• microbiome_portrait

The Value of Art to Science—A story of rotting bodies, belly buttons and the music of symbiosis

In The Man Who Touched His Own Heart I tell the story of the artist Leonardo da Vinci’s discoveries inside bodies. Among the most astonishing of his efforts came late one afternoon in 1508 when…

“a Vinci was at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, a church hospital. He was not a doctor, but he already knew more about the human body than almost anyone else who had ever lived. He was talking with a very old man, a centenarian. The man, who is known to history simply as il vecchio, the old one, was kind and garrulous. He had lived […]

By |June 4th, 2015|Belly Button Biodiversity, Books, Hearts, Science Art, Video|3 Comments
  • 1024px-Al_Razi_Receuil_de_traite_de_medecine_translated_by_Gerard_de_Cremone_Second_half_of_13th_century

How Islamic Scholars Saved Knowledge (and Science)

My grandfather was concerned with a relatively small number of things in the last years of his life; one of those things was the dark ages. As an intensely curious man, a furiously curious man, he could not fathom how even a single generation of humans lacked the spirit necessary to try to understand their world better than the generations prior. He couldn’t understand a single such generation much less the hundred of them that actually occurred.

And yet history is unequivocal. For more than a thousand years knowledge failed to advance. Rome was sacked. The ignorant book-burning masses moved in. […]

By |June 3rd, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments
  • whipworm_egg

Ecological Medicine: Can intestinal worms cure us of our modern pandemics?

wormy_intro2

Hundreds of self-experiments, tens of thousands of worms

In 1976, Jonathan Turton, a British parasitologist was suffering from allergies. Most of the time scientists suffer from maladies just like everyone else. They sniffle. They whine. They ache and curse the universe. They eat the soup that reminds them of their mothers. But sometimes this is not enough. Sometimes a scientist will wake up in the middle of the night with the nagging feeling that she or he is clever enough to do something more. This is when the scientist will start to read […]

By |May 29th, 2015|Uncategorized|4 Comments

The Arthropods of San Francisco (and beyond)

What’s that crawling under your bed… sitting in your light fixture… lurking in your cabinets? Perhaps it’s a new insect species! The Arthropods of Our Homes project has expanded beyond Raleigh — to San Francisco, and from there all seven continents will be sampled for the common arthropods in homes. Watch the video to see more about the arthropods found in San Francisco homes as well as some familiar faces (Matt Bertone and Michelle Trautwein).

“Other than a few pest species, we know very little. There’s still a lot to discover… You don’t have to be an […]

  • Mite-thum

12 Questions from students about the (Wild) Life of Our Bodies

Today we have a special Q & A from Kelly Allen and her East Chapel Hill HS Biology II (Human Biology) students. Each year Allen’s students participate in Biology Book Clubs and this year they read Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Without further ado, questions asked by high school juniors and seniors to Rob Dunn:  

Amanda: Why did humans lose their ability to detect who a person is by their scent, while other primates and mammals still are able to do so?  Since its something needed for survival, I would have thought that our ability to smell would have improved, so […]

By |May 18th, 2015|Belly Button Biodiversity, Q & A, Your Mites|0 Comments
  • missing_underwear

Help us Solve The Mystery of the Danish Underpants

Recently, Pernille Hjort from the Danish Museum of Natural History visited us in Raleigh to exchange ideas about new projects in public science. It was an opportunity for grand scheming, but also to take note of things available in the American South but missing from Danish society. The Danes may have universal health care, free college education and a bike culture that makes biking to work easier than driving, but as Pernille noted, they don’t have turkey vultures, blue birds or robins. But while life in Denmark and the American South may be relatively similar apart from these subtleties […]

By |May 4th, 2015|Cat Tracker|7 Comments
  • LaurenNichols-20150405-IMG_6550 (2)

On Joining the Lab (Boat)

Some people go from early life to death focused on one mystery. This approach, I am told, can be very satisfying. One of my mentors, Carl Rettenmeyer, spent fifty years studying the animals that live with army ants. In this endeavor Carl found enough rewards and mystery to sustain another dozen lives.

Yet while I appreciate (at least in an abstract sense) the fruits of such an approach, it is not for me. My greatest scientific joys come instead from making connections across fields, connections that require me to read about and engage scientists who do work very different from that which […]

By |April 26th, 2015|Behind the Scenes, Your Wild Life Team|0 Comments
  • housefinch_jml

Invasion of the House Finch

Once upon a time, House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) only lived west of the Rocky Mountains. Then, in 1940, a group of captive birds flew to freedom from their New York cages. Their numbers slowly grew until there was a population explosion. Today, House Finches reside throughout the U.S. and Mexico.

