News

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.”

Faculty Spotlight: April Bednarski

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April Bednarski grew up in Iowa, completing her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Her parents both grew up on farms in Iowa, a long family tradition, but she was the first person in her family to enter a field of science. Her inspiration for scientific study began with the challenging and engaging classes offered by her middle/high school teacher Larry Zach. Though he retired from teaching, Zach now shares his passion for naturalism and conservation through art. He is a famous wildlife artist, known for his extremely realistic paintings.

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.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Maya Dutta on the Olsen Lab

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Adaptation to local environments is critically important for a plant’s ability to survive in a variety of ecological settings and persist in the face of climate change. The genetic and physiological mechanisms that regulate these processes, however, are not well known. In the Olsen Lab, we aim to understand the genetic basis of evolution in plants. We are specifically interested in understanding how genetic variation within a species is shaped by natural selection, population history, and other various evolutionary forces.

Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Mitchell Grinwald on the Chheda Lab

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My work in the Chheda lab as a Bio500 independent research student has given me a fantastic opportunity to explore my interests at the intersection of epigenetics and cancer biology. Additionally, the ability to conduct independent research with the exceptional support which my PI (Dr. Chheda) and bench mentor (Dr. Galdieri) provide has enabled me to learn new techniques and think critically about experimental design and analysis. The hands-on application and extension of classroom concepts in a lab setting has been extremely valuable to my learning process. Through my research experiences, I have learned a great deal about translational research and am now considering a career as a physician-scientist.

Vierstra wins Stephen Hales Prize

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Congratulations to Richard Vierstra, recipient of the Stephen Hales Prize from the American Society of Plant Biologists. This award honors the Reverend Stephen Hales for his pioneering work in plant biology published in his 1727 book Vegetable Staticks. It is a monetary award established in 1927 for a scientist, an ASPB member, who has served the science of plant biology in some noteworthy manner. The award is made annually. The recipient of the award is invited to address the Society on a subject in plant biology at the next annual meeting.

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.

Designing Successful Systems; Stories of Change: Volume 1

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Think back to your elementary and middle school science experiences. What were you taught? How were you taught? Chances are, you may not remember much about science in your elementary school. In middle school, you might remember your textbook and taking turns reading the textbook out loud in class. Maybe you remember the occasional egg-drop challenge or microscope lab. Imagine, for a moment, a child who will have science memories of algae photobioreactors, penguin habitats, toy design, solving the mystery of pollinator disappearance, flood levees, pizza farms, erosion windbreaks, and space missions. What would be possible for a child who has a rigorous, relevant science experience starting from kindergarten to eighth grade?

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.”

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