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In Defense Of Naked Mole Rats And What We Can Learn From Them

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Picture a pinkish, hairless, wrinkly rodent about the size of a small sweet potato. Researchers are studying naked mole rats to figure out what they can learn about longevity and health.

WashU Expert: Proposed changes will stamp out ‘countless species’

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“Species are being lost at a rate not seen since an asteroid slammed into the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species 66 million years ago,” Losos said. “The Endangered Species Act has been successful at slowing this rate and preventing the extinction of many species, and it has served as an inspiration for countries around the world. Sadly, the recent proposals of the federal government, if put into place, will greatly weaken the act’s protections and hasten the extinction of countless species,” he said.

Caught on camera Wildlife of greater St. Louis area comes into focus in new biodiversity project

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The St. Louis Wildlife Project is a collaboration between St. Louis College of Pharmacy and the Tyson Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis. The project aims to quantify biodiversity and improve the understanding of wildlife ecology in the greater St. Louis area. Through this project, St. Louis serves as a partner city in the Urban Wildlife Information Network, an initiative based at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago that includes partner cities across North America. “Currently, more than half of the global population lives in cities, and this portion is expected to rise,” said Solny Adalsteinsson, staff scientist at Tyson Research Center. “If we are to conserve biodiversity, we need to understand how we can better plan these cities to benefit wildlife and create more sustainable cities,” she said.

Sticky proteins help plants know when — and where — to grow New research uncovers a mechanism that keeps hormone auxin in its place

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“You can have any cue,” said lead researcher Lucia Strader, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and associate director of the Center for Science & Engineering of Living Systems. “Light, temperature, different nutrients … the plant makes auxin in response to all of these things.” What follows as a result of that auxin release can also vary, from stress responses to leaf development to changes in the root system architecture. Those responses are all results of Auxin Response Factors (ARFs), proteins which bind to DNA in a cell’s nucleus to facilitate growth and development in one way, or another.

Rethinking seizures associated with cardiac disease: Fly study suggests neuronal gene malfunction, not oxygen deprivation, is behind long QT seizures

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Research from Washington University in St. Louis finds that mutations of a gene implicated in long QT syndrome in humans may trigger seizures because of their direct effects on certain classes of neurons in the brain — independent from what the genetic mutations do to heart function. The new work from Arts & Sciences was conducted with fruit flies and is published Aug. 8 in PLOS Genetics. “This gene seems to be a key factor in the physiological process that protects neurons from starting to fire uncontrollably in response to a rapid increase in temperature, which could lead to paralysis and death,” said Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

Interning local: Universal experience, valuable skills Undergraduates find meaningful summer work in our own backyard

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Tyson Research Center, Washington University’s environmental research station, is 20 miles west of the Danforth Campus. Past a monitored steel gate and over a mile through the woods, that’s where Kayla Mans, a rising junior majoring in environmental policy in Arts & Sciences, worked this summer to strengthen the science communications skills of St. Louis-area high school students. Mans chose the major because she likes writing and getting involved in environmental issues. She spent her days at Tyson teaching in the Tyson Environmental Research Fellowships (TERF) program, which places high school students as apprentices in university-based environmental biology research.

Strange Evolution: the Weird Future of Life on Earth

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Given that our understanding of evolution and genetics is incomplete, and that much will likely depend on chance events, no one can know for sure what future life will look like. Picking the evolutionary winners of the future is like trying to pick winners on the stock market, or forecasting the weather, writes Ward. We have some data for making educated guesses, but also a large degree of uncertainty. “The colours, habits, and shapes of the newly evolved fauna can only be guessed at.” Losos agrees. “At the end of the day,” he says, “the possibilities are so wide and uncertain that it’s really pointless trying to speculate about what life might look like – there are just way too many degrees of freedom. Life could go in so many different ways.”

