Most people are familiar with the role of DNA: A set of genetic instructions on how a particular living organism should function. This nucleic acid has been widely explored as a way to identify individuals, define illnesses or hereditary diseases and contribute to behavior, among many other clues about an individual. However, there may be another complex feature of human anatomy that influences many surprising aspects of human physiology, immunity and evolution: gut flora.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was once quoted as saying: “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.” While there is certainly some truth to this quote, especially considering water quality in the 1700s, it should be noted that beer’s long history is also fraught with microorganisms—both helpful and harmful in the eyes of the brewer.
Scientists have known for decades that the human intestinal tract is home to an abundance of diverse bacteria. This microbial rainforest is introduced incrementally to infants as they grow—primarily from their mothers during birth and breastfeeding and from everyday encounters. Many of these microbes aid in digestion and fight off pathogens, but until recently, researchers were not certain if phages, viruses that infect bacteria, were also present in the human gut.
Genetically altered animals come closer to approval, global climate change extends the time space junk orbits the Earth, researchers develop a method to identify and analyze whale vocalizations, artists shape messages about the planet’s health and female mollies prefer a more mustachioed mate. Here are highlights in ecology from the last week in June.
An idyllic lake turns threatening when heavy rainfall causes a sewage treatment plant to overflow. Within 24 hours, once-benign microbes turn into virulent pathogens, breeding incessantly and attacking the embryos of lake fish. As much as that may sound like the synopsis of a movie on Mystery Science Theater, this is an impact on lake ecosystems that is actually occurring.
Millions of microbes found buried under the seafloor, fossils reveal the life of giant cockroaches and marine invertebrate struggles, a rare bird haven is explored in Colombia and urban ecologists address pollination in Harlem. Here’s the latest ecological news for the second week in April.