Your Wild Life Landing 2017-10-26T12:38:46+00:00

Is that a milpa in a rice terrace?

In September, Dr. Lori Shapiro of The Great Pumpkin Project traveled to Vietnam in collaboration with Erik Delaquis of CIAT in Hanoi to characterize microbial communities of New World crop plants - focusing on cassava and pumpkin - that have been introduced to Asia. Today's guest post is a reflection on global crop movement written by Lori Shapiro and Erik Delaquis.   Driving North from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, we were soon climbing towards the ruggedly scenic Ha Giang plateau (pronounced Ha zang), near the Chinese border. Weathered limestone peaks filled with unexplored caves quickly approached, and the already crisp mountain air rushed through Close up of terraced agriculture [...]

October 30th, 2017|

Calling All Drones

On Monday, October 9th, Greg Crutsinger woke to an ordinary sort of day. He was looking forward to the week. He was launching a new company called Drone Scholars. His wife had been promoted to an executive director in the non-profit she worked for. His daughter was on her way to being potty trained. Things were good until he heard about the fires that had happened in the night before just north of the San Francisco Bay area in California, not far from where he lived. Fires are normal in California, part of the nature of the state. The plants of California are adapted to fire. The animals too. But [...]

October 26th, 2017|Tags: |

The Leopard in your Showerhead

Your showerhead is personal. It is the conduit through which water falls on you to keep you clean. It is also full of life. Showerheads can, in other words, clean you and dirty you at the same time.   We are interested in the life in showerheads, particularly the life that accumulates in biofilms (tiny microbial cities) inside the showerheads. There are many reasons to be interested in these biofilms. For ecologists, these biofilms are relatively simple (they tend to contain few species) and discreet enough to be understood. They are an opportunity to test the newest theories. For medical researchers, these biofilms can contain pathogens. For those who study cooperation, [...]

October 24th, 2017|

The Sourdough Project Yeast Results are Here!

The Sourdough Project has some exciting updates to share today! Here is your chance to see some of the data for your individual sourdough starter, data on some of the more common species present in your starter. On the yeast results map (found here) you will find individual points on the maps near to where you live. The points are labeled with your sample number (for which you can search). The points don’t exactly match the location of your home so as to preserve the anonymity of your starter. But wait, don’t look yet. Before you look, there are some caveats. The first caveat is that while we succeeded in [...]

October 17th, 2017|

Getting the measure of sourdough biodiversity

We have good news. From the 568 sourdough samples our participants sent us we have completed the first of many stages of identification of the life therein. Most sourdough starters contain both bacteria and fungi. The fungi produce carbon dioxide, the bacteria the acid (usually, we actually think that some of the fungi in sourdoughs are producing acid too). We haven’t identified the fungi yet. Soon though. As for the bacteria, when we first looked at the results, we were in for several surprises. Though it took some steps to get there. In our analyses the first data we see are in the form of a file that contains the [...]

September 29th, 2017|

From the Bench: Nick Kamkari on the Sourdough Project

Sourdough is a bread made from dough that has been fermented with bacteria and yeast. One of the oldest sourdough breads dates back to over 5700 years ago and was excavated in Switzerland, but sourdough likely originated from agriculture in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years earlier.[1] Rich in both history and and microbes, I guess you could say making sourdough is a particularly cultured endeavor. The initial steps of making sourdough require “starters,” which are water-flour fermentations made up of yeast and lactic acid bacteria.[2], [3] A fermentation is merely a chemical breakdown of a substance by microorganisms like yeasts and bacteria.[4] In the case of sourdough, yeasts break [...]

September 27th, 2017|

The Search for Lost Microbes

I spent several years writing a book about the value of biological diversity to agriculture, Never Out of Season. In doing so, I gained a deep appreciation for the role farmers and consumers can play in helping to save the biological diversity of crops and the species they depend on. I also, however, realized that the biological diversity of our food does not end at the farm field. We also have biological diversity living in our kitchen, in our fermented foods. Or at least we used to. Over the last hundred years the diversity of microbes used to make foods was homogenized. We mostly now use the same yeasts to [...]

September 25th, 2017|

The Stories of Sourdough, the Next Step

Recently, we asked you to share your sourdough starters and stories and you did. You shared them not just from the United States, but also from around the world. More than five hundred starters poured into the first lab in their journey, Ben Wolfe's lab at Tufts, where they were tended to by graduate student Liz Landis, Kinsey Drake and Shravya Sakunala (the undergrads who did a lot of the processing).   At Tufts, the sourdough starters were curated. Liz opened them. She sniffed them. She unwrapped them. She fell in love with their diversity and she chose a handful, thirty or so, on which she would do more research. From [...]

September 19th, 2017|

Dr. Anne’s Book of Common Microbes and their Wonders

In the Dunn lab we have worked for the last decade to study the life in homes. We have swabbed belly buttons, searched under beds, looked into shower heads, and scrubbed refrigerators, all for science.  It is only recently though, led by Anne Madden, that we have begun to focus in on those species in homes likely to have the most value to society. The life around you in your home and backyard includes species of enormous value to society as well as species that will someday have such value.  In doing so, we have found species that can turn waste into energy, species that can make new kinds of [...]

August 14th, 2017|

What to Do About the Ants in Your Kitchen

It all started in a street median in Manhattan, not far from Mary Tyler Moore’s apartment. Marko Pecaravic decided to do a thesis on the ants of street medians, ants like those that live along Broadway and elsewhere in Manhattan. The thesis was directed by James Danoff-Burg and I would co-mentor it. That thesis, and other work with Jim, would lead me to realize that for many species, and especially for ants, that discoveries lurked in our collective backyards. Scientists overlook backyards in favor of more remote settings. Non-scientists overlook backyards, assuming that someone else understands them. No one understands the life in backyards. Our backyards and even homes are our [...]

August 8th, 2017|