prepare lab scientists for the experience of recording an interview that will be broadcast on 100's of stations. It's not like writing where you can draft and polish over and over. Radio is one take and it is oddly like being in the spotlight without anyone being in the room. After the nerves shook out and the 30 minute recording came to a close with an interviewer who has a silky smooth, opera like voice, I was left wondering when I could do more of this. Seemed so obvious that we scientists should be broadcasting and amplifying our science communication through multi-media like this. 

For those that care, they edited the interview down to 7 minutes; here is the recording and web link to their story on Microbes and Evolution. Now this is the kind of story that even my sister can understand; Im proud of that. 

Air Date: Week of July 26, 2013 

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Recording the interview at Vanderbilt's VUStar multimedia hub; On the
right is Dr. Robert Brucker, postdoc and first author of the study.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

This is what a scientist looks like

There is a revolution happening in the way that science is being understood by the public. 'Enuff said. Watch this concise TEDx Youth talk at CalTech and think about sharing your path to inspire others.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Crowdfunding Biodiversity Across the World by a Former Student

Professors see talented students on a regular basis. There are many Vandy students whose aspirations are sky high and motivations are supercharged. But every once in a few years, and I'm sure many of us have this experience, a star shines in our classes or research labs - someone who is innately connected to their path. Someone who will change the world. Someone who inspires the professors. Emma Steigerwald is just that person, a student from my Microbiology class, a researcher on phage WO genomics in my lab, and a star about to light the way for biodiversity and conservation from a student's perspective. From the first day of Microbiology class, she sat up front, said hello, and never changed her seat or intellectual engagement with the class. Emma is extremely intelligent, dedicated to studious and meticulous learning, and has a personality that is calm, collected, and honorably humble in the fashion that most great scholars or leaders are. She has a long list of merits to back up her star qualities including a Truman Scholarship and Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship

I have enclosed her crowdfunding video below to support her travels around the world in a Darwin-like adventure to not discover biodiversity, but protect it. Sir David Attenborough would be proud. She writes:
Please consider backing me to make this journey of learning and adventure possible, then follow my journey and my reflections on my blog! I promise to bring you into the field through my photos and blog, to dedicate my energies to assisting these NGOs, and to absorb the wisdom of their successful programs!

As Vanderbilt's 2013-2014 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Scholar, I will pursue my project across the world for the next 13 months. Following my vocation, my project's mission is wildlife conservation in the world' biodiversity hotspots. By interning with NGOs across the biodiversity hotspots—regions rich in species but also highly threatened by human activities—I will be working with conservation projects where the extinction threat is most keenly felt.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Musings from Twitter on The Hologenome Concept of Evolution

The Hologenome is where Evolutionary Genetics meets Microbial Ecology.  It is an uncertain but exciting time for the view that the nuclear genome, cytoplasmic organelles, and microbiome form a coadapted aggregate called the "hologenome". New ideas are controversial, but only through a healthy dialogue of evidenced-based reasoning can we better fuse these two fields in the face of them being traditionally disparate... Let the conversation begin or continue depending on your familiarity with this emerging concept.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thanks to cool website "Science News for Kids" for featuring lab's work

"Science News for Kids was launched in 2003 by Society for Science & the Public (SSP) as a youth edition and companion to the Society’s Science Newsmagazine.

The Society also administers education programs, including the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and theBroadcom MASTERS competitions for students, and offers the SSP Fellowship for teachers. For over 70 years, the Society’s science education programs have inspired generations of science enthusiasts, including Nobel Laureates, Lasker Awardees, National Medal of Science recipients, and nearly 50,000 alumni."

The power of microbes

Bacteria that live in the gut may help define species

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This is a jewel wasp from the species Nasonia vitripennis. New research suggests this species differs from others not only in its genes, but also in the microbes that live in its gut. Credit: M.E. Clark/Wikimedia Commons
This is a jewel wasp from the species Nasonia vitripennis. New research suggests this species differs from others not only in its genes, but also in the microbes that live in its gut. Credit: M.E. Clark/Wikimedia Commons
A living animal is never alone. Its body — like yours — is home to trillions of microbes, or tiny single-celled organisms. Those microbes aren’t just hitchhiking. They can play an important role in separating species, researchers now report.
That discovery comes from a study on gut microbes in jewel wasps. Seth Bordenstein, a biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn, led the research. He and coworker Robert Brucker studied what happened when different species of jewel wasps produced offspring.
A species contains similar organisms that can mate and produce healthy offspring. Bordenstein reported that when two different species of jewel wasps (scientific names Nasonia giraulti and N. vitripennis) mate, they produce hybrid larvae that quickly die.
Biologists usually blame a hybrid organism’s failure to survive on the fact that its parents have different — and incompatible — genes. Genes are molecular bits of information passed from parents to offspring. They are found within nearly every cell. Genes help determine many things about an organism, from eye color to the likelihood of developing a certain disease.
But genes may not be the only reason hybrids don’t live. The wasp experiments suggest a more complex explanation. Gut microbes also appear to play an important role in a hybrid’s survival.
The researchers used drugs to kill the bacteria in the guts of hybrid-wasp larvae. This treatment saved many of the hybrids. The team also used the drugs to kill the gut bacteria in purebred larvae. Their parents came from the same species. Microbe-free hybrids lived as long as microbe-free purebreds.
In a later test, Brucker returned several types of germs from the guts of hybrids back to these wasps. The hybrids’ survival rates fell.
So without bacteria, the hybrids lived. With it, they died.
Bordenstein reported the surprising results in June at a scientific conference.
The findings shocked some of the scientists in the audience. “I would never have predicted that,” biologist Corrie Moreau told Science News. “We were blown away.” Moreau, an ant researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, didn’t work on the wasp study.
Bordenstein says that species may evolve, or change over many generations, because both their genes and microbes change.
Researchers don’t yet know how genes and bacteria interact to kill hybrids, like the wasp larvae. They also don’t know how genes and bacteria interact when new species evolve. But Bordenstein says his data point to why it’s important to study the genes not only of an organism itself, but also of any germs that live inside the host. For people, that’s a big task. People have about 20,000 genes. Their microbes add about 8 million more!
Power Words
bacteria A large group of single-celled microorganisms, including some that cause disease.
evolution The process by which different kinds of living organisms developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of Earth.
gene Information that is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring.
germ Any microbe, usually a one-celled organism such as a bacterium, fungus or amoeba. Germ may also be applied to viruses. Germs are defined on the basis of their size, not on whether they affect health.
gut Colloquial term for an organism’s stomach and/or intestines. It is where food is broken down and absorbed for use by the rest of the body.
microbe Short for microorganism, it describes very tiny — typically one-celled — living organisms or viruses.
species A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring.
larvae The immature form of an insect, especially one that differs greatly from the adult and is part of the