News

Mustering a milder mustard Scientists reveal protein responsible for a bitter taste. But will it help us to eat our greens?

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“All of the Brassicas — be it Indian mustard, Arabidopsis, broccoli or brussel sprouts — they all make these pungent, sulphur-smelling compounds, the glucosinolates,” Jez said. The compounds have long been recognized as a natural defense against pests. “Plants need to fight back,” Jez said. “They can’t really do anything, but they can make stuff.” “There’s different profiles of glucosinolates in different plants,” he said. “The question has always been if you could modify their patterns to make something new. If insects are eating your plants, could you change the profile and get something that could prevent crop loss?”

James Stroud of Losos Lab: Tropical Ecology Field Research

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Everywhere we look we can see the products of natural selection. The plants and animals all around us represent only those shapes, sizes, and behaviors best suited to survival; their forms carved out through a repeated trimming of individuals less suited to their environment. This is the process of evolution by natural selection. However, despite the pattern of natural selection being easy to observe, we still know relatively little about how the process of natural selection actually plays out in nature. Postdoc James Stroud of the Losos Lab is studying how the process of natural selection is important in maintaining differences between species which have all evolved together in the same community.

Joe Jez talks about his first year as Biology Chair

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Joe Jez began his new journey as Biology Chair on July 1, 2018. One year later, he reflects on what he’s learned and how he would like to see the department move forward in the future.

Dear Scientists: Please Make a Version of Stevia That Isn’t Gross

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Jez calls the version of stevia available now “Stevia 1.0.” He thinks that, with greater understanding of the chemicals within the stevia leaf and how they react to human tastebuds, we could come up with Stevia 2.0: sweet, and no aftertaste. The possibility of a plant-based, inexpensive, zero-calorie sweetener obviously has massive industry and public health implications—provided it tastes good.

Bison overlooked in domestication of grain crops

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A study published July 8 in the journal Nature Plants presents a novel model for how small-seeded plants came to the table — and it relies on help from large, grazing animals, including bison. The new work is a collaboration between Living Earth Collaborative Biodiversity Fellow Natalie Mueller, assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and Robert Spengler, director of the Paleoethnobotany Laboratories at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “As ecosystem engineers, bison have been hiding in plain sight for the past 40 years, since archaeologists first discovered that several native plants were domesticated in eastern North America and started to theorize about how and why,” Mueller said. “I think the reason no one has thought of them before is because they were almost driven to extinction, along with the tall grass prairies where the lost crops were domesticated,” she said. “As a result, very few of us have ever seen a tall grass prairie with bison grazing on it, much less spent time walking through one and gathering food.” Mueller and Spengler have been interested in plant domestication since they were graduate students together at Washington University, under Gayle Fritz, now an emeritus professor of anthropology and one of the first scholars to recognize the importance of the American Midwest as a center of crop domestication.

Mosquitoes are out in force across St. Louis, but some species pose bigger risks than others

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Heavy rains and flooding in recent weeks mean more mosquitoes will be swarming in the St. Louis region this summer. But while nearly all mosquito species are annoying, they’re not all created equal. Washington University researchers say the ones that lay their eggs in floodwater are unlikely to be carriers of major diseases, such as West Nile virus and dengue fever. The same can’t be said for the now-dominant mosquito species in urban St. Louis — even though the risk is low. “If you go out and get bit in St. Louis from dawn to dusk, it’s probably an Asian tiger mosquito,” said Katie Westby, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington U., who helps lead mosquito research from the school’s Tyson Research Center, near Eureka. As its name suggests, the Asian tiger mosquito is an invasive outsider. The relative newcomer arrived in the U.S. in 1985 with a shipment of used car tires from Japan to Houston, says Kim Medley, director of Washington U.’s Tyson Research Center, and a leader of its mosquito research efforts. By the next year, she says, it was found in St. Louis and is now the prevailing species in the city.

Research Lab Assistant position available in Strassmann Queller Lab

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A full-time position for a research assistant requiring good communication and organizational skills, and a willingness to learn new techniques. The individual must be able to work independently, will be expected to design and implement experiments, analyze data and troubleshoot as needed using our study organism Dictyostelium discoideum. Consequently, there are potential opportunities to co-author scientific publications and present at scientific meetings. Research will use behavioral, genetic, genomic, microbiological, cell biology, molecular biology, and field techniques. A description of the many exciting projects ongoing in our laboratory may be found on our website (http://strassmannandquellerlab.wordpress.com).

Community Spotlight: Saransh Gothi

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Saransh Gothi, an environmental biology major at Washington University working in the Botero lab this summer, sits down with graduate student Vincent Fasanello to discuss his passion for climate change.

Gearing up for the Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit

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As momentum builds for next year's climate event, students and faculty in Arts & Sciences look ahead to opportunities for collaboration and reflect on WashU's climate leadership. Early next year, leaders from Midwest universities, governments, and businesses will gather to discuss regionwide strategies for combatting climate change. Anchored by Washington University, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit aims to spur actionable ideas and measurable outcomes to address the changing climate and its impacts.

Research Laboratory Technician Position Available in Kranz Lab

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A full-time position for a research technician in the area of molecular genetics and membrane protein biochemistry. This position requires good communication and organizational skills, ability to work independently as well as within a team, and a willingness to learn new techniques.

Greenhouse Assistant Position Available, part-time, Danforth Campus

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Assist in plant maintenance in the Biology Greenhouse, growth chambers facility, the Eisendrath garden, and interior landscape within the Biology department on the Danforth Campus.

Postdoctoral Research Associate Position Available in Levin Lab

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A postdoctoral position is available starting January 1, 2020 in a research laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis. Research in the lab addresses links between the environment, cell growth, cell cycle progression and antibiotic resistance using a wide range of techniques.

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