‘Antibacterial’ Chemical in Consumer Products Causes More Harm by Making Bacteria Stronger

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Petra Levin, PhD, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, explained how triclosan is very stable and lingers in the body and in the environment for a long time. Levin and Corey Westfall, a postdoctoral scholar in the Levin Lab, are not supporters of the antibacterial consumer push, regardless of the active ingredient. Both say hand washing with plain soap and water does the job, and the same goes for cleaning and wiping things down, encouraging regular soap, cleaning or bleach products- depending on the task. “I think when it comes to anything antibacterial or antimicrobial should be left to doctors mainly,” said Westfall. “We should leave them out of consumer products.” “At least in your day to day life, washing with antibacterial soap does not provide any advantage to cleaning your hands as to really lathering with soap and washing your hands with just plain soap that doesn’t have anything added in it,” said Levin.

Putting the brakes on lateral root development: Arts & Sciences research could help plants better cope with distinct soil conditions and environments

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It’s not clear-cut how a plant determines enough is enough and stops making roots. New research from Washington University in St. Louis identifies a cellular transporter that links two of the most powerful hormones in plant development — auxin and cytokinin — and shows how they are involved in putting the brakes on root initiation and progression. The new work by Lucia Strader, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and her co-authors is published July 18 in the journal Developmental Cell.

Neural Networks and Variance, the Implications for Disease-Futuretech Podcast featuring Keith Hengen

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Hengen discusses his self-described “wandering” path to get to the area of his current research. He outlines some context to explain the kinds of research he delves into. Hengen provides an overview of brain function, in regard to some of its processing. As he explains, the brain is not crystallized or ‘locked in’ and our synapses are responding to various experiences all throughout the day. Change is occurring rapidly and yet the final outcome at the end of the day so to speak is incredibly stable. We think a myriad of thoughts and learn things, but the foundation of who we are remains stable. He explains how our continuous narrative, our identity remains steadfast and firm, in spite of millions of interactions and inputs, and constant learning/changes. The brain is computationally stable, and this is one way our brains differ from artificial neural networks. Hengen’s neuroscience laboratory at Washington University focuses on the investigation of the role of sleep and wake in chaperoning various interactions between specific and distinct plasticity mechanisms.

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.

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.

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.

Structuring sweetness: What makes Stevia so sweet? The molecular madness that makes an herb 200 times sweeter than sugar

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New research from Washington University in St. Louis reveals the molecular machinery behind the high-intensity sweetness of the stevia plant. The results could be used to engineer new non-caloric products without the aftertaste that many associate with the sweetener marketed as Stevia. “If someone is diabetic or obese and needs to remove sugar from their diet, they can turn to artificial sweeteners made from chemical synthesis (aspartame, saccharin, etc), but all of these have ‘off-tastes’ not associated with sugar, and some have their own health issues,” said Joseph Jez, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the new study.

Petra Anne Levin: Current Biology

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Do you feel a push toward more applied science. How does that affect your own work? Yes. As a bacteriologist, I am scared that we could return to a ‘pre-antibiotic’ age. That isn’t overdramatic. The challenge of antibiotic resistance among pathogens is growing. People are dying. Pharma companies are scaling back investments in next-generation antibiotics just as the current generation becomes less effective. That’s why my group now is working on the issue. It started when I visited my dentist and noticed that the toothpaste sample I got in the ‘goody bag’ at the end of the appointment included triclosan as an antibacterial agent. That got me thinking whether such everyday antimicrobials hurt us more than help us. Our research shows that the answer is yes. We also tried to make our research story relevant. To our surprise, our findings were picked up by some media outlets. It’s a small contribution to public understanding of antibiotic resistance, but we are happy with it and plan to continue working in this area.

Two students will join the Bose Lab this summer through US Army funding

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High school student Aiyana Evers and Wash U undergrad Grace Choi will join the Bose Lab this summer for research funded by the US Army.

A tale of two skeeters Tyson Research Center biologists discover something positive about an invasive mosquito species

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“The extra energy put into fighting an infection, or lost to consumption by a parasite, can lead to changes in behavior in the host. That can change its ability to escape predation or compete for space and resources,” said Katie M. Westby, postdoctoral research associate at Tyson Research Center and first author of a new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. “Thus, if an invasive species reduces parasitism in a species in a community, it may indirectly affect other members of the community.”

