Environment Health Science Policy 

Imagining Future Wastewater Solutions

By Emily Folk (@EmilySFolk) Wastewater represents a serious risk to human health in both developing and developed countries. Through industrial, commercial, agricultural, and domestic activities, affected sources of water cause illness, disease, and even death. One particular case study serves as an example of these dangers. The Adyar River in Chennai, India, once supported the area’s economy and culture. With the introduction of untreated wastewater, the river soon became an active landfill, inundated with debris and refuse, with a thick consistency that no longer allowed for safe interaction (Hariram, 2017).…

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Biology Botany 

Plants Communicate with Neighbors in Response to Touch

By Radhika Desikan How well do you and your neighbour know each other? Chances are, very little these days. But some living things, including plants, know their neighbours well. According to new research, it appears that what one plant “feels” can also be sensed by its neighbouring plant. Isn’t that remarkable? It is a fact of life that plants do not move from one place to another. Therefore plants, unlike humans, cannot move away from any impending danger, be it a herbivore, a disease-causing microbe, or even the cold and…

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Astronomy Chemistry Paleontology 

Exploding Stars and Life on Earth

By Brian C. Thomas (@DrBrianAstroBio) A massive star that exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago—a supernova—may have helped drive the megalodon to extinction and may even have affected human evolution. Research by an international team of scientists and I have produced the most detailed picture ever of just how such a scenario played out. We’ve combined observations from astrophysics and geochemistry with new computer simulations to explore all the possible effects that life on Earth may have experienced. We’ve found that ozone in the atmosphere could have been…

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Biota Project Blogs Environment 

Living with Wildfires: Fighting Fire with Fire

By Nicholas Dove (@nicholascdove), for The Biota Project How do people live with the threat of wildfires, and what can be done to protect lives? That’s a question on a lot of people’s minds as wildfires get worse and worse each year. If you haven’t already, check out last month’s post by the Biota Project featuring Erin Dickman to learn about how she was evacuated from the Ferguson Fire. This month’s, however, we try to understand how people live with this risk. Fires Have Become More Severe Before we go…

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Paleontology 

Did Plant-Eating Dinosaurs Have Cheeks?

By Ali Nabavizadeh (@Vert_Anatomist) Above: Comparison of previous head muscle reconstruction (on left, showing hypothetical “cheek” muscle) and new head muscle reconstruction (on right) in the horned ceratopsian dinosaur Triceratops. Modified from Nabavizadeh (2018). An animal’s anatomy can tell us a lot about how it lived, including how it moved, how it ate, how it breathed, and just about any other physiological process involving morphology. In studying modern vertebrates, performing dissections is essential for understanding anatomical similarities and differences between various species and what these comparisons can tell us about…

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Biology Botany Chemistry 

To Grow or Not to Grow? Bacteria Make Seeds Think!

By Radhika Desikan A seed is the beginning of new life for most flowering plants. It has all the potential to develop into a new plant, with its own stored food used for germination (the sprouting of a seed). However, if you have done any gardening, you might know that not all seeds always germinate. Whether or not a seed grows into a plant is determined by a number of factors, such as the presence of oxygen, water, and the right temperature. Seeds have a remarkable ability to detect whether…

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Environment Technology 

The Impact of Developing Biofuels on Travel Emissions

By Emily Folk (@EmilySFolk) Approximately 29 percent of the energy the US consumes is for transportation, and about 92 percent of US transportation is fueled by petroleum products. As a result, transportation is the sector that produces the most greenhouse gas emissions in the US. With the threat of climate change and other environmental challenges looming, we need to find a way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Biofuels are one potential solution. What Are Biofuels? Biofuel is fuel made from organic matter known as biomass. This organic matter…

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Maize Biology 

Do We Really Need Fertilizers To Grow Crops?

By Radhika Desikan We all learn that plants can make their own food via a complex process called photosynthesis. However, to make their food, and to grow properly, plants need nutrients (chemicals) such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium from the soil. Although these chemicals are naturally present in most soils, years of intensive farming have depleted soils of these nutrients. As a result, humans have resorted to using artificial fertilizers, which are basically synthetic nutrients manufactured through a process that uses a lot of energy, and produces a lot…

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Geology 

The Wonderful World of Minerals

By Nadine Gabriel (@NadWGab) There are currently 5414 known minerals, from abellaite to zykaite. But what exactly are minerals? And how are they used in our everyday life? A mineral is a naturally occurring element or compound that is solid at room temperature and has an ordered atomic arrangement. Since some people get minerals mixed up with rocks, here’s a simple analogy you can use to memorise the distinction: minerals are like Lego blocks—they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colours; rocks, on the other hand, are like…

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Biology Genetics 

Did Life On Earth Start as an RNA World?

By Emily Bentley You might not speak Latin, but you probably understand the concept of omnis cellula e cellula—all cells come from other cells. For several thousand years, many scholars endorsed the idea of spontaneous generation, which held that certain plants and animals are created whole from inorganic matter like dust, mud, or rotting meat. In 1668 this notion was disproved by Italian physician and biologist Francesco Redi. His experiments showed that maggots appeared only on meat that had been exposed to egg-laying flies, providing some of the first evidence…

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