Relationships on the reef: Valentine’s Day tips from a fishy source

For some, today might be an annoying reminder of your relationship status that you wish would just be over already. On the other hand, maybe your mind is filled with thoughts of the lasting bond shared between partners. Either way, Valentine’s Day is upon us, and it seems impossible to ignore. While scrolling Twitter and Facebook you might even see posts and articles like these: Headlines

Every year it seems like there is some version of these articles circulating around. Here at Science Snapshots, rather than making our own “animal relationships” list, we decided to dive into a recent study of fish that create long-lasting partnerships to demonstrate how scientists approach interesting animal relationships and investigate why they occur. Continue reading “Relationships on the reef: Valentine’s Day tips from a fishy source”

Viral takeover: how viruses take advantage of infected cells

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be catching some kind of virus. While you might be familiar with a virus’s potential to make you feel miserable, have you ever wondered how viruses work to cause illness? A virus is much like a robber in a factory. A viral “robber” has both a strategy to get into the factory and the ability to use the machines to make what it wants. Similarly, when a virus gets access to the cells of your body it is able to hijack the machinery that your cell would normally use to replicate its genetic material and make its own proteins. The virus can use your cells to make more copies of itself and spread from cell to cell. How does your cell get tricked into making more virus? One lab at K-State has found a way that one sneaky virus accomplishes this. The culprit: vaccinia virus. Continue reading “Viral takeover: how viruses take advantage of infected cells”

Grasses and gases: life in the heat

Many people know that plants make the oxygen that most organisms need to breath, but plants are also sugar manufacturers. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants use light energy from the sun and water from their surroundings to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into sugars they can use for growth. Besides producing oxygen and making their own food (sugars), plants provide the basic energy source for virtually all life on earth. Plants can accomplish this amazing chemical feat in nearly all types of environments; even some that may seem unsuitable. One big problem for plants living in the Great Plains is the scarce availability of water, made worse by increasing drought.

Continue reading “Grasses and gases: life in the heat”

Extremely Adapted!

From minuscule bacteria to roaming elephants, life has taken hold of our planet. Through the process of evolution by natural selection, life on earth has taken various forms and utilizes all kinds of spaces. Even the most extreme environments such as our frozen poles, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, dry deserts, and poisonous waters, are inhabited by life. How animals evolve to survive and thrive in these environments is a curiosity that evolutionary biologists like Ryan Greenway at Kansas State University seek to understand. He and colleagues ask big questions, such as how do organisms adapt to different environments and how can that adaptation lead to new species forming in nature? Continue reading “Extremely Adapted!”

Yeast, genes, and green-glowing machines

In case you didn’t know, there is a lab making glowing green baker’s yeast at K-State. Are these mad scientists trying to create neon green baked goods that will be a smash hit at parties? While some people may be sad to hear that’s not the case, these glowing green yeast are actually being used to investigate questions that might lead to treatments for cancer and other diseases. Continue reading “Yeast, genes, and green-glowing machines”

Microbes: getting to the root of carbon dioxide production

You might have heard numbers in climate change news describing the total amount of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, that is released across the entire earth within a year. So how do scientists calculate this annual number? Some parts of this calculation are relatively straightforward, like adding up the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning oil or gas around the world. Others are more complex and some even require diving into the soil to look closely at the lives of tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi.

Continue reading “Microbes: getting to the root of carbon dioxide production”

Carbon consequences when trees invade

The scent of an oak forest wafts out of the office of Sophie Higgs, a graduate student in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. Inside her office, the floor is completely covered with black bags stuffed with oak leaves that she had collected over the past week. No, these leaves are not an extreme attempt to freshen the air after she had microwaved fish for lunch that day. The bags of leaf litter are important tools for conducting her research.

Sophie’s current research takes place in tallgrass prairie streams in the area around Manhattan, KS. The majority of tallgrass prairie in the United States has been plowed for agricultural use, which makes it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Humans have also played a role in suppressing natural wildfires that historically occurred every few years in the tallgrass prairie. This has led to a greater abundance of woody shrub and tree species that can outcompete grasses. Over time, this can transform the prairie into a shrubland and potentially even a forest. This can have negative consequences for the animals that rely on prairie grasses for habitat and food.

Continue reading “Carbon consequences when trees invade”

Dig heavy metal? So do these plants

When you hear “environmental disaster,” images from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chernobyl, the Dust Bowl, or the Exxon Valdez oil spill may come to mind. As you picture oil slicks, chemical burns, and polluted waters, it is difficult to imagine life after these devastating events. Do plants and animals actually survive in these rapidly changing and degrading habitats? If so, how do they do it?

Continue reading “Dig heavy metal? So do these plants”

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