When is too much rain a bad thing? In eastern Kansas, we know that rain drives the productivity of crops and other plants, but we also understand that raging floodwaters can cause major damage. However, some ecosystems rely on enormous amounts of rain. In tropical rainforests, life thrives while receiving as much as seven times the average rainfall in Manhattan, Kansas. So can these tropical wet rainforests get too much rain? Continue reading “Science on Tap: Rain, migration, and dancing birds”
For some, today might be an annoying reminder of your relationship status that you wish would just be over already. On the other hand, maybe your mind is filled with thoughts of the lasting bond shared between partners. Either way, Valentine’s Day is upon us, and it seems impossible to ignore. While scrolling Twitter and Facebook you might even see posts and articles like these:
Every year it seems like there is some version of these articles circulating around. Here at Science Snapshots, rather than making our own “animal relationships” list, we decided to dive into a recent study of fish that create long-lasting partnerships to demonstrate how scientists approach interesting animal relationships and investigate why they occur. Continue reading “Relationships on the reef: Valentine’s Day tips from a fishy source”
It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be catching some kind of virus. While you might be familiar with a virus’s potential to make you feel miserable, have you ever wondered how viruses work to cause illness? A virus is much like a robber in a factory. A viral “robber” has both a strategy to get into the factory and the ability to use the machines to make what it wants. Similarly, when a virus gets access to the cells of your body it is able to hijack the machinery that your cell would normally use to replicate its genetic material and make its own proteins. The virus can use your cells to make more copies of itself and spread from cell to cell. How does your cell get tricked into making more virus? One lab at K-State has found a way that one sneaky virus accomplishes this. The culprit: vaccinia virus. Continue reading “Viral takeover: how viruses take advantage of infected cells”
This post is the first of our new series covering Science on Tap. This monthly event, a part of Sunset Zoo’s Behind the Science initiative, is a gathering at the Tallgrass Taphouse during which a featured scientist shares their research and engages with the audience in a lively conversation about the topic. Hopefully you are able to grab a beer and join in on the conversation; if not, we’ll be here to provide a summary of the research that was shared!
Have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered whether another person in the room has the same birthday as you? The chances that one other person will share your birthday in a situation such as this is a question of probability, termed the birthday paradox. This statistics problem has been studied in detail, and the results are quite surprising. In a room containing 65 people, there are a total of 2,080 number of unique birthday pairs; quite a big number of interactions! And though it seems like 65 is not that many people, there is a 99.7% chance that two people share the same birthday in a group this big. The problem is finding a significant pair, two people with the same birthday, in a pool of insignificant ones. Continue reading “Science on Tap: Using micro- and nanotechnologies to unlock the invisible world of microbes”
Many people know that plants make the oxygen that most organisms need to breath, but plants are also sugar manufacturers. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants use light energy from the sun and water from their surroundings to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into sugars they can use for growth. Besides producing oxygen and making their own food (sugars), plants provide the basic energy source for virtually all life on earth. Plants can accomplish this amazing chemical feat in nearly all types of environments; even some that may seem unsuitable. One big problem for plants living in the Great Plains is the scarce availability of water, made worse by increasing drought.
From minuscule bacteria to roaming elephants, life has taken hold of our planet. Through the process of evolution by natural selection, life on earth has taken various forms and utilizes all kinds of spaces. Even the most extreme environments such as our frozen poles, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, dry deserts, and poisonous waters, are inhabited by life. How animals evolve to survive and thrive in these environments is a curiosity that evolutionary biologists like Ryan Greenway at Kansas State University seek to understand. He and colleagues ask big questions, such as how do organisms adapt to different environments and how can that adaptation lead to new species forming in nature? Continue reading “Extremely Adapted!”
In case you didn’t know, there is a lab making glowing green baker’s yeast at K-State. Are these mad scientists trying to create neon green baked goods that will be a smash hit at parties? While some people may be sad to hear that’s not the case, these glowing green yeast are actually being used to investigate questions that might lead to treatments for cancer and other diseases. Continue reading “Yeast, genes, and green-glowing machines”
You might have heard numbers in climate change news describing the total amount of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, that is released across the entire earth within a year. So how do scientists calculate this annual number? Some parts of this calculation are relatively straightforward, like adding up the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning oil or gas around the world. Others are more complex and some even require diving into the soil to look closely at the lives of tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi.
The scent of an oak forest wafts out of the office of Sophie Higgs, a graduate student in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. Inside her office, the floor is completely covered with black bags stuffed with oak leaves that she had collected over the past week. No, these leaves are not an extreme attempt to freshen the air after she had microwaved fish for lunch that day. The bags of leaf litter are important tools for conducting her research.
Sophie’s current research takes place in tallgrass prairie streams in the area around Manhattan, KS. The majority of tallgrass prairie in the United States has been plowed for agricultural use, which makes it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Humans have also played a role in suppressing natural wildfires that historically occurred every few years in the tallgrass prairie. This has led to a greater abundance of woody shrub and tree species that can outcompete grasses. Over time, this can transform the prairie into a shrubland and potentially even a forest. This can have negative consequences for the animals that rely on prairie grasses for habitat and food.
Avoiding predators is always challenging, but it’s even harder in human altered landscapes where the escape routes may not be as plentiful as they used to.
Evading large predatory fish in highly disrupted waters is just one of the many challenges faced by the Topeka Shiner, a small, freshwater minnow that lives in prairie streams throughout the Mississippi River basin. This endangered species must also contend with both native and introduced predators, including the largemouth bass, a species favored by anglers.
The Topeka Shiner’s natural habitats have been significantly altered by human activities. Much of the area once covered by Kansas’s historic prairies has been converted to agricultural lands, and many landowners have dammed or dug out areas of stream to create small agricultural ponds. These ponds change and disrupt the habitats of freshwater fish, as do road crossings.