Showing posts from 2014

Living the Atheist Hoax

Last week I had a bit of a surprise waiting in my inbox. It was a message from a co-conspirator, "Dr." Greg Wilson, that we had been caught white-handed in our atheist hoax. Our nightmare became real, and we were exposed.
      An incriminating photograph taken in Montana in 2013 shows Greg and myself using plaster of Paris to create a dinosaur bone. Dinosaurs are one of the best tools we of the evolutionist/secular/atheist super-crew use to gobble up kiddos for indoctrination. I feel like an idiot for wearing such a blatant shirt, but honestly, I never thought this photo would surface.
      What's worse is that we were also caught trying to brainwash capable K-12 educators we had tricked into joining us through the DIG Field School. We were also joined by a young clone of Joe Felsenstein, seeking eternal earthly life.

        Okay, enough garbage. I am not sure how I feel about this image. At first I was amused, but over time it has just become sort of a bummer. …

GCC: A scientific conference for graduate students, by graduate students.

Ocean chemist, meet atmospheric dynamicist; Salmon biologist, meet environmental lawyer. Now that we’re all friends, let’s get started.

I recently had the opportunity to help organize the Graduate Climate Conference. The meeting is a competitive-entry, grad student only conference created by UW students and hosted in alternating years by UW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This opportunity to interact with grad students from distantly related fields was extremely valuable. On a sociological level, it was interesting to see the different approaches to research and presentation across fields. On a scientific level, the meeting offered an update on the latest climate (change) research. On top of all that, it was just really fun. The meeting took place at the Pack Forest Conference Center in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, where the summer camp feel was not lost on attendees. Shared cabins, pick-up Ultimate games, s’mores over the fire pi…

Jen Day: How do Molecular Ecologists use Jaguar Scat for Conservation Science?

Step One:  Since jaguars cover a lot of ground – we need to too. 
We have surveyed two locations in southern Mexico to date for jaguar and puma scat, in partnership with University of Veracruz’s Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales (CITRO) and the Reserva Ecologica El Eden.  There are not many jaguars left at these sites, so we were not sure what we would find.  It turns out that the Conservation Canines are experts at finding jaguar scat.  In the Uxpanapa Valley of Veracurz, we ended up with 28 jaguar locations confirmed, and 8 unique multilocus genotypes from scat samples (genotypes are genetic information that allow us to tell individuals apart, relatedness between individuals, and to assess genetic diversity).  That may not sound like a big number, but that's potentially a THIRD of the entire population of the valley!

WITH YOUR HELP, we’re headed to the Lacondona region of Chiapas in January, in collaboration with Dr. Rodrigo Medellín (current president of the Society for …

Yasmeen Hussain: Ciliate vs. Urchin Egg

One summer day, I was counting sea urchin eggs and saw one moving. Now, the classical delineation of sperm and eggs is that one of them (sperm) moves and the other (egg) does not. When eggs start moving, I get a little concerned. I moved the hemacytometer (a neat device invented over a century ago that helps people count the number of objects per unit volume) with this egg to our lab's bigger microscope, which has better optics and higher magnification. This is what I saw:

A ciliated, single-celled organism appeared to be either trying to break into the egg and eat its nutritious insides or is feeding off of the egg’s jelly layer, which is full of polysaccharides, peptides, and other potentially nutritious substances. While it moves around the egg (in my head this makes a slurping noise), the egg appears to be moving. This is pretty fun!
But, you may ask, why am I in lab, counting sea urchin eggs on an otherwise perfectly nice day? I’m trying to understand how sperm chemotaxis, how …

Rochelle Kelly: Bats and Scat Dogs in the San Juan Islands

This originally appeared in the FHL newsletter Tide Bites.

In the Santana Lab at the University of Washington, our research focuses on the relationship among ecology, anatomy and behavior in mammals. Much of our labs' research involves bats, as they are one of the most diverse groups of mammals — they comprise nearly a quarter of all mammalian species. Despite the incredible range of shapes, sizes, behaviors, and the ecological importance of bats, two common images seem to be perpetuated in the mainstream media: that of small brown flying rodents, and rabid vampires.

