Agricultural areas are often considered distinct from local ecosystems, and in many cases, such an assessment rings true. Single-crop farmlands, reliant on the liberal use of pest- and herbicides, often limit local biodiversity and species interactions. However, in other agricultural settings, robust ecosystems thrive, intermingled with crops and supporting a diversity of species.
One such acroecosystem is coffee's. On shade-coffee farms, the coffee plant is consumed by numerous pests, including the green coffee scale, coffee berry borer, and coffee rust disease. In turn, these species are regulated by a variety of natural enemies, through processes of often staggering complexity. In a major BioScience Overview article, John Vandermeer of the University of Michigan and his colleagues aim to untangle such complexities and get at the heart of pest control in the coffee system, emphasizing the intersection of ecology with "the burgeoning field of complex systems, including references to chaos, critical transitions, hysteresis, basin or boundary collision, and spatial self-organization."
Dr. Vandermeer joins us on this episode of BioScience Talks to discuss the coffee agroecosystem—and the many species and dynamics that underlie it.
Peer review lies at the heart of the grant selection process and, by extension, the scientific enterprise itself. To inform their decisions, funders rely on grant reviewers—most of whom volunteer their time—to evaluate numerous proposals. However, despite its massive importance to science and society, peer review itself remains inadequately studied and often poorly understood.
To shed light on this critical institution, American Institute of Biological Sciences chief scientist Stephen Gallo and his colleagues recently published the results of a major survey. It is joined by a grant review report from Publons, a company housed within Clarivate Analytics that helps researchers track their research and review outputs and works to encourage greater recognition of scientists' work.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, we are joined by Stephen Gallo and Matthew Hayes, director of Publons, who discuss the survey results and shed light on the future of peer review.
This episode is the second in our new oral history series, In Their Own Words. These pieces chronicle the stories of scientists who have made great contributions to their fields, particularly within the biological sciences. Each month, we will publish in the pages of BioScience, and on this podcast, the results of these conversations. Today, we are joined by Dr. Kent Holsinger, board of trustees distinguished professor of biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He also previously served as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Note: Both the text and audio versions have been edited for clarity and length.
This episode marks the first in a new oral history series from BioScience, entitled In Their Own Words. These pieces chronicle the stories of scientists who have made great contributions to their fields, particularly within the biological sciences. Each month, we will publish in the pages of BioScience, and on this podcast, the results of these conversations. This first oral history is with Dr. Rita Colwell, a distinguished environmental microbiologist and scientific administrator, who previously served as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Note: Both the text and audio versions have been edited for clarity and length.
The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), an American Institute of Biological Sciences member society, fosters research, education, public awareness, and understanding of living organisms from molecules and cells to ecology and evolution. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we chatted with presenters and personnel from SICB's 2019 annual meeting, which was held earlier this year in Tampa, Florida. At the meeting, researchers shared work that highlights the value of interdisciplinary, cooperative science integrated across scales, geographies, and disciplines.
Please register for the 2020 Annual SICB Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. See http://sicb.org/meetings/2020 for details.
The BioScience Talks Impact Series focuses on the path from newly gained scientific knowledge to real-world effects, addressing questions such as How does a new vaccine find its way to physicians' offices? How do ecological discoveries result in new natural resource management paradigms? How do gene-editing techniques move from discovery to therapy? By following novel research discoveries from the lab and field to law books and store shelves, we find the answers and highlight the many ways that scientific research improves our lives.
In this inaugural episode, we interviewed Dr. Crystal Icenhour, CEO of Aperiomics, a life sciences company located in Loudoun County, Virginia. The company uses a technique called shotgun metagenomic sequencing identify every known bacteria, virus, fungus, and parasite (over 37,000) found in a given patient sample. Through this revolutionary technique, they are able to identify pathogens that would escape detection using traditional means. We chatted about the technology itself, and just as important, the pathway from innovation to helping patients in need.
By altering the heritability of certain traits, gene drive technologies have the potential to spread desired genes through wild populations. In practice, this could lead to mosquito populations that, for example, bear traits making them resistant to the spread of malaria. Despite the huge potential for improving human well-being, concern exists that gene drives could fail in the wild or spread beyond their intended target populations.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Greg Backus, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, and Jason Delborne, Associate Professor of Science Policy and Society at North Carolina State University's Genetic Engineering and Society Center, describe a potential solution. Threshold-dependent gene drives could limit the spread of wild-released gene drives to target populations, increasing control and reducing the risk of unchecked spread. The authors joined us on this episode of BioScience Talks to discuss the potential of these gene drives—and also some of the questions of controllability, spread, and ecological uncertainty that relate to them.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Christine Webb of Harvard University joins us to talk about the potential for widening the involvement of scientists who study animal behavior in ongoing discussions about animal treatment. She argues that because their work is often used to advance ethical arguments about animals, such as those concerning animal personhood, behavioral scientists are uniquely well positioned to engage more widely in these conversations, with potential benefits accruing to both fields.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Mark Schwartz, of the University of California, Davis, joins us to talk about the National Park Service, and in particular, the challenges facing its oversight of over 400 individual units and 85 million acres of land. Park Service lands are faced with the same ecological difficulties that other wildlands are, and cultural and procedural shifts will be needed to face them, particularly in light of the rising specter of climate change.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Derek R. Armitage of the University of Waterloo, Jennifer J. Silver of the University of Guelph, and Daniel K. Okamoto of Florida State University come on the show to talk about natural resource management. In their recent BioScience article, our guests and their coauthors described the integration of governance with quantitative measures--with an eye toward better managing natural resources to meet desirable social and ecological outcomes. Today, they join us to describe the article and provide some practical examples from fisheries management.