Michael Bloomberg announces Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit

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Michael R. Bloomberg announced May 16 the largest expected convening of Midwest universities focused on mitigating the effects of climate change and moving to a 100% clean-energy economy. The Midwestern Collegiate Climate Summit will be held in early 2020, bringing together leaders from Midwestern universities, local government and the private sector to drive measurable, local action on climate by leveraging the partnerships, innovations and talent from institutions of higher education. In parallel to the new global commitments made by federal leaders in line with the Paris Agreement, the climate summit will catalyze climate action commitments from all regional leaders and provide a support network to achieve new ambitious goals. Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide support for the operations of the climate summit.

Mather wins Harrison D. Stalker Award

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Mather is majoring in biology, in the neuroscience track, in Arts & Sciences, with a minor in electrical engineering. His main research interests are systems neuroscience, brain dynamics and control, and signal processing. Mather conducted his thesis work, titled “Understanding the Breadth and Genetics of the Dictyostelium-Burkholderia Symbiosis,” under the direction of Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology. Outside of the laboratory, Mather was active as a contributing reporter for Washington University’s Student Life newspaper. He served as vice president of public relations and public relations team manager for the Washington University Student Union.

Hsu wins Spector Prize

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Hsu’s thesis was titled “Astrocytic Degeneration in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.” Reviewers praised his work for the design of the experiments, the technical excellence with which they were carried out and the incisiveness of Hsu’s interpretation of results.

Chin wins Quatrano Prize

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Chin’s research identifying the genetic networks that regulate complex social decision-making behaviors in insects stood out among this year’s nominees, evaluators said, in part because it yielded unexpected results. Her thesis was titled “The contribution of Williams Syndrome-related genes to Drosophila social behaviors uncovers an evolutionarily conserved genetic toolkit underlying animal sociality.”

Expanding solar power at Tyson Research Center: Three McKelvey School of Engineering students design sustainable power system for Tyson

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Washington University in St. Louis students Kyle Cepeda, Sarah Chen and Maya Coyle have learned about their field by going into the woods — the woods of Tyson Research Center. The trio, all seniors majoring in electrical and systems engineering (ESE) at the McKelvey School of Engineering, said that the university’s environmental field station located 20 miles southwest of the Danforth Campus has provided them an invaluable opportunity to study renewable energy and sustainable power systems — and help the center in the process by installing solar panels.

Can Wearing ‘Well Fashion’ Really Improve Your Health?

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There’s still a lot that scientists need to study. Antibacterial clothing’s a good example. It raises several questions, said Harry, including, “How concerned should we be about the development of super bacteria that become resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics? The skin is known to be absorbable, so what materials are used to imbibe antibacterial and odor-killing properties into these fabrics? Are the substances used to infuse clothing safe for use in the long term?” According to a Washington University study, the chemical triclosan (which can be used in antibacterial clothing) may accidentally toughen bacteria to survive normally lethal concentrations of antibiotics. So, perhaps wear everything, including your beloved anti-stink gym clothes, in moderation.

Pregnancy shifts the daily schedule forward: New study finds both schedule, activity level changes in normal full-term pregnancies

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“This is a very important first step in understanding what’s happening in term pregnancy, and it has a potential to inform our ability to intervene and prevent preterm birth in certain populations,” said Carmel A. Martin-Fairey, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of biology in Arts & Sciences and in obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine.

The kids are alright: Family quarrels in seeds reveal the ways parents and offspring sometimes evolve in conflicting directions

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Plant seeds contain tissues that represent three distinct genetic relatives: the mother, the embryo and a bizarre triploid tissue called the endosperm that is involved in nutrient transfer from mother to embryo. Katherine Geist, a PhD candidate in the laboratory led by David C. Queller, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, and Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, used genomic data from the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to illuminate a dispute between these three parties over how much resources should be given to the embryo.