There’s a downside to dense populations though – disease. In the 1990s, a bacterium (Mycoplasma gallisepticum) started swirling among groups of House Finches. The infection causes conjunctivitis (like “pinkeye”) in the birds. If you’re a bird with swollen eyelids and crusty build up, you’re not going to be very good at […]

By |April 22nd, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments
  • aya_the_thief

Tracking Kleptomaniac Cats

Aya the cat has an interesting secret life, to say the least. When we started tracking outdoor cats with Cat Tracker in Raleigh/Durham to see where they were going when they weren’t lazily sitting on their human’s porches… we never expected that one of the cats that would sport a GPS unit would be a famous kleptomaniac living in Copenhagen.

Three-year-old Aya is a Danish cat; a semi-serious looking black male cat with a penchant for work gloves. It all started innocently enough in the Summer of 2012 — when Aya’s human neighbors were getting a new roof […]

By |April 16th, 2015|Cat Tracker|3 Comments
  • 28527

The Bear

I was staying in a one, room shack beside a river. The river, a majestic river, reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. My girlfriend was visiting. At night she punched me when a mouse ran over her face. It remains unclear whether her intent was to hurt the mouse or, as I now suspect, me. Each morning the old Czech woman across the dirt road would bring me a glass of fresh milk from the cows. She spoke little Spanish, I no Czech. I couldn’t convince her of the truth, that I am unable to digest milk much […]

By |April 13th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments
  • dunns_provocation

Could there be 200 million species on Earth?

Recently, one of my colleagues, Brian Brown, found thirty new species of flies in urban Los Angeles. Species not yet named. Species not yet studied. Species that could be of great value to society (or, less likely, great cost) but that had just gone missed, flying among highways and movie stars.

The discovery made by Brown and his team is wondrous, revelatory, awesome, and makes me want to look for new species of flies in my own backyard. But, in a broad sense, it is not a surprise, for one simple reason, two hundred million species live on Earth […]

By |April 13th, 2015|Books, Homes, Wild Life of Our Home|2 Comments
  • shared_parasites_v2

Chimps and Humans are Less Similar than We Thought

Mary Claire King, as much as any individual scholar, has changed how we think about what it means to be human. She did so using genetics as a lens through which to see what was otherwise invisible. In her hands this lens offered many insights. It was King who first identified a key gene in breast cancer. It was King who helped to identity the missing dead in Argentina in the 1980s. It would also be King who, in 1975, first compare the genetic similarity of humans and chimpanzees. It was known chimpanzees and humans were similar, kin, but just how similar? One could […]

By |April 8th, 2015|Books, Hearts|3 Comments

The Magic Seeds of UCONN EEB

500px-EEB_forweb_smaller

The amazing thing about trees is that they start as seeds. Some small enough for ants to carry. Others that ride in the guts of bats. Others still that float in the wind, tumbling across fields and continents.

Similarly, the amazing thing about the best scientists is that they start as students. As I say this, I am not thinking about my own students (though my own students have been wonderful, the highlights of my professional life), I am thinking about the young people with whom I started graduate school.

I went to […]

By |April 6th, 2015|Uncategorized|3 Comments
  • beatspercountry_ywl

The Single Best Predictor of How Many Heartbeats You Will Experience

The single easiest way to increase the number of heartbeats you can expect to experience in your life is to move. Geography is a far better predictor, even within the United States, of your longevity than is any other variable.

Much of modern of medicine is focused on getting those of us in developed countries a few more heartbeats (several magazines have recently run articles about the possibility of living to two hundred). But, the truth is that far more beats can be gained for humanity—more moments of joy, difficulty, or pleasure, moments of anything—by making health care and public health more equitable […]

By |March 30th, 2015|Hearts|0 Comments
  • liveOak_Landin

Gnarly Trees

Branches of the live oak (Quercus virginiana) loop and twist their way toward openings in the forest canopy. Many branches sag down to the ground before stretching back up again.

These low branches help the oak survive in the hurricane-prone regions of the southeastern US. Short, wide trees resist strong winds better than tall, thin ones.

Those curvy branches helped the USS Constitution stay afloat during the War of 1812. Live oak limbs were frequently used in ship building due to their natural bends, strength and density.

By |March 30th, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments