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After Fire Damages Stengl Lost Pines, Scientists Say Discovery Will Rise from the Ashes

After Fire Damages Stengl Lost Pines, Scientists Say Discovery Will Rise from the Ashes

College of Natural Sciences staff research scientist and resident manager and volunteer firefighter Steven Gibson coordinates with firefighters at Stengl Lost Pines BIological Stations during the response effort to the Pine Pond Fire. Credit: Larry Gilbert.

​ SMITHVILLE, Texas – At a site where scientists have been conducting research for decades, the recent Pine Pond Fire in Bastrop County damaged outdoor habitats within The University of Texas at Austin's Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station (SLP). No one was hurt and no buildings burned in the fire.

Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Eukaryotic cells. Credit: iStock.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin report in Nature Microbiology the first discovery of viruses infecting a group of microbes that may include the ancestors of all complex life. The discovery offers tantalizing clues about the origins of complex life and suggests new directions for exploring the hypothesis that viruses were essential to the evolution of humans and other complex life forms.

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus). Credit: Marcos Guerra.

Frog-eating bats trained by researchers to associate a phone ringtone with a tasty treat were able to remember what they learned for up to four years in the wild, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean

Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean

Map of the Caribbean region. Generated using ArcGIS Pro online.

With the retreat of sprawling empires after the Second World War, one might think the colonial mindset of taking from smaller countries to support large nations would likewise be relegated to the past. But a new paper in The American Naturalist by an international collaboration of researchers shows how the legacy of colonialism remains deeply entrenched within scientific practice across the Caribbean archipelago.

How Electric Fish Were Able to Evolve Electric Organs

How Electric Fish Were Able to Evolve Electric Organs

UT Austin researchers confirmed that the genetic control region they discovered only controls the expression of a sodium channel gene in muscle and no other tissues. In this image, a green fluorescent protein lights up only in trunk muscle in a developing zebrafish embryo. Image credit: Mary Swartz/Johann Eberhart/University of Texas at Austin.

Electric organs help electric fish, such as the electric eel, do all sorts of amazing things: They send and receive signals that are akin to bird songs, helping them to recognize other electric fish by species, sex and even individual. A new study in Science Advances explains how small genetic changes enabled electric fish to evolve electric organs. The finding might also help scientists pinpoint the genetic mutations behind some human diseases.

Living Laboratories: Field Stations Offer Opportunities for Real-World Science

Living Laboratories: Field Stations Offer Opportunities for Real-World Science

Professor of Integrative Biology Tom Juenger conducts research on switchgrass at biological field stations in Texas and other parts of the country.

On a recent spring Saturday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, families strolled along paths surrounded by a riotous mix of bluebonnets, winecups and evening primrose. Avid gardeners stood in line for a chance to shop the center's annual native plant sale. And a teen in a glittering dress posed for quinceañera pictures beside a pond.

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Edward LeBrun, a research scientist with the Texas Invasive Species Research Program at The University of Texas at Austin’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory, collects tawny crazy ants at a field site in central Texas. Credit: Thomas Swafford/University of Texas at Austin.

When tawny crazy ants move into a new area, the invasive species is like an ecological wrecking ball — driving out native insects and small animals and causing major headaches for homeowners. But scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have good news, as they have demonstrated how to use a naturally occurring fungus to crush local populations of crazy ants. They describe their work this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some Trees May Play an Outsized Role in the Fight on Global Warming

Some Trees May Play an Outsized Role in the Fight on Global Warming

Black locust trees have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that allow them to access nitrogen, which is critical for growth. Credit: iStock.

As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide continue to pile up in the atmosphere, the world is experiencing more destructive extreme weather events like hurricanes, heatwaves, floods and droughts. A new study, published earlier this month in the scientific journal Nature Plants, finds that as Earth continues to warm, a certain group of trees, called nitrogen-fixing trees, may be able to help forests remove more heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere than previously thought.

Evolutionary Roots and that Loving Feeling

Evolutionary Roots and that Loving Feeling

In honor of Valentine's Day, we're taking a look at some evolutionary lessons about love and attraction from College of Natural Science researchers in the Department of Integrative Biology.

Frog Pandemic (Audio)

Frog Pandemic (Audio)

Until COVID-19, few people alive today had experienced the chaos and destruction of a really bad pandemic, one that has at times ground businesses, schools and social lives to a near standstill and killed millions globally. But did you know that we aren't alone in being battered by a global infectious disease? Frogs are also struggling through their own pandemic that, according to biologist Kelly Zamudio, has several eerie parallels with COVID-19. Perhaps our own encounters with a pandemic will give us new sympathy for our slimy, bug-eyed friends.

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Secondary forests at the slope Turrialba volcano in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Rens Brouwer.

Tropical forests are being deforested at an alarming rate, but also have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned lands. A study published this week in Science shows that regrowing tropical forests recover surprisingly fast, and after 20 years can attain nearly 80% of the soil fertility, soil carbon storage, structure and tree diversity of old-growth forests. The study concludes that natural regeneration is a low-cost, nature-based solution for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration.

Switchgrass Genes Offer Advantages as Climate Change Tool

Switchgrass Genes Offer Advantages as Climate Change Tool

While switchgrass has been seen as useful as a clean-burning source of renewable fuel, it also has the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it underground in its substantial root system. Atmospheric carbon is a major contributