Why Scientists Care So Much About Gnats, Weeds, and Brewer’s Yeast

By Becker1999 from Grove City, OH (March for Science, Washington, DC) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
By Becker1999 from Grove City, OH (March for Science, Washington, DC) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
On Earth Day, 2017, hundreds of thousands of people marched in major cities around the world in support of science. And as for me? I was asked to write a guest post for the March for Science’s blog highlighting the importance of fundamental research; in particular, I focused on model organisms, those humble creatures from dung-eating gnats to beer-making yeast on which so much of biology is based. Check it out to learn more about why we care about these seemingly lowly—and honestly, often kind of gross—creatures!

The future of fungi

Do you live in a house made of mushrooms? This reality may be closer than you imagine! Discover the future of fungi in the latest article by my friend and colleague Sonia Travaglini and learn how mushrooms are a growing technology for renewable building materials, textiles, and more.

Image credit: Christine Liu, BSR design team.
Image credit: Christine Liu, BSR design team.

Color by numbers

My latest feature for the Berkeley Science Review, Color by numbers, takes readers on a journey through the nanoscale phenomena that make our visual experience so vibrant. By exploring the fundamental science behind color — from quantum physics to evolutionary biology — as well as applications inspired by this science, such as solar cells and futuristic displays, I invite readers to take a new perspective on our colorful world.

Research by UC Berkeley Professor Nipam Patel (left) and graduate students Ryan Null (middle) and Rachel Thayer (right) is highlighted in the article. Photo credit: Michael Wan, BSR design team.
Research on butterflies by UC Berkeley Professor Nipam Patel (left) and graduate students Ryan Null (middle) and Rachel Thayer (right) is highlighted in the article. Photo credit: Michael Wan, BSR design team.

Can gene drives survive in the wild?

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Image credit: see page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What if we could eradicate mosquito-borne illnesses with a simple trick of molecular biology? Human-engineered gene drives have been getting a lot of media attention lately because some hope they will allow us to do just that. But will gene drives live up to the hype? My latest article for the Genetics Society of America addresses this issue. I interviewed experts in population genetics to get a better understanding of how gene drives might work in the wild, and what I learned left me with an even stronger appreciation of the power of evolution.

Blog neglect rationalization

Many new articles are in the works, so hold tight!

Refilling the liquid nitrogen on the electron microscope instead of writing blog posts.
The culprit is seen refilling the liquid nitrogen on the electron microscope instead of writing blog posts.

At the moment, I’m writing another feature for the Berkeley Science Review and several more posts for the Genes to Genomes blog, trudging along toward my doctorate . . . and planning my wedding, which is in less than a month. Now that I think of it, I need to get back to work!

 

The original origami

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The paradox of protein folding

A paper crane appears impressively intricate, especially to a novice origami maker struggling with the first creases. But fumbling hands and crumpled paper belie a different type of folding expertise. Imperceptibly, legions of molecules inside the origami maker’s body constantly confront a much more complex folding task. These molecules, called proteins, reliably fold into one out of an enormous number of possible structures in a fraction of the time it takes to make a paper crane. With no hands to guide it, each protein molecule must traverse the pathway to its correct shape with superhuman speed and precision. And while poor origami technique results in wasted paper at worst, the consequence for failed protein folding can be death.

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The false controversy of GMO safety

Image Credit: Randi Hausken from Bærum, Norway (Kornaks Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to imagine a future in which the general public doesn’t question scientific findings. For the most part, this skepticism is a good thing: it spurs debate, fosters discussion between the public and the scientific community and ultimately increases public understanding of science. But when these inquiries are based on ideological judgments or fear, as is the case with the widespread apprehension about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), both scientists and science communicators must carefully craft public statements to prevent dangerous misinterpretations.

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