Category Archives: Environment

Life Science According to Trump: An Examination of Claims and Facts

By Wren Greaney, History major, Biological Sciences & Community Development minor, ’17

Author’s Note:

I decided to write this article on the Wednesday after the presidential election. After the long whirlwind of campaigning, it seemed that many unanswered questions lingered. Health is one of the most immediate concerns for many people, and when accurate information about health exists, I think it should be provided so that individuals can make informed decisions. This article is an attempt to address a small fraction of the health concerns that were raised during the course of the presidential campaign.” Continue reading Life Science According to Trump: An Examination of Claims and Facts

A Case Report of Tourette Syndrome

By Lo Tuan, Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and Managerial Economics, ’17

Author’s Note:

“I chose to write about Tourette Syndrome because someone who is dear to me was diagnosed with it. Watching him struggle at a young age, I could only imagine how difficult it must have been dealing with strange and disapproving looks from peers and teachers. Through the gradual decline of symptoms over the years, he learned to cope with his tics and sought to educate others about the syndrome. Inspired by his story, I wrote this case report in hopes of share his journey with others.”
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Exploring the Known Unknowns Using the Power of Metagenomics: Discovery of the crAssphage

By Connie Chen, Microbiology, ’15-’16

Author’s Note:

“Metagenomics is the study of genetic material directly from environmental samples such as the soil or the human gut. With whole metagenomic sequencing, it is possible to obtain and analyze every piece of genetic material in the sample. As we being to learn more about the world, it becomes evident that there is more that is unknown. The crAssphage is an example of a “known unknown” because through metagenomics, the virus’s genome has been built and certain properties can be interpreted from the genome, but it has never been seen under a microscope and there is much still unknown about the virus. Metagenomics have opened the doors to analyzing multiple sequences and determining the ecology of the environment. Because metagenomics is becoming more prevalent, it is essential to understand the potential of this growing field. I hope that by learning about the potential of metagenomics, new ideas can sprout from using this technology in order to help others.”

Continue reading Exploring the Known Unknowns Using the Power of Metagenomics: Discovery of the crAssphage

The Infant Airway Microbiome Linked to Childhood Asthma

By Shivani Kamal, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, ’17

Author’s Note:

“I am pursing a career in pediatrics and wanted to familiarize myself with new research regarding health and development of children. I was amazed at the advancements of medical technology which allow us to understand diseases and create potential cures, previously never thought possible. My purpose for writing this review is to show scientific audiences the most current research on how bacteria in the respiratory microbiome has an impact on asthma. Recently, much research initiated by the Human Microbiome Projects (HMP) proved that the bacteria living on and inside humans contribute to the health and disease of the body. This review is meant to educate scientists on the most recent information on development of childhood asthma and prompt others to conduct future research on preventative treatments for the disease.”

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Abundance Estimates And Vegetation Preferences Of The Suisun Song Sparrow In The Interior And Along Edges Of Impounded Wetlands

By Debi Fanucchi, Oscar Garzon, Julia F. Herring, and Kevin M. Ringelman

ABSTRACT

The Suisun Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia maxillaris) is a subspecies of Song Sparrow that is endemic to the Suisun Marsh of California. It is listed as a state species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife due to its restricted range, small breeding population, and susceptibility to encroaching human development. The Suisun Marsh ecosystem is highly altered, and is comprised of both natural tidal wetlands and impounded wetlands that are cut off from the natural tidal cycle. Suisun Song Sparrows are believed to prefer natural tidal wetlands, but there is a lack of information on sparrow densities and habitat associations in impounded wetlands. To address this knowledge gap, we examined the abundance and habitat preferences of Suisun Song Sparrows in an impounded and heavily managed wetland complex.  We conducted surveys at seven sites within interior managed (impounded) wetlands, and seven sites along edges between tidal and impounded wetlands. We found significantly more birds in interior sites than at edge sites, but within edge habitat, abundances were higher on the tidal side of the levee. We found that Song Sparrows used tall vegetation in greater proportion than its abundance, and specifically preferred bulrush and common reed as calling perches. Interior sites contained relatively less of this preferred vegetation than edge sites, suggesting that beneficial habitat heterogeneity in interior sites, and/or deleterious edge effects along the dikes may be important drivers of abundance. In the face of sea-level rise and shifting conservation priorities, many managed wetlands are expected to be converted back into fully tidal systems, and our results provide an important baseline for future research on the effects of tidal restoration.