Joanne S. Tornow was selected as assistant director for the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) in February 2019, following almost two decades with the foundation. Her duties ranged from program management to high-level leadership and strategic development, and she previously served as the head of BIO in an interim capacity. Prior to her time at the NSF, Tornow served on the faculty at Portland State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. She joins us on BioScience Talks to discuss the directorate's current operations and future plans. A written version of this conversation is available online and will be published in an upcoming issue of BioScience. Both versions have been edited for clarity.
Invasive species are a hot topic, both in scientific circles and among the public at large. Still, the mechanics of invasions are often opaque, and a broader understanding will be required in order to prevent—and respond to—future species introductions. In a world with ever-increasing trade and changing climate that often renders native species vulnerable, the need for this expanded understanding is acute.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Mitch Cruzan, of Portland State University, in Oregon, describes the history of a particular invasive species, the slender false brome. Originally introduced in Oregon as part of a US Department of Agriculture program, the grass has undergone a hybridization process that enabled it to take hold in much of the state. By understanding the rapid adaptation of the false brome to Oregon's landscapes, it may be possible to unravel the mechanics of future invasions, before they endanger native species.
The concept of resilience is an important one in conservation science and resource management. However, the term itself is often poorly understood, or understood differently by different parties, with potentially troublesome effects for land managers, researchers, and others.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Phillip Higuera (University of Montana), Dr. Alex Metcalf (University of Montana), and their colleagues suggest that a more holistic framework would consider the crucial human element of social-ecological systems. By doing so, managers could work toward outcomes that best fit the ecological needs and human priorities inherent in the system. The work they describe here is focused on fire-prone landscapes, but the approach is broadly applicable across a range of systems.
At the beginning of November 2018, through the collaboration of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), BioScience Talks once again hit the road to attend ASGSR's Annual Meeting. This year's event was held in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. Once again, we had the opportunity to speak with numerous eminent presenters and participants at the meeting, who discussed numerous topics on the cutting edge of space-related research. The topics ranged from the epigenetics of plants in space to zero-gravity plumbing—and just about everything in between.
Natural history specimens housed in museums, herbaria, and other research collections are revolutionizing science—largely as a result of growing efforts to digitize samples and share data among many users.
To meet the robust promise of digital collections, the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) has developed a national agenda that leverages new techniques and capabilities to create what they call the Extended Specimen Network. Members of BCoN join us on this episode of BioScience Talks to describe the newly conceived network and to talk about its potential to change the way science is performed—both now and in the future. Pictured above are our guests at a National Press Club briefing where they formally released their report (from left to right: David Jennings, Andrew Bentley, Linda Ford, Anna Monfils, Jennifer Zaspel, John Bates, Barbara Thiers, and Robert Gropp). Photograph: Samuel Hurd.
The importance of human access to adequate food could not be more clear; however, many questions surround the provision of food among and within countries. What obligations do nations have to provide food for their citizens? Is inequality in food availability a problem that requires political action, or is it simply an unfortunate side effect of food distribution systems and landscapes' ability to produce calories for those who live on them?
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Paolo D'Odorico of the University of California, Berkley, and his colleagues present these questions through the framework of human rights, delving into the various ways in which food availability and inequality are affected by trade. Drawing from a wealth of data, the authors find that, broadly speaking, trade tends to reduce food inequality. But joining us in this episode of BioScience Talks, Dr. D'Odorico cautions that more complex phenomena may lie beneath the surface, confounding simplistic explanations.
In recent years, calls to preserve greater swaths of the Earth's land- and seascapes have grown. In particular, numerous conservationists have called for the protection of half of the planet's surface, a bold initiative that would preserve much of the world's existing biodiversity and ecosystem function. However, the path to such a "half-Earth" preservation model lies largely in uncharted territory, with many potential pitfalls along the way.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Thomas Campagnaro of the University of Padova, in Italy, and his colleagues elucidate one possible route to better landscape preservation. In their article, the authors describe Natura 2000, the world's largest conservation network. Based in the European Union, the network relies on strong governance, flexible designations, and scientific expertise to produce reliable conservation outcomes.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Dr. Campagnaro is joined by coauthors Tommaso Sitzia, also of the University of Padova, and Erle Ellis, of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to discuss the network and the prospects for scaling it up to a planetary scale.
New tools are making it easier to understand not only our genetic code but also the ways that the code's three-dimensional structure contributes to gene expression. This understanding will be vital in the search for cures to diseases with multiple and complex causes, such as lupus. On this episode of BioScience Talks, we discuss one such tool. It's the product of a collaboration among data scientists, medical scientists, and software engineers, and the new "xapp" allows researchers to view the 3D, looped structure of chromatin and examine the ways in which those loops affect our genes' expression.
Richard Pelikan, a bioinformatician at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and Austin Schwinn, a data scientist at Exaptive, joined us on this episode to discuss the collaboration, epigenetics, chromatin looping, and the future of understanding human disease. Images discussed in the podcast can be found below the links.
To conserve species, managers need reliable estimates of their population trends. Samples are gathered over time, but the length of the sampling period is often established using crude rules of thumb rather than good statistical methods. Writing in BioScience, Dr. Easton R. White of the Center for Population Biology at the University of California, Davis, presents an analysis of 820 vertebrate species populations and demonstrates substantial problems with current sampling approaches. He argues that properly statistically powered methods will offer a truer representation of population health—leading to saved money and effort, better knowledge of species health, and ultimately, improved conservation outcomes.
Dr. White joins us on this episode of BioScience Talks to discuss statistical power, his own analyses, and his recommendations for future conservation efforts.
An appreciation of the crucial role of microbiomes, from those aboard the International Space Station to those living in the human gut, is quickly gaining traction among both scientists and members of the general public. Now, a similar appreciation of microbial communities' importance is growing among those who study and restore grasslands and other ecosystems.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Liz Koziol, of Kansas University, and her colleagues describe the current state of knowledge about plant microbiomes, and specifically, the mutualistic relationship between plant species and the fungi that live in and among their roots—mycorrhizal fungi. The authors argue that "reintroduction of the native microbiome and native mycorrhizal fungi improves plant diversity, accelerates succession, and increases the establishment of plants that are often missing from restored communities."
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Koziol joins us to discuss her article and to describe the potential ecological benefits of grassland restoration efforts that include the reintroduction of native plant microbiome species.
Mosquito-borne diseases have plagued humanity for centuries, and a prolific offender has been Aedes aegypti, commonly known as the "yellow fever mosquito." Despite the yellow-fever moniker, it is also a potent carrier of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Jeffrey Powell and his colleagues describe recent work in tracking the spread of this important vector. Using newly available genomic techniques, they cross-referenced the historical divergence of A. aegypti populations with known records of ship movements and disease spread. The results paint a picture of a species that traversed slave and other trade routes to the New World and beyond.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Powell joins us to discuss his work and to elaborate on the evolution and movements of this deadly "domesticated" mosquito species.
Amidst increased tensions over the US–Mexico border, a multinational group of over 2500 scientists have endorsed an article cautioning that a hardened barrier may produce devastating ecological effects while hampering binational conservation. In the BioScience Viewpoint, a group organized by Defenders of Wildlife and others called attention to ecological disturbances that could affect hundreds of terrestrial and aquatic species, notably including the Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we were joined by Rob Peters, Senior Representative with the Southwest Regional Office of Defenders of Wildlife; Rurik List, Head of the Laboratory of Conservation Biology at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Lerma Campus; and Sergio Avila, Wildlife Biologist and a Program Manager with Sierra Club, based in Tucson, Arizona. They discussed the article, the potential effects of a border wall, and some of the other challenges of conducting science in the borderlands.
For some time, "big data" has loomed large as a source of challenges and opportunities for science, but as yet, guidance on how to manage the data deluge has been wanting. Joining us on this episode of BioScience Talks, Kendra Spence Cheruvelil and Patricia A. Soranno, both with Michigan State University, describe a synergistic approach to data-intensive science that hinges on open and collaborative research efforts. By harnessing the strengths of interdisciplinary collaboration and open science, they say, researchers will be better able to use big data to solve global environmental problems.
As synthetic biology emerges into the public sphere, so too does a discussion about the ethical and regulatory questions posed by the field. Because synthetic biology researchers will themselves have broad influence in both the field and the conversations surrounding it, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Wisconsin–Madison sought to shed light on their views. The group first identified a unique sample of synthetic biologists and researchers who focus on ethical, legal, and social issues, then polled them regarding their attitudes and values related to synbio.
For this episode of BioScience Talks, we are joined by Dr. Dietram Scheufele, who discusses the poll's results and also the ways in which synthetic biologists might best engage the public—as experts and as listeners—during and after the field's entrance onto the public and regulatory stage.
Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy, Annenberg School for Communication.
Improving training in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields is a major priority, crucial to the nation's economy and international competitiveness. However, to date, research evaluating the effectiveness of STEM training programs and initiatives has often been lacking.
Writing in BioScience, Alan Wilson of Auburn University, Eric Nagy of the Mountain Lake Biological Station at the University of Virginia, and their colleagues present an assessment of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site programs. They compared the scientific outcomes of demographically matched participants and non-participants and found substantial differences between the two groups. For instance, participants in the REU Site programs were more likely to obtain a STEM PhD and to receive awards, make scientific presentations, and publish the results of their research.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Wilson and Nagy join us to explain their assessment approach and describe the research opportunities at the REU Site programs at their institutions.