Specialist enzymes make E. coli antibiotic resistant at low pH

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“Some enzymes that appear to be redundant for bacterial growth and fitness under standard laboratory conditions are specialized for particular environmental conditions,” said Elizabeth Mueller, a PhD candidate and first author of the new study. “We probably miss a lot of interesting and clinically relevant biology by studying bacterial cells predominately during growth in nutrient-rich, neutral-pH, aerated-growth media.” Mueller found that a subset of enzymes involved in making E. coli ‘s cell wall are pH specialists that ensure robust growth and cell wall integrity in a wide pH range. The work was completed with collaborators at Newcastle University in Britain and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Warming pushes lobsters and other species to seek cooler homes

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Movement of species can drastically change a region’s food web, as well. Puffins live in the Gulf of Maine, along with lobsters. These birds prefer to eat herring, a fish that’s becoming less abundant. Butterfish, meanwhile, have moved in. “Unfortunately, butterfish don’t fit down the throat of a baby puffin very well,” Pinsky says. As a result, puffin chicks can starve to death. Such changes in the food web can have unforeseen effects. Amanda Koltz is an ecologist in Missouri, at Washington University in St. Louis. The animals she studies are in the Arctic, which “is warming really fast,” she notes. “It’s warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet.”

Tidying up: A new way to direct trash to autophagy Researchers find new way to clean up cells; discovery could aid attack on human disease

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Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have uncovered a previously unknown structural feature of living cells that is critical to tidying up. The research, led by Richard S. Marshall, research scientist, and Richard Vierstra, the George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, is published in the April 4 issue of the journal Cell.

Creating sustainable bioplastics from electricity-eating microbes

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Electricity harvested from the sun or wind can be used interchangeably with power from coal or petroleum sources. Or sustainably produced electricity can be turned into something physical and useful. Researchers in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis have figured out how to feed electricity to microbes to grow truly green, biodegradable plastic, as reported in the Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology. “As our planet grapples with rampant, petroleum-based plastic use and plastic waste, finding sustainable ways to make bioplastics is becoming more and more important. We have to find new solutions,” said Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

Rusted root: Weedy rice repeatedly evolves ‘cheater’ root traits

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“Weedy rice may have evolved a go-it-alone ‘cheater’ root growth strategy that could allow it to exploit the nutrient-sharing soil environment of rice fields,” said Kenneth M. Olsen, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University and senior author on a new paper in New Phytologist relating their findings. “We tend to think of competition occurring above ground because that’s the part of the plant we see. But that’s only half the plant,” Olsen said. “It’s the ‘hidden half’ — i.e., the root system — that plays a critical role in some of the most important aspects of plant growth and survival, including water uptake and competition for essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous.”

Study shows how electricity-eating microbes use electrons to fix carbon dioxide

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New research from Washington University in St. Louis explains the cellular processes that allow a sun-loving microbe to “eat” electricity — transferring electrons to fix carbon dioxide to fuel its growth. Led by Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Guzman, a PhD candidate in her laboratory, a Washington University team showed how a naturally occurring strain of Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust. The work is described in a March 22 paper in the journal Nature Communications.

Bose Lab publishes new paper in Nature Communications

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Phototrophic extracellular electron uptake is linked to carbon dioxide fixation in the bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris, by Michael S. Guzman, Karthikeyan Rengasamy, Michael M. Binkley, Clive Jones, Tahina Onina Ranaivoarisoa, Rajesh Singh, David A. Fike, J. Mark Meacham & Arpita Bose

Sinking really low – the story of a microbe, electricity and carbon dioxide

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Microbes never fail to surprise me. Their abilities have amazed me for many years and I have become quite the microbe hunter. On my scientific journey, I have met some really interesting microbes. A few years ago, I came across my strangest and most shocking microbial friend yet, Rhodopseudomonas palustris TIE-1. When I met TIE-1, they were dressed in pink, photogenic and very metabolically versatile. We became friends quickly.

Washington People: Erik Herzog

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Feeling a bit lethargic this week? It may have to do with the recent time change and a disruption to biological rhythms. Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and a frequent voice of reason on this topic, said that sticking with standard time makes public health sense. Time is what makes this scientist, well, tick. Herzog’s research is part of a growing body of work that shows the many ways in which circadian rhythms are central to human health and well-being. He is also a gifted teacher and mentor. In honor of his work as principal investigator and director of the St. Louis Neuroscience Pipeline Program, and in recognition of more than 18 years of excellence in teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, Herzog recently received the Award for Education in Neuroscience by the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians focusing on the study of neuroscience.