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Vector and Disease Management Research to Reduce the Effects of Pierce’s Disease in California’s Vineyards

By Natalie Swinhoe, Anthropology and Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity, 2015

Pierce’s Disease in grapevines is a major threat to California’s viticultural economy. Caused by the bacterial strain Xylella fastidiosa, the disease blocks water transfer in the xylem of stems, leading to water stress and eventual death. Until the 1990s, the only carriers for the disease were native Blue-Green Sharpshooters, Graphocephala atropunctata. However, between 1994 and 2000, a devastating outbreak occurred in Southern California, destroying more than 1000 acres of vineyards (Ringenberg et al., 2014). This epidemic was caused by a new nonnative vector- the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, Homalodisca vitripennis (Tumber et al, 2013). Compared to the Blue-Green Sharpshooter, the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter has a much greater capacity to spread Pierce’s Disease because it can fly further and feed on a larger variety of plant parts (Alston et al., 2013, Baccari and Lindow, 2010).

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Learning from Drought in California: Past and Present

By Marisa Sanchez, Molecular and Cellular Biology, ’15

The most current drought in California is considered to be one of the worst droughts in the past century, and many wonder if this severity is due to climate change. However, California has had a long history of unpredictable weather fluctuations, and is familiar with severe droughts. Many droughts can have devastating effects, particularly in the agricultural industry and the hydropower industry. Most Californians have also experienced the effects of a drought first-hand, such as having enforced water rationing. Even though, California’s history has shown that most droughts have devastating effects, droughts can also great learning experiences.

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When the Last Frog Croaks

By Renata Vidovic, Evolution and Ecology ’15

To some, the phrase climate change evokes images of dry lakes, melting icebergs, and rising oceans. However, the effects of global warming are not simply cataclysmic geological changes. There are links between all biotic and abiotic features of an ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, climate change has an immense impact on frog populations around the world. Home range, abundance, breeding cycles, pathogen epidemics, and physical degradation in frogs are all affected by the changing climate.

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“No Ecosystem is an Island”

By Daniel Friedman, Genetics ’14

For years, ecologists have modeled the biodiversity of natural forests as if they were oceanic islands, adrift in an unlivable sea of humanity. However, research published in April in Nature by C. Mendenhall et al. suggest that this is not the most accurate or predictive way to think about these pockets of nature. By comparing bat diversity on countrysides and oceanic islands, they find that fragmented land ecosystems behave markedly different than their oceanic counterparts. They find that forest “islands” maintain species at higher overall levels of biodiversity than ocean islands, and also gain/lose species in unique patterns. This has relevance to humanity’s actions to support biodiversity on land, and suggests the need for new models, metrics, and strategies of conservation.


Mendenhall, C., Karp, D., Meyer, C., Hadly, E., Daily, G., “Predicting biodiversity change and averting collapse in agricultural landscapes”, Nature, 2014.

Image from Abu Shawka, 2009. Creative Commons.

Grass-fed or grain-fed?

By Jenny Cade, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology ’15

Eating grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken is the eco-friendly thing to do–right? Maybe not, according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Science. The study proposes that intensifying livestock production by transitioning from pure grazing to mixed systems–where animals are fed high-energy food like grains–could reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions by 23% by 2030. Currently, livestock account for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, so such a reduction would be significant.

In contrast, a comment piece that appeared in Nature last month calls for increasing grazing to make livestock systems more sustainable. Of eight strategies that the authors outline to reduce the environmental and economic costs of raising livestock, “Feed animals less human food” is number one.

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