A Tree’s Life (A New Citizen Science Project)

Would you give a few minutes a year to reveal the future of forests?

What would be the easiest citizen science project ever? Watching paint dry? Falling off a log? Maybe. But what would you, or anyone else, learn from that?

Red maple trees. (Image Credit: Flickr user Nacho 13 “Acer rubrum” CC BY 2.0)

We are starting a citizen science project almost as easy but much more important. Its called A Tree’s Life and all you need to do […]

By | March 13th, 2017|Participate, Projects, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

March, 2017. The month you got to name a new creature.

March 2017: The month you named a yeast.

As humans, we give significance to something by giving it a unique name: whether this is our pets, our boats, our children, or our sourdough starters. It is how we distinguish the specific from the general. It is not just “a child,” it is our child, “Adrianne.” It is not “a boat”, it is the working fishing boat off the cold Maine coast, “Harvester of Sorrows.” As scientists we give names as well. We give highly specific names to species such as “Homo sapiens” and “Canis lupus” to distinguish humans and wolves, respectively. […]

By | March 7th, 2017|Education, Participate, Sourdough|0 Comments

#NewYeastName Activity

Educators: We’d love to have your students help us name our new yeasts. Here’s some information to start the discussion with your students so that they can learn about the science of yeast.

Introduction to Yeast

Yeast are single celled organisms that are microscopic. They are actually fungi (like all mushrooms). They are a group of microorganisms that include about 1000 unique species.

Interactive visual of how small a yeast cell is in comparison to dust mites, red blood cells, and viruses

Baker’s yeast (one species of yeast) under a microscope

 

How do yeast grow?

Yeast make more […]

By | March 7th, 2017|Education, Participate, Sourdough|0 Comments

Ten Things Graduate Students Should Study (Never Out of Season Edition)

One of the luxuries of writing about science is that it gives me a chance to weave together discoveries made in disparate fields. I can connect the stories for readers. Sometimes I can even connect the scientists themselves. But the more I write, the more that I see that where such connections are most conspicuously missed is not random. In some subfields of science our ignorance is both vast and predictable. One of these subfields is the intersection between basic ecology and evolutionary biology and application.

By | March 6th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Showerhead Microbiome Project: March 2017 Update

We’d like to share an update from Matthew Gebert (from the return envelope) on the Showerhead Microbiome Project. It’s been a few weeks since you last heard from us (thank you for your patience), but the project has been moving along quickly! As of February 2017, we have sent out around 1,200 sampling kits across the United States and 300 kits in Europe (we can still use more European participants)! A huge thank you to everyone who has participated and sent back a sample in the last 6 months. If you haven’t returned your kit […]

By | March 1st, 2017|Showerheads|0 Comments

Getting Sourdough on the Map

A quick update on the Sourdough Project! We are currently up to 300 samples (and counting) and we’ve got a fantastic team of undergraduates working on processing and characterizing our samples:  Kinsey Drake, Nick Kamkari, and Shravya Sakunala.

Kinsey has made a map of our where the starters we currently have (red) and those we are awaiting (blue) based on participants who have filled out the questionnaire.

Tufts undergraduate Kinsey Drake wearing a while lab coat and purple gloves working at the bench in the Wolfe lab. […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Behind the Scenes, Sourdough|15 Comments

What’s your flour type?

Nick Kamkari, Tufts undergraduate, plates out different commercial flours in the Wolfe Lab.

The Wolfe lab has been working to pinpoint just what makes sourdough starters so magical. It turns out that each flour has its own microbial “signature.” Tufts undergraduate Nick Kamkari has been plating out and characterizing different brands of-off-the shelf flours to learn more about what we should expect to find in each starter fed by that flour, to better be able to pinpoint what are the extra (delicious) microbes that make the starters successful. Above is a visual of what […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Behind the Scenes, Sourdough|1 Comment

