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Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Monday, August 22nd, 2016
Chemistry lessons from bacteria may improve biofuel production
If you’re made of carbon, precious few things are as important to life as death. A dead tree may represent a literal windfall of the building blocks necessary for making new plants and animals and the energy to sustain them. “The recycling of plant carbon is fundamental to the function of our ecosystems,” says Cameron Currie, professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We get food, water, air, energy — almost everything — through those ecosystem services. It’s how our planet operates.” But the component parts of a dead tree were carefully assembled in the first place, and don’t just fall apart for easy recycling. In the case of cellulose — a key structural component in plant cell walls and the most abundant organic compound in life on land — a world of specialized microbes handles this careful deconstruction. Much of that work is done by fungi growing on decaying plants, but bacteria in the soil, in the guts of animals like cows and working alongside insects, get the job done, too. [caption id="attachment_20038" align="alignright" width="300"] Researchers tried to grow different strains of Streptomyces ...
Thursday, June 9th, 2016
Five things everyone should know about . . . Pulses
1. You’ve eaten them without knowing it. If the word “pulse” as a food leaves you flummoxed, fear not. The word pulse comes from the Latin word “puls,” which means thick soup or potage. No doubt you’ve enjoyed dried beans, lentils and peas in a soup or stew. Pulses are the edible dried seeds of certain plants in the legume family. Soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas and fresh beans are legumes but not considered pulse crops. Some lesser-known pulses like adzuki bean and cowpea play critical roles in diets around the world. Many pulses are economically accessible and important contributors to food security. 2. They’re very nutritious. Pulses contain between 20 and 25 percent protein by weight—twice the amount you’ll find in quinoa and wheat—and next to no fat. Around the world, they are a key source of protein for people who don’t eat meat or who don’t have regular access to meat. Pulses need less water than other crops, which adds to their appeal and value in areas where water is scarce. 3. Pulse crops have other environmental benefits as well. As ...
Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
Giant forest fire leads to exodus of spotted owls, long-term study finds
As climate changes and wildfires get larger, hotter and more frequent, how should public lands in the American West be managed to protect endangered creatures that, like the spotted owl, rely on fire-prone old-growth forests? Could periodic forest thinning and prescribed burns intended to prevent dangerous “megafires” help conserve owls in the long run? Or are those benefits outweighed by their short-term harm to owls? The answer depends in part on just how big and bad the fires are, according to a new study. [caption id="attachment_20309" align="alignright" width="150"] Zach Peery[/caption] In a report published Aug. 1 that may help quiet a long-simmering dispute about the wisdom of using forest thinning and prescribed burns to reduce the “fuel load” and intensity of subsequent fires, a University of Wisconsin—Madison research group has documented an exodus of owls following the fierce, 99,000 acre King Fire in California in 2014. The California spotted owl is a close relative of the northern spotted owl, which became the centerpiece of forest conservation battles in the Northwest in the 1990s. Both owls are indicator species whose presence is said to signify ...
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
Symmetry crucial for building key biomaterial collagen in the lab
Collagen makes up the cartilage in our knee joints, the vessels that transport our blood, and is a crucial component in our bones. It is the most abundant protein found in the bodies of humans and many other animals. It is also an important biomaterial in modern medicine, used in wound healing, tissue repair, drug delivery and more. Much of the clinical supply comes from animals like pigs and cows, but it can cause allergic reactions or illness in some people. Functional human collagen has been impossible to create in the lab. Now, in a study published this month in Nature Chemistry, a team of University of Wisconsin—Madison researchers describe what may be the key to growing functional, natural collagen fibers outside of the body: symmetry. [caption id="attachment_20461" align="alignright" width="300"] Simple shapes, such as these fish, can tile large surfaces if their geometry allows for symmetry. The edges each tessellating fish share with their surroundings are identical from fish to fish. Similarly, assemblies of collagen protein “tiles” can be achieved when the chemical and physical environments of every tile are designed to ...
Thursday, August 25th, 2016
CALS in the Media
The Simple Device That Transformed The Dairy Industry
Fruit flies help explain differences between males and females
Vive la difference! Trust the French to compose poetry from banality. And yet the biological explanation for the many physical differences between males and females remains incomplete. [caption id="attachment_20419" align="alignright" width="300"] John Pool, assistant professor of genetics at UW–Madison, studies evolutionary genetics in his “fly room.” Photo: David Tenenbaum[/caption] “How it is that males and females can end up looking so different, when they have basically the same genome?” asks John Pool, an assistant professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. And although many significant differences can be laid to the famous Y chromosome found only in males, that’s is not the whole story. In a study of fruit flies now online in Current Biology, Pool and colleagues explored a curious color scheme: All fly males have dark abdomens. So do some females. But other females have a light, easily distinguished abdomen. In practice, a dark abdomen allows a female to masquerade as a male, which leads to fewer mating attempts, which, surprisingly, may confer an evolutionary advantage. Pool says mating can be “a little more antagonistic in some species, so females may benefit from ...
Thursday, August 18th, 2016
UW experts contribute to NAS report on U.S. science literacy
Despite perceptions that too many Americans are ignorant when it comes to the realm of science, a new study reports that people in the United States actually “perform comparably to adults in other economically developed countries on most current measures of science knowledge.” Nonetheless, when it comes to altering the public’s mindset about complex topics such as climate change, the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that attitudes may be difficult to change because they are shaped by factors such as values and beliefs – rather than knowledge of the science alone. The committee that produced the study – “Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences” – includes Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), and Noah Weeth Feinstein, an associate professor in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and CALS' Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. The 12-member panel was chaired by Catherine Snow of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and included educators, scientists, physicians and social scientists. Collectively, they took a hard ...
Thursday, August 18th, 2016
Teachers conduct bioenergy research at UW-Madison during summer vacation
Just days after shepherding their science students out of the classroom and into the less structured days of summer, Cherrie Anne Maner and Lisa Sorlie were already traveling to the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to hone their research skills and begin work on new lesson plans for next year. [caption id="attachment_20412" align="alignright" width="300"] Fond du Lac High School science teacher Cherrie Anne Maner works with switchgrass DNA in Dr. Mike Casler's lab at the Wisconsin Energy Institute.[/caption] As participants in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program hosted by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and the Wisconsin Energy Institute, Maner and Sorlie spent seven weeks this summer working alongside GLBRC scientists to investigate the key challenges of making sustainable biofuels. Maner and Sorlie immersed themselves in research while also developing instructional materials that will provide their students the experience of investigating similar questions in the classroom. “I want my students to experience authenticity and to understand that science is about using real-life data to solve real-world problems,” says Maner, an AP Biology teacher at Fond du Lac High School in Fond ...
Thursday, August 18th, 2016