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. 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.,  A fermentation is merely a chemical breakdown of a substance by microorganisms like yeasts and bacteria. In the case of sourdough, yeasts break [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
From the desk of the Showerhead Microbiome Project
We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the Showerhead Microbiome Project. We now have samples from nearly 700 homes across the U.S. and each swab is a critical part of our research. We would not have been able to accomplish a project of this magnitude without the help of all of the volunteers who donated their time and energy to this project.
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? 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 is monitor red maple growth in your yard. We even give you the supplies. It’s really just one supply called a dendrometer, and it does most of the work.
March, 2017. The month you got to name a new creature.
Help us in this long honored tradition of naming things of importance. We have dozens of yeast to name and we want each of them to have a story. Tweet us your suggestion and an explanation of why you have chosen a particular name. If you need more than 140 characters, screen capture the text. We will decide what names make the most sense for our particular yeasts and include them in a future peer-reviewed manuscript. Forever after these yeasts will have these names. These names you helped create.
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.
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.