Blodgett awarded CAREER grant to study biosynthetic silence

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Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, received a five-year, $900,500 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his research related to actinomycete bacteria. This bacteria produces a majority of current antibiotics and may harbor other useful small molecules that could be revealed by activating silent genes.

Germ-Killing Chemical Shields Bacteria From Antibiotics

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A common chemical used to kill bacteria is making them more capable of surviving antibiotics. According to new research from Washington University, triclosan has a protective effect on strains of E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The chemical — which is added to hundreds of consumer products — also interferes with the antibiotic treatment of urinary-tract infections in mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned triclosan and 18 other antibacterial chemicals from consumer soaps in 2016, on the grounds that they are “not generally recognized as safe and effective.”

WashU Expert: The eternal sunshine of perennial ‘wintertime’: Abandoning daylight saving time makes public health sense

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“The scientific evidence presently available indicates that installing perennial standard time — or ‘wintertime’ — is the best and safest option for public health,” said Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis and president of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms.

Bose receives US Army grant

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Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology, received a $7,500 award from the U.S. Army to support research on understanding how microbes interact with charged surfaces.

Blodgett receives CAREER grant from NSF

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Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology, was awarded a $900,500 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate leveraging polycyclic tetramate macrolactam biosunthesis as a model for understanding actinobacterial metabolic silencing.

Chemical added to consumer products impairs response to antibiotic treatment: Triclosan added to toothpaste, mouthwash to kill bacteria inadvertently makes such cells stronger

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Grocery store aisles are stocked with products that promise to kill bacteria. People snap up those items to protect themselves from the germs that make them sick. However, new research from Washington University in St. Louis finds that a chemical that is supposed to kill bacteria is actually making them stronger and more capable of surviving antibiotic treatment. The study, available online Feb. 19 in the journal Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy, suggests that triclosan exposure may inadvertently drive bacteria into a state in which they are able to tolerate normally lethal concentrations of antibiotics — including those antibiotics that are commonly used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Earning a bee’s wings: In hives, graduating to forager a requirement for social membership

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Until this point, most bee researchers thought bees recognize and respond to a scent that is the homogenized scent of all of the members of their own colony. That’s how it works for some ants and other insects, at least. But new work from the laboratory of Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, shows that nestmate recognition instead depends on an innate developmental process that is associated with age-dependent division of labor. The work was completed in collaboration with researchers from the lab of Joel Levine at the University of Toronto.

Arctic Wolf Spider’s Changing Diet May Help Keep Arctic Cool & Lessen Some Impacts of Global Warming

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Spiders have a reputation for making some people’s skin crawl. Ecologist Amanda Koltz said she didn’t like spiders when she was a child, but she has a whole new outlook as a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis. Koltz now works closely with wolf spiders in the Arctic.

Tamed Conflict: How evolutionary biologists attempt to make sense of the existence of organisms from first principles

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“There’s no reasonable definition as to what an organism is – at the same time it is the most important unit of life. Of course much has been written on the subject, for instance that all parts of an organism must be related, that they are surrounded by a skin, that organisms emerge from a cell. But none of these definitions seem to work universally because most researchers have only examined a small snippet of the world of living beings.” -Joan Strassmann

WashU Expert: Mosquitoes and ticks do better in extreme cold than we do

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With paper-weight wings and spindly legs, the mosquito hardly seems built to handle the cold. The secret to its survival is eggs built to withstand freezing temperatures. Even if some eggs die off during extreme cold, mosquito populations rebound quickly. The same holds true for ticks that can wait out a cold snap far below a forest’s layer of leaves.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Samuel Kim on the Kummer Lab

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Though I originally arrived at WashU set on attending medical school, my experience in the Kummer lab through Bio 500 and the interactions with my professors and valued mentors have led me to reconsider. I am grateful to have realized that research is a stimulating process of continual growth that I want to pursue as a career, and I am hopeful for the findings that our generation of neuroscientists will discover about the complex organ that makes us human.

Purple reigns

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Eye-catching and nutritious, purple rice has been a part of religious and cultural ceremonies across Asia for generations. New research from Washington University in St. Louis uncovers the ways that traditional farming practices have preserved the genetic diversity of Thai purple rice.