Batting a thousand…and then some: diversity of bats
While it is true that vampire bats exist, they are only three out of over 1,200 species of bats, and they only occur in the new world tropics. Of the remaining bat species, more than 70% feed exclusively on insects. Even though most species are small (less than 60 grams) and sometimes brown, they are far from being flying rodents. Bats evolved around 55 million years…

Carrie Glenney: Why lactation rooms matter

Edited to add: This post does not mean to imply that the University of Washington is not meeting the legal requirements for providing lactation facilities. There are 6 buildings on campus that provide lactation facilities.

A lack of access to lactation rooms might be a widespread issue for women in academia. As demonstrated in the Biology Department at University of Washington, it can also be a relatively simple problem to solve. Ensuring lactation room access for all women in academia would send a very important message: we support you.

Although women make up more than 50% of science PhDs earned, they are more likely than men to leave the academic sciences at every stage on the way to obtaining a tenured position at a college or university. A study by Marc Goulden, Karie Frasch, and Mary Ann Mason suggests that becoming a mom may be one major determinant of this trend: married mothers with young children are less likely than both single and married women without young children, and …

Grad publication: Camilla Crifò

Plant fossils consist mostly of isolated organs that are poorly informative of plant life form and ecosystem structure. Therefore, questions like “when did the first Neotropical forest originated?” are still debated. We used leaf vein density (a trait visible on leaf compressions) as a tool to reconstruct the occurrence of stratified forests with a canopy dominated by angiosperms. In fact, this trait (similarly to others) is particularly variable in flowering plants, whereas it is scarcely plastic in all other plant groups. Leaf physiological traits are know to vary within a forest depending on the strata where a leaf is located, reflecting ecological adaptation to different microenvironments. The main trigger of these variations is light availability, especially in Neotropical forest, where no other factor is limiting plant growth.

Leaf vein density is positively correlated with conductance and water vapor; increasing vein density allows more efficient transpiration. Previous studi…

Departmental retreat recap

Now that the academic year is in full swing, the leaves are changing colors, and our schedules are filling up with grant applications and office hours, let's take a moment to reflect on the glory that was the 2014 Biology Department Retreat two weekends ago.

Per department custom, the 2014 retreat was held at our gorgeous marine lab in Friday Harbor, WA (note, you can take classes and do research there!).  The weather was perfect (we've been told it's always like that at FHL) and wildlife viewing was plentiful. Lot's of mammals, reptiles, birds, and invertebrates were spotted, not least of which included a particularly friendly red fox, black-tailed deer, racoons, harbor seals, harbor porpoises, California sea lions, killer whales (!!!), California quail, ravens, red tailed hawk, pine siskin, brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, band-tailed pigeon, garter snakes, rough skinned newt, alligator lizards, sandlance, pacific herring, possibly cod, metridium, hydramedusa, a…

Review: Climate change course in China

BioGrad Foen Peng spent several weeks in China learning about climate change this summer. Read about his experience below!
This summer, I was enrolled in the Ecology of Climate Changecourse in Xishuanbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Yunnan, China. This course lasted for about one month. We had 26 classmates in total, who were from 16 countries in Asia, Europe and America. Our lecturers were also from diverse countries.

It was really fun to communicate with students from diverse countries. A lot of our lecturers asked students to connect the impacts of climate change with our respective background, like local agricultural changes, farmers’ experiences, and vegetation changes. For example, the oral history class asked us to do an interview with one or two local farmers in our own countries. When we were discussing our data, we were surprised to find that our results were so different: farmers in some regions like Kashmir, India have experienced dramatic changes in recent decades– as a re…

Sonia Singhal: Exploding Bacteria!

"…very small living creatures in rain water." The evolution course I took as an undergraduate was co-taught by two professors, one who studied butterflies and the other (my advisor at the time) who studied viral ecology and evolution. For one of the classes, the butterfly professor brought in models and pinned specimens to show off their beautiful patterns. My advisor decided he couldn’t be one-upped. “I had organism envy,” he explained to us as he passed around Petri dishes on which some viruses had been grown.

