Thursday, May 28, 2009

Farming ants reveal evolution secrets

“Ants have been growing fungus for 50 million years,” says biologist Nicole Gerardo. “That provides a lot of time for many adaptations to arise, and for the ants’ agricultural practices to become more advanced.”

For example, bacteria on the body of some ants inhibits a killer of the ants’ fungus crop. “Humans go and buy an insecticide for a particular pest in their gardens, but these ants have the pesticide right on their bodies,” Gerardo says.

The Gerardo lab studies the environmental, chemical and molecular processes that occur between bacteria, the ants and the fungi. This complex symbiosis could provide clues to improving agriculture methods and fighting human diseases.

Take a video tour of the world of these fascinating gardening ants, including micro footage by biology research specialist Nancy Lowe.

Working through the bugs of evolution

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Using computers to explore the brain

Purkinje cells are among the most complex neurons in the brain. They can fire enormously fast, generating 100 spikes in activity every second. Hundreds of thousands of Purkinje cells are located in the cerebellar cortex, and each of these cells receives inputs from up to 200,000 other neurons.

"That just tells you how densely wired the brain is – it's a complex grid of connections," says biologist Dieter Jaeger. His lab is working at the forefront of computational neuroscience. He uses software to make 3D models of neurons from rat brains, and then applies differential equations to these models to simulate neural processes via the Emory High Performance Compute Cluster.

"We're trying to figure out the essence of information processing in the brain, and find clues to help cure diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," says Jaeger. He compares the work of mapping the brain's processes to that of the early explorers of the Earth: "We're still finding new continents as we go."

Jaeger is one of the featured speakers in this week's workshop on Computational Modeling of Complex Human Systems. You can meet him and Emory scientists from a range of disciplines involved in computational modeling at a reception this afternoon, from 4 to 6 pm., in Cox Ballroom.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beryllium dimer: Caught in the act of bonding

From Science News:

Beryllium is one of those self-loathing elements. Like helium or neon, an atom of beryllium should not partner with another, chemical theory says. But new research, published online May 21 in Science, definitively reports the nature of the beryllium-beryllium bond.

“It is a very peculiar molecule,” says Emory physical chemist Michael Heaven, who led the new work. The Be atom is small, and the calculations that describe its electronic and molecular properties “seem like something you can do with a paper and pencil,” he says. “But it turns out to be something where you need a supercomputer.”

Heaven's work was also featured in Nature.

Study discovers atoms can bond

Monday, May 18, 2009

Geeks invade Hollywood

Following the publication of his book "Hollywood Science: Movies, Science and the End of the World," physics professor Sidney Perkowitz has now come up with a peer-reviewed list of good and bad science fiction movies. Read what the London Times has to say about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Helping South Africa build a biotech industry

Chemical & Engineering News visits South Africa, to learn about the emerging biotech industry in the country. The trip included a visit to iThemba Pharmaceuticals, started by Emory chemist Dennis Liotta and other researchers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's your family's story?

View photo essay by Susan Smith, "Invisible Ranks."

From exploring the pain of dementia, to parent-child bonds formed through reading, the new online Journal of Family Life continues the path-breaking work of the Emory Center on Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL).

The journal is currently accepting submissions on how families are adjusting to the recession. "We are interested in stories, rather than statistics, about family budgets, unemployment, searching for work, and paying bills and the mortgage," says Journal editor Marshall Duke, a child psychologist. "We want the Journal of Family Life to be a forum for how family life has changed because of the economy."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spotting jaguars, in nature and art

"The jaguar is a very powerful animal, with a mystique," said John Polisar, a jaguar expert from the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a recent talk on science and art at the Carlos Museum. Although revered by ancient cultures in the Americas, the jaguar today is highly vulnerable to humans, and its habitat has contracted by 50 percent.

"Jaguars were an intermediary between humans and nature," said Rebecca Stone, curator of art of the ancient Americas at the Carlos. She showed ancient pottery that portrayed a shaman transforming into a jaguar, "to get the wisdom and power of the animal, to bring it back to heal people," she said.

For more on how science, nature, spiritualism and art blended in the ancient Americas, listen to this Carlos Museum podcast on shamanism.