Biology Professor Highlights Active Learning in Science Education

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“As an instructor, I try to teach how the topic has relevance from different approaches in biology,” said Erik Herzog, Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. Herzog teaches undergraduate biology courses at the university. His lab uses a variety of techniques to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian rhythms, biological clocks that drive near 24-hour rhythms in living beings including animals and plants.

Plant’s recycling system important in sickness and in health

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In a new publication in the journal Nature Plants, researchers [led by Richard Vierstra] in Arts & Sciences describe the effects of autophagy on metabolism in maize, commonly known as corn, an important crop that is sensitive to nitrogen deprivation.

Should Evolution Treat Our Microbes as Part of Us?

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How does evolution select the fittest “individuals” when they are ecosystems made up of hosts and their microbiomes? Joan Strassmann and other biologists debate the need to revise theories.

International collaboration taking place in Pakrasi lab

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Currently, in the depths of the McDonnell Hall basement at Washington University, a PhD student from IITB, Annesha Sengupta, is performing research that could have major global significance in the future. Since April 2018, Sengupta has been learning the CRISPR genome editing technique from scientists in the Pakrasi Lab. Once Sengupta masters this skill, she will then edit the genome of an Indian cyanobacterial isolate for the purpose of creating a platform for biofuel production.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Kevin Yin on the Rentschler Lab

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In the Rentschler lab, we aim to address heart disease by looking at how developmental pathways and gene regulation networks are associated with various heart diseases. We are specifically interested in how alterations of genes during development or in the adult can lead to arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Getting to know the humans of Tyson

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As Tyson Humanities Fellows, Kit Lord and Hayley Huntley spent three months at the university's environmental field station, embedding with the Tyson community to explore the human side of science. After conducting hundreds of hours of interviews, the fellows, led by environmental humanities lecturer Suzanne Loui, profiled the people who make Tyson a thriving research ecosystem. Here, Lord details their collaborative interview project, Humans of Tyson.

New maps hint at how electric fish got their big brains

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Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have mapped the regions of the brain in mormyrid fish in extremely high detail. In a new study published in the Nov. 15 issue of Current Biology, they report that the part of the brain called the cerebellum is bigger in members of this fish family compared to related fish — and this may be associated with their use of weak electric discharges to locate prey and to communicate with one another.

Replaying the tape of life: Is it possible?

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How predictable is evolution? The answer long has been debated by biologists grappling with the extent to which history affects the repeatability of evolution. A review published in the Nov. 9 issue of Science explores the complexity of evolution’s predictability in extraordinary detail. In it, researchers from Kenyon College, Michigan State University and Washington University in St. Louis closely examine evidence from a number of empirical studies of evolutionary repeatability and contingency in an effort to fully interrogate ideas about contingency’s role in evolution.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Benjamin French on the Elgin Lab

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I have been working in Dr. Elgin’s lab for the past two and a half years to analyze the characteristics of an unusual chromosome in Drosophila (fruit flies). The fourth chromosome of Drosophila melanogaster is unusual because this tiny chromosome is almost entirely heterochromatic yet contains about 80 protein-coding genes. In the Elgin lab, we use a combination of DNA manipulation experiments done in the wet lab and bioinformatic analyses done on the computer to identify factors that enable the expression of fourth chromosome genes within a mostly heterochromatic domain.

Erik Herzog on Daylight Savings Time

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Most of the country switched their clocks back an hour over the weekend, ending daylight saving time. And even though one hour might not sound like a lot, it has a noticeable impact. "In the long term, this one hour cumulatively can really have effects on our health," says Erik Herzog, professor of biology and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Hannah White on the Perlmutter Lab

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Joel Perlmutter’s lab has many different projects, most of which are focused on the development of new PET radiotracers for Parkinson disease. My project in the lab is to study a non-human primate model of Parkinson disease, and the effects of a new drug, Carboxyfullerene (C3), on neurotransmitter levels and dopaminergic cells in different regions of the brain.

Richard D. Vierstra receives NIH grant

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Richard D. Vierstra, the George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, received a $304,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a project titled “Phytochromes: Structural perspectives on photoactivation and signaling.” Vierstra was also granted $49,000 from the NIH to study autophagic clearance of inactive proteasomes and ribosomes as models for protein quality control.