The organisms we study are all interesting and dynamic, but that can be easy to forget when they’re things that are not publicly “charismatic”, not bright and colorful or cute and cuddly, or just too small to see. For example, I only see bacteria when there are millions of them in one place, enough to turn liquid turbid or form a small, moist-looking dab on a Petri dish. At this scale, it can seem as though things are fairly static. The liquid only becomes so turbid…

Grad Publication: Emily Bain, Anna McCann, Larissa Patterson

Pigment pattern is a defining characteristic of many animals that is more than just beautiful to look at; stripes, spots, and bright colors function in many behaviors such as warning coloration, mate recognition, and camouflage. Even among closely related species, pigment patterns can be stunningly diverse. In the Parichy lab, we use the pigment pattern of the adult zebrafish, Danio rerio, to study molecular and cellular mechanisms of pattern formation and how these processes evolve between species.

The stripes on a zebrafish are composed of three different cell types: black melanophores, yellow orange xanthophores, and iridescent iridophores. We know from previous work that interactions between pigment cells are crucial for stripe formation, but cues from the environment tell the pigment cells when and where to show up.
In this paper, we discuss the role of thyroid hormone in the development of different pigment cell lineages and metamorphosis using genetic mutants as well as a new tec…

Grad Publication: Edith Pierre-Jerome

The plant hormone auxin is involved in almost every aspect of plant growth and development. Auxin has been studied for well over a century and while many aspects of its function have been elucidated, the details of how this one molecule can coordinate so many critical responses have remained a mystery. A large facet of auxin function has been tied to its regulation of gene expression through a signaling pathway composed of only a handful of key components, each of which belongs to a large gene family. One attractive hypothesis for the diversity of auxin signaling responses is that functional divergence between signaling component family members could provide variation in response to a generic auxin signal. Thus, different component family members can be used in combination to elicit distinct responses depending on the cellular complement of components. (For more details, see the review I co-authored that was published last summer). However, this pathway is complicated by genetic re…

Summer Plans: How can you not want to be a scientist?

The grads of UW Biology will be spending the next few months diving into their research and soaking up some of that delicious and outrageous Seattle sunshine.

Brandon Peecook: "I'll be land-cruisin' around Africa collecting 1/4 billion year old fossils, discerning patterns of extinction and recovery, and trying to not be eaten by several known man-eaters."

(Dr.) Kelsey Byers: "I'll be traipsing around the Alps collecting floral scent and tissue from alpine orchids!"

Jack Cerchiara: "I'll be spending my summer studying the physiology of aging in Magellanic penguins."

Jake Cooper: "I'll be modeling how sex with neighbors is different from sex with randos."

Yasmeen Hussain: "I'll be watching sperm swim and making (urchin) babies."

Michael Dorrity: "I'll be pitting millions of yeast against each other in fiercely competitive agar-digging tournaments."

Stephanie Crofts: "I'll be playing with fish and…

Course Evaluation and Grad Publication: Hannah Jordt

Filling in that bubble sheet: An evaluation of a course you should have taken
Evaluator’s note to her fellow biograds:Just as twelve of us were taught to do in Bio 505B this past quarter, I’m going to start off by stating my educational objectives up front. The goals of this blog post are 1) to inform N-12 of you that you missed out on a great class last quarter, 2) to convince you to accommodate it in your schedule next spring when it’s offered again, and 3) to fit in a slightly retroactive grad publication post.
Course: Bio 505B: Problems in Biological Instruction
Instructors: Scott Freeman, also featuring Mary Pat Wenderoth
Q1: What aspects of the course contributed most to your learning?
Short Answer: Active learning and peer instruction (take this course so you can role your eyes at the obviousness of this statement).
Longer answer: I admit that I’m fairly biased in how much importance I give to teaching and to having an understanding of evidence based teaching practices.But we’re biol…