Microbes Fly Overhead in This Year’s Solar Eclipse

When the sun vanishes behind the moon, living organisms behave as if twilight is here. Crickets start to chirp, flowers close up, and cows head to the barn.  In this year’s highly anticipated solar eclipse, microbes will also fly high in the sky on giant balloons as part of a citizen science project called the Eclipse Ballooning Project.

The Eclipse Ballooning Project harnesses the scientific curiosities of 55 teams across universities, high schools, and ballooning groups. These citizen scientists will capture footage along the path of totality across the Unites States. This will be the first time videos and images of a total eclipse will be documented live from near space. (more…)


Meet a microbiologist: Naomi Boxall

Naomi Boxall is not afraid to point out that the pictures of people in white lab coats with colorful vials of liquids do not show how real science is done. She’s had to take one of those pictures herself. Her time in science has led her to sample soil and water in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, participate in committees and workshops for postdocs and early career scientists, as well as organize morning teas and social events for her department.

A “typical day” does not exist for Naomi. She could be working in the lab one day to writing and supervising students the next day or even building bioreactors another day. She participates in science cafes and volunteers with an all girls science club. The only constant from day to day however, is coffee, food and a lunchtime walk. Naomi states, “what is good is that no day is the same as the one before and I enjoy that everything is varied and challenging.” (more…)


The underground social network between trees

When I picked up Peter Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees, I expected to read about interactions between fungi and plant life. And indeed, the fascinating relationships between these diverse life forms were discussed at great depths. Together, tree roots and fungi form the mycorrhiza which some have referred to as the Wood Wide Web. Fungi are fundamental to the underground social networks that trees use to communicate to one another, to warm others of danger, and to transport nutrients and water.

This symbiotic Wood Wide Web provides nutrients to the tree and the fungi. Trees that cooperate with fungi take in about twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus than plants that tap the soil alone. Fungi also filter out heavy metals and guard the tree against destructive bacteria or fungi. For their help, the fungi get something in return. Nearly a third of the tree's total food production is shuttled to the fungi. (more…)


Mosquito-borne illnesses may increase due to global warming

Mosquito bites are such a nuisance. They itch intensely for days, you can't help but scratch them, and you are left with a scar to remember them by. For much of the world, this is the aftermath of a mosquito bite. But in warm tropical climates, mosquitos are carriers of a variety of microbes pathogenic to humans. Dengue, malaria, West Nile, yellow fever, and Zika are all examples mosquito-borne illnesses. (more…)