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From the College of Natural Sciences
Marc Airhart is the Communications Coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. A long time member of the National Association of Science Writers, he has written for national publications including Scientific American, Mercury, The Earth Scientist, Environmental Engineer & Scientist, and StarDate Magazine. He also spent 11 years as a writer and producer for the Earth & Sky radio series.
Former Preschoolers Return to Lab School After Seven Decades

Former Preschoolers Return to Lab School After Seven Decades

​Seven former preschool students of Dr. Phyllis Richards met for a reunion at the Priscilla Pond Flawn Child and Family Laboratory on Friday, June 30. That might not seem so unusual, except that Dr. Richards is 97 years old and her former students are in their 70s. They've known Dr. Richards since they were two or three years old. She was a freshly minted teacher when she came to teach preschool at the lab school in 1948.

Frogs Illustrate the Creative Destruction of Mass Extinctions

Frogs Illustrate the Creative Destruction of Mass Extinctions

A tree frog (genus Boophis) found on Madagascar and Mayotte Island, off the Southeast coast of Africa. Credit: Brian Freiermuth/Univ. of Florida

Until now, biologists have struggled to reconstruct an accurate family tree for frogs. Based on fossils and limited genetic data, it appeared that most modern frog species popped up at a slow and steady pace from about 150 million to 66 million years ago. New research shows that a mass extinction 66 million years ago sparked an explosion of new frog species.

New Technique Enables Safer Gene-Editing Therapy Using CRISPR

New Technique Enables Safer Gene-Editing Therapy Using CRISPR

A CRISPR protein targets specific sections of DNA and cuts them. Scientists have turned this natural defense mechanism in bacteria into a tool for gene editing. Illustration: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/Univ. of Texas at Austin.

Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin took an important step toward safer gene-editing cures for life-threatening disorders, from cancer to HIV to Huntington's disease, by developing a technique that can spot editing mistakes a popular tool known as CRISPR makes to an individual's genome. The research appears today in the journal Cell.

Biologist Earns Career Award from Humboldt Foundation

Biologist Earns Career Award from Humboldt Foundation

The Humboldt Foundation has chosen UT Austin professor of integrative biology Mathew Leibold to receive the Humboldt Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements in research. The award is valued at around $70,000.

Spying on Fish Love Calls Could Help Protect Them from Overfishing

Spying on Fish Love Calls Could Help Protect Them from Overfishing

Marine scientists have discovered a way to use the incredibly loud, distinctive sounds that fish make when they gather to spawn--not to catch them but to protect them. Illustration credit: Jenna Luecke/Univ. of Texas at Austin.

About a third of the world's fish stocks are being overfished, meaning they're being harvested faster than they can reproduce, and species that spawn seasonally in large groups are especially vulnerable, easy for fishers to locate and plucked from the water often before they've seeded the next generation.

Chemist Searches for Less Toxic Compound to Preserve Organs

Chemist Searches for Less Toxic Compound to Preserve Organs

A computer simulation shows how DMSO molecules (red, white and yellow) form hydrogen bonds with water molecules (red and white). Credit: Carlos Baiz.

About a third of all deaths in the U.S. could be prevented or substantially delayed by organ transplantation, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. military. The main bottleneck is that there is no practical way to preserve organs for more than a few hours. If you try to freeze a whole organ, water within and between cells forms ice crystals that cause the cells to rupture.

Physicists Launch Experiment to Probe a Muon Mystery

Physicists Launch Experiment to Probe a Muon Mystery

The Muon g-2 magnet ring with instrumentation, awaiting muons. Credit: Fermilab.

Physicists have been puzzled ever since an experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the late 1990s found that muons, elementary particles produced when cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, have slightly different magnetic properties than predicted. If true, it could mean a shakeup is in store for the theoretical framework that physicists use to describe the universe.

Outnumbered and on Others’ Turf, Misfits Sometimes Thrive

Outnumbered and on Others’ Turf, Misfits Sometimes Thrive

Two male sticklebacks of the same age—one from a stream (top) and one from a lake (bottom)—are each highly adapted to their own local environment. According to Bolnick, apart from a dramatic difference in size, the fish also differ in immune traits, body shape, armor to defend against predators, and “basically anything we can think to measure.” Photo credit: Daniel Berner.

It's hard being a misfit: say, a Yankees fan in a room full of Red Sox fans or a vegetarian at a barbecue joint. Evolutionary biologists have long assumed that's pretty much how things work in nature too. Animals that wander into alien environments, surrounded by better-adapted locals, will struggle. But a team of researchers from The University of Texas at Austin was surprised to find that sometimes, misfits can thrive among their much more numerous native cousins.

First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton

First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton

A partly harvested cotton field. This photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman.

With prices down and weather patterns unpredictable, these are tough times for America's cotton farmers, but new research led by Z. Jeffrey Chen at The University of Texas at Austin might offer a break for the industry. He and a team have taken the first step toward a new way of breeding heartier, more productive cotton through a process called epigenetic modification.

Biofilm Discovery Suggests New Way to Prevent Dangerous Infections

Biofilm Discovery Suggests New Way to Prevent Dangerous Infections

Pseudomonas bacteria forming a biofilm. Credit: Vernita Gordon/U. of Texas at Austin.

Microbial biofilms—dense, sticky mats of bacteria that are hard to treat and can lead to dangerous infections—often form in medical equipment, such as flexible plastic tubing used in catheters or in tubes used to help patients breathe. By some estimates, more than 1 million people contract infections from medical devices in U.S. hospitals each year, many of which are due to biofilms. A study from The University of Texas at Austin suggests a possible new way to prevent such biofilms from forming, which would sharply reduce incidents of related hospital-borne infection.