Plastic pollution is accelerating the destruction of our planet. Discarded plastic can be found in the remotest areas – from the highest mountain tops to the deepest ocean trenches. As many types of plastic take hundreds of years to break down, finding better solutions to the plastic crisis is vital. In recent research, Dr Jay Mellies from Reed College in Oregon examines the ability of microbes to break down mixed-plastic waste.
Both the frequency and intensity of droughts are forecast to increase in climate change predictions. It is well established that plant communities are sensitive to drought conditions, having implications for agriculture, forestry, and wild habitats. Despite the close association between soil fungi and plants, our understanding of how fungal communities respond to drought remains incomplete. To build this understanding, Dr Ari Jumpponen and his colleagues at Kansas State University used a combination of pure culture- and DNA-based techniques to study soil fungal communities exposed to chronic drought conditions.
The idea that human beings have souls that leave their body after death is an essential part of most religions and spiritual beliefs. However, this has been very difficult to prove scientifically. Benjamin Scherlag, Ronald Scherlag, Tarun Dasari and Sunny Po at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Centre recently investigated the existence of a soul by conducting a series of scientific studies. They carried out these experiments on a dwarf form of the organism Stentor coeruleus, which is known for its regenerative abilities.
Dr Gita Kolluru | Dylan Lanser | Dr Larisa Vredevoe – Reproductive Consequences for Tick-Infested Lizards
Each year, male Western fence lizards bob, charge, and battle rivals for a chance to win mates. For many of them, tick infestations threaten to hinder their best efforts by harming the lizards’ health. But just how harmful is tick parasitism for these unfortunate lizard hosts? In their recent research, Dylan Lanser, Dr Larisa Vredevoe, and Dr Gita Kolluru at California Polytechnic State University aimed to answer this question by staging contests between tick-free and tick-infested lizards.
The genetic secrets to extraordinary longevity, superhero-like healing and regeneration, and resistance to feeding disorders could be found hidden within the Earth. In underground caves in Dinaric Karst along the Adriatic Sea in the Western Balkans lives a cave salamander, the olm, whose remarkable adaptations mean its genome holds great promise for biomedical research. Dr Rok Kostanjšek and an international team of scientists at the Proteus Genome Research Consortium are tackling the challenge of sequencing the huge olm genome, to provide the basis for studying its unique genetic characteristics.
Cell membranes are critical for life. Effectively extracting proteins with naturally associated lipids from cell membranes is necessary for research, but traditional methods may damage these membrane components and limit the accuracy of scientific data. Dr Youzhong Guo at Virginia Commonwealth University has recently developed a revolutionary method for extracting membrane components in the form of Native Cell Membrane Nanoparticles. His team’s exciting work advances our understanding of the structure, function and interactions of membrane proteins and lipids.
Dr Daniel Suiter – Dr Brian Forschler | Identifying and Preventing Arthropod Encounters in South-eastern USA Homes
Arthropods – a group of invertebrates that includes insects, spiders, centipedes and woodlice – are everywhere, and have inhabited this planet for millions of years. They are found in most habitats on Earth – including our gardens and homes. It is in these built environments that a small number are considered a nuisance when sharing our ‘sacred space’. An even smaller number damage buildings or belongings, eat our food – even feed on us – so we label them… pests! Successful management of pest populations requires an understanding of their specific lifestyles and their requirements for food, water, shelter, breeding sites, and favourable temperatures. A team of entomologists at the University of Georgia recently published a guidebook of more than 100 arthropods found in and around homes in the South-eastern USA.
Eggs are marvellous – they contain all the sustenance needed to make a young bird within their protective shell, and when destined for the plate, they are nutritious and delicious. For many of us, cracking open an egg for breakfast to discover two yolks in the pan is a pleasant surprise. However, if eggs are nature’s miracle of packaging, then double-yolked eggs must be nature’s mistake – a mistake that still holds many mysteries. To answer some persisting questions, Dr Attila Salamon and Dr John Kent of University College Dublin examined our collective knowledge on double-yolked eggs in a recent review.
Future food security is one of the key global challenges facing society. Climate change presents significant threats to our ability to produce staple food crops – particularly in regions already vulnerable to droughts. Dr Kahiu Ngugi and his research team from the University of Nairobi and other institutions in Kenya investigated numerous varieties of sorghum – one of the world’s most important cereal crops. Their aim was to find new genes that would allow the crop to withstand both drought and a common parasitic weed.
Dr Robert Bryant – Dr Langdon Martin | Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Cattle Farming with Leftover Brewer’s Yeast
Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases that contributes to the global climate crisis. As this gas is produced in the digestive systems of cattle, methane represents one of the greatest problems faced by the farming industry. Dr Robert Bryant, Dr Langdon Martin and their team at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina, propose an innovative feed supplement for cattle that helps to significantly reduce methane emissions: waste yeast from craft breweries. If used on a large scale, this new supplement could significantly decrease emissions associated with cattle farming, while also creating a new use for a waste product of the craft beer industry.
The greatest challenge for ageing populations is that vaccines can be less protective for the elderly due to the age-related decline of the immune system. This means that improving the efficacy of vaccines in the ageing population is crucial to public health. Dr Lei Jin and colleagues from the University of Florida set out to develop a novel strategy to directly address this key issue.
Cowpea is an extremely versatile food crop. Packed with high-quality protein, it has become a staple legume in many households in Africa, where it is indigenous. Cowpea also cycles nutrients back into the soil, supporting sustainable farming and healthy ecological networks. However, the production of this sustainable crop faces many hurdles, including drought, pesticide use, and declining soil quality. In a recent review, Professor Olubukola Oluranti Babalola of North-West University in South Africa outlines the issues facing cowpea production and highlights potential solutions.
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