Gene drives have the potential to revolutionize approaches to major public health, conservation, and agricultural problems. For instance, gene drives might one day prevent mosquitoes from spreading a variety of deadly diseases, including Zika virus, malaria, and others. A form of genetic modification, the technology works by causing a particular genetic element to spread through populations, thereby making it possible to change species in the wild. Despite the significant promise, caution is warranted, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Committee on Gene Drive Research. According to the committee, gene drives raise a variety of ecological and regulatory questions that have yet to be answered. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by committee co-chair Dr. James P. Collins of Arizona State University and committee member Dr. Joseph Travis of Florida State University. They fill us in on the specifics of the report and on the future of gene drives.
The world faces unprecedented environmental transformation. Successfully managing and adapting to a rapidly changing Earth requires the swift action of well-informed policymakers. In a State of the Science report for BioScience, Audrey Mayer of Michigan Technological University and her colleagues describe a major role for the field of landscape ecology in informing policy and management. She joins us on this episode of BioScience Talks to chat about the article and discuss some practical applications--both those in use now and those on the horizon. Because landscape ecology operates at multiple scales and across human and natural systems, it is a uniquely powerful tool for those who will make tomorrow's environmental and land-use policies.
The potentially devastating effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs are well known, but the methods used to evaluate the threats are often focused on individual species, viewed in isolation, and often in a laboratory. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Peter Edmunds of California State University, Northridge, who describes that issue and talks about the broad-scale inter-species and inter-population dynamics that may have unforeseen consequences for ocean ecosystems. In particular, differences across scales--from organisms to populations, to communities and ecosystems--will have major impacts on reefs. For instance, differently responding symbiotic species could alter a reef's community structure--and, ultimately, the health of the reef as a whole
Globally declining fish populations are a frequently cited ecological and commercial calamity, but relatively little attention has been paid to the specific threats faced by fish that gather and spawn in large groups. Because they gather in such large groups, these fish are at particular risk of overfishing and population collapse. In this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Yvonne Sadovy, of the University of Hong Kong and Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA), who studies these aggregate spawners. In our discussion, she outlines the unique threats faced by these species, which also include ineffective management techniques better suited toward fish with different life histories. She also outlines the mechanisms that might help preserve these aggregations in the years to come.
Habitat destruction and the direct exploitation of species often occupy center stage in discussions of biodiversity perils. However, indirect harms, such as that posed by nitrogen pollution, remain underappreciated and poorly understood despite playing a key role in species declines. The mechanisms of nitrogen's impacts are diverse and often involve hard-to-pinpoint chains of causality. For this episode, we're joined by Dr. Dan Hernandez of Carleton College and Dr. Erika Zavaleta of the University of California, Santa Cruz. They and their colleagues recently conducted a survey of 1400 species listed under the US Endangered Species Act, finding a total of 78 that face known hazards from excess nitrogen. They describe their findings here.
Animal-borne diseases have ruled the news cycle recently—from Zika and Ebola to SARS and MERS. However, little is known about the spread of these diseases in their animal hosts. More perplexing, the mechanisms that lead to human outbreaks remain elusive. Dr. Dan Salkeld of Colorado State University hopes to change that through the study of plague—the disease responsible for the Black Death in the Middle Ages. Plague is now a worse problem for the prairie dogs that Salkeld studies than it is for humans, but understanding its unique ecology may shed light elsewhere. By using plague and its complex, multispecies dynamics as a model, Salkeld hopes that we can achieve key insights into why, how, and when diseases like Ebola and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome spill over into human populations.
Across the United States, record quantities of corn and soybeans have been harvested in recent years. However, according Dr. David Gustafson of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation, this trend may soon change. The combined and uncertain effects of climate change could have a devastating impact on grain yields in the US Midwest, with major global implications for food security. To address these rising threats, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues propose a new, coordinated network of field research sites at which precise data on the performance of current and future crops, cropping systems, and farm-level management practices in the US Midwest could be gathered. Dr. Gustafson joins us to describe the plan.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of contact with nature for human well-being. However, despite strong trends toward greater urbanization and declining green space, little is known about the social consequences of such contact. Netta Weinstein, senior lecturer at Cardiff University, and her team used a nationally representative UK study to examine the relationships between social cohesion and exposure to nature. The interrelationships were complex, but the results indicate that, even when controlling for numerous possible confounds, nature exposure may account for meaningful amounts of variance in crime and perceived community well-being.
The integration of data from two or more domains is required for addressing many fundamental scientific questions and understanding how to mitigate challenges affecting humanity and our planet. In March 2015, AIBS convened a workshop that brought together more than two dozen experts in genetics, genomics and metagenomics, biology, systematics, taxonomy, ecology, bio- and ecoinformatics, and cyberinfrastructure development. The workshop was co-chaired by Dr. Corinna Gries, Lead Information Manager at the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin, who joins us to discuss the challenge of complex data integration and AIBS's upcoming Council Meeting on Addressing Biological Informatics Workforce Needs.
Eighty-one percent of US science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) university faculty members are men. The relative dearth of women in the field is a long-recognized problem—but it's one that may be on its way to a solution. Using a three-step intervention derived from self-determination theory, an interdisciplinary team from Montana State University demonstrated a low-cost way to improve gender diversity in STEM-faculty hiring. The results were impressive, with search committees in the intervention group 6.3 times more likely to make an offer to a woman candidate. Dr. Alexander Zale was part of the team, and he joins us on this episode of BioScience Talks.
"Forest restoration" is a common conservation theme, often promoted as a means of repairing degraded landscapes and boosting carbon storage. But when the planting areas are poorly chosen, these initiatives have the potential to eradicate ancient grasslands, with devastating effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services. In Episode #5 of BioScience Talks, Joseph Veldman of Iowa State University describes the millions of acres of grassy biomes currently under threat from forestation and the efforts under way to protect them.
Human-caused fires have the potential to hugely alter tropical forests—and the world at large. In this episode, we talk to Dr. Jennifer Balch, of the University of Colorado–Boulder. She discusses a long-term experiment in which she and her team deliberately lit fires in the Brazilian Amazon, with the aim of simulating the fires that are often released when people use burning to clear land. The forests were resilient to initial burning, but when a major drought hit in 2007, things changed quickly. The combined effects of drought and fire have huge implications, from grassland incursion and climate change to rainforest loss at previously unmeasured levels.
The article is part of a BioScience Special Section on Tropical Forest Responses to Large-Scale Experiments.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs; article here) are one of the biggest stories in biology. These tiny "packets" are released by cells and constitute a previously misunderstood means of intracellular communication -- and their implications are huge. In humans, EVs can reveal disease, including some cancers and viral infections, and EV technology may soon replace many tissue biopsies. In addition, vesicles can be loaded with targeted treatments for a variety of diseases. The role that EVs will play in medicine is only beginning to be understood.
In this episode, I'm joined by Drs. Xandra Breakefield and Mikolaj Zaborowski, two Harvard Medical School researchers working at the forefront of the field.
Fast-growing transgenic salmonids are currently being developed for eventual human consumption. Dr. Robert Devlin and his team seek to evaluate the ecological threats posed by these GMO fish. In this discussion, he outlines the uncertainty inherent in these risk assessments and explains areas of potential future study. Read the full article: http://io.aibs.org/devful
In our first episode, we discuss the concept of coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) with Dr. Jiquan Chen, of Michigan State University, who studies CHANS on the Mongolian Plateau. The CHANS concept enables the quantification of interacting human and biophysical factors, which can help shed light on how these systems work.