“As night fell, astronomer Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan watched a plant’s leaves, symmetrically arranged side-by-side on a stem, clamp shut. It was 1729, and he was studying the dramatic nocturnal movement of Mimosa pudica. Strangely, he found that the plant behaved the same way even when it wasn’t exposed to natural cycles of light and dark, making his observation the first known example of a circadian rhythm that didn’t depend on external stimuli. Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that repeat daily, matching one full rotation of Earth. After this discovery in a weedy creeper, the planet would rotate tens of thousands more times before scientists studying the daily habits of a household insect exposed the mechanics of the biological clock.”
A mouse, soaking wet, is scooped up in the warm hands of a researcher. It has just paddled its way through a tub of water and climbed onto a platform, getting a welcome break from swimming. The researcher had trained it to associate the hidden resting spot with a nearby flickering light, and if this were any other mouse, the fact it could remember how to find the platform using visual cues would be a testament to the animal’s ability to learn. But it wasn’t a typical rodent: the mouse used to be blind.
On Earth Day, 2017, hundreds of thousands of people marched in major cities around the world in support of science. Right before the event, I was asked to write a guest post for the March for Science’s blog highlighting the importance of fundamental research, a topic I’m very passionate about. I focused on the model organisms—a humble collection of creatures including dung-eating gnats and 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 really, sometimes kind of gross) species!
Update, 11/11/2017: Unfortunately, it appears that this article can no longer be found on the March for Science’s blog. Luckily, it was captured by the Wayback Machine. I updated the link in the above paragraph to direct to the archived version.
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 growing research on mushrooms is spawning ideas for renewable building materials, textiles, and more.
“Bottles of vibrantly colored chemicals line dimly lit shelves. On a bench below, a Bunsen burner flickers beneath a flask of deep red liquid, illuminating the face of a scientist perched on a stool nearby. The scientist swirls a glowing, neon blue liquid, scrawling observations in a notebook.
The movie ends. You return to reality. In our nonfiction world, the substances that decorate many laboratories—and the chemicals of everyday life—are most often colorless. The rare colorful materials are the paints on nature’s palette. Plants contain thousands of different chemicals, but it only takes a single substance—chlorophyll—to make a leaf green.”
Click to keep reading my latest feature for the Berkeley Science Review, Color by numbers, which explores the nanoscale phenomena that make our visual experience so vibrant. By delving into 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.
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 believe they will allow us to do just that. But will gene drives live up to the hype? My latest feature 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.
Things may seem a bit slow lately, but many new articles are in the works!
On March 1st, I was interviewed on the radio program The Graduates, so if you want to listen to me sound extremely awkward discussing my research and outreach activities, you can take a few minutes to listen to that. 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!