Dr. Himadri Pakrasi receives U.S. Department of Energy grant

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Himadri Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Biology, received a $1.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop Anabaena 33047 — a photosynthetic, fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria — as a versatile production platform that can be used by the bioenergy research community.

Monkey DNA may solve mysteries, help conservation

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Living Earth Collaborative grant supports efforts to understand if Peter's Angola colobus monkeys represent one or two subspecies

Faculty Spotlight: Joseph Jez, Biology Chair

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Joseph Jez began his work with the Biology Department ten years ago as an assistant professor. He is now Professor of Biology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and as of July 1, 2018 the Biology Department Chair. We sat down to talk about the changes he’s witnessed over the last decade as well as what he would like to see in the future.

Sunsetting of PARC

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The Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC) has officially ceased operations.

Interview with undergrad Daniel Berkovich about the American Society of Plant Biologists SURF

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"I am motivated to conduct my research not only because I find it personally interesting, but because it grants me the privilege to contribute to the greater scientific community."

In sync: How cells make connections could impact circadian rhythm

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Li also collaborated with Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University who studies the cellular and molecular basis of circadian rhythms in mammals

A path to diversity in neuroscience

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ENDURE fosters community in undergraduate research

Bacteria in a changing environment

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A&S professor awarded $2 million for research that could help defeat antibiotic-resistant infections

Jez Lab receives NSF grant to collaborate with Maeda Lab at UW-Madison

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A $762k collaborative NSF grant will fund a partnership between Joseph Jez (Wash U Biology chair) with Hiroshi Maeda (U Wisconsin-Madison; Botany) on the mechanisms and impacts of de-regulating aromatic amino acid biosynthesis in plants.

Leggy lizards don’t survive the storm

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An immediate before-after comparison — the first of its kind — shows that survivors of a hurricane have different traits than the general population.

Warming alters predator-prey interactions in the Arctic

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Spiders could buffer some effects of warming on decomposition

Researchers engineer bacteria that create fertilizer out of thin air

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Next step could be ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants that can do the same, reducing need for fertilizer.

Jet Lag: trips across time zones may get a bit easier

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Summer trips across time zones may get a bit easier thanks to a new finding from scientists in St. Louis.

VIP neurons hold master key to jet lag response

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A tiny population of neurons can unlock the body’s clock

A New Species in Forest Park

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New species are not hidden only in exotic locales. Recently, graduate student Ben Wolf found a new species of alga in Forest Park.

Bugged out by climate change

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Warmer active seasons and fewer freeze-thaw events lead to big changes for the tiniest Arctic ambassadors — its arthropods.

Sustaining life on Earth

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In the midst of what scientists consider to be a sixth mass extinction event, Washington University is joining forces with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo to collaborate on ­ life-saving research and conservation efforts.

WashU Spaces: Keith Hengen

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Keith Hengen is wowed by the organizational prowess of our brains. How, he wonders, do hundreds of millions of neurons interact reliably time after time, especially given that the proteins that power neurons have half-lives on the order of seconds to hours?

Yehuda Ben-Shahar awarded $770,000 by the National Science Foundation

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Yehuda Ben-Shahar, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, has been awarded $770,000 by the National Science Foundation to investigate how insects produce and perceive mating pheromones as species diversify.

Making Drugs From Bugs

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Is Daylight Saving Time necessary? And, why ‘springing ahead’ is harder than ‘falling back’

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Keeping plant-cell motors on track

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(Daylight Saving) Time is not on your side

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Arms races and cooperation among amoebae in the wild

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The Secret Lives of Plants

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Large-scale removal of beachgrass leads to new life for endangered coastal lupine

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Could tiny green creatures provide clues for how to create a more sustainable future?

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Becoming a biotech explorer

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Three years after launching the Biotech Explorers Pathway, a unique opportunity for first-year and sophomore students, biology professor Joe Jez shares how the program started and some of what its students have accomplished so far.

2 St. Louis plant scientists dig deep into the struggles of research

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Arpita Bose receives a $40,000 collaboration initiation grant

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Plotting the path of plant pathogens

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