We have Sitophilus as pets

Look, I’m going to keep this simple. Thousands of species of pests threaten our crops, and our forests and grasslands too. We do a pretty good job of, once these pests arrive, frantically scurrying to understand them so that we might kill them (or mitigate their effects). But until they arrive, or until they begin to really pose a threat, we mostly ignore them. More than that, we tend to ignore one of the things that I have come to believe is most important to really managing the ecological and evolutionary world, their natural history. What they eat, how they […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Arthropods, Indoor Evolution|0 Comments

The Wild Lives of Gutters

As a rule of thumb, we like to assume that if a surface exists, there’s something (or many things) living on it. These “things” are microscopic organisms – bacteria, fungi, protists, and even archaea – and they’re all very hard at work turning dead things anew into life, or even turning the nutrients in air into bits and pieces of their cells. We smell the presence of these workings, but forget to consider the thriving life forms it bespeaks.

By | February 9th, 2017|Projects|2 Comments

The Syrians and Iraqis at Your Dinner Table

Each detail of our daily lives has a history and, just as with any history, it is a history we would do well to learn from. Consider the biology of your dinner table. Your table itself is Syrian or Iraqi as is most of the food on it.

Mesopotamia, about which we all learn in middle school and then promptly forget, is the region between (meso), the two rivers (potomus), the Tigris and the Euphrates. It includes Syria in the West and Iraq in the Southeast and, biologically speaking, should probably also include the Zagros mountains of Iran to the East.

In the […]

By | January 28th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Sourdough Stories: Patty Ellis

We will begin a series of sourdough stories wherein we highlight the oral history that accompanies many different sourdough starters. For many, this starter becomes a part of the family. It requires a place to go and be fed when its humans are away; be it a family member, house sitter or a sourdough hotel. Some feel a connection to past generations through the taste, method and baking; breaking bread that was passed down generations, traveled across countries and tested through time. 


When Patty Ellis happened upon her mother’s old bread bowl in the cupboard, she was reminded […]

By | October 3rd, 2016|Sourdough|4 Comments

Updating the Species Scape

This post was written by Clint Penick & Magdalena Sorger

As the world’s entomologists gather in Orlando this week for the International Conference of Entomology (ICE), we thought it a good time to revisit the famous Species Scape—the illustration showing that insects make up the largest portion of life on Earth. We scoured textbooks, scientific papers, and online databases to find the most current numbers for all species that have been described. There are new winners and new losers, but insects still make up nearly half of all species.

The history of the Species Scape began when biologist Quentin […]

By | September 25th, 2016|Arthropods, Education, Explainer, Science Art|0 Comments

A Letter to the New Students of Vassar

[Rob has been invited to Vassar to talk to the entering class of students about his book The Wild Life of Our Bodies, but also about our wild lives, theirs, his, those of the future. This is his letter to those students.]

Dear students of Vassar,

Let me begin with a warning. Don’t trust anything a writer says about his or her own family. That said, my grandmother, Barbara, grew up in Oxford, Mississippi. She lived in a room that was meant for an observatory and spent at least some days on William Faulkner’s porch listening to him tell stories to younger […]

By | July 24th, 2016|News|3 Comments

Does a cat’s personality predict its hunting?

All pet owners know that every animal has its own personality.  Some are shy, some are bold, some get freaked out by cucumbers.  We also know that cats vary in their hunting interests and ability, meaning that certain individuals might be a much bigger problem for native wildlife than others.  We want to see if we can find a link between cat personality and the amount of wildlife they kill and eat.

First, the personality – working with colleagues at Discover Circle in Australia, we have […]

By | June 28th, 2016|Cat Tracker, Participate|0 Comments

New Project: The Life of Pants

Do clothes contribute to body odor?

Let’s be real: I have body odor, you have body odor, we all have body odor.

Most of us can at least vaguely remember that time during our awkward preteen years that our parents made us aware of our smell and introduced the concept of deodorant. I’ve been applied deodorant daily, been aware of and at times self-conscious of by body odor for almost two decades, yet, it never occurred to me to investigate the cause of this odor and how my activities are affecting it. As a microbiologist, I know that […]

By | June 21st, 2016|armpits, Participate, Projects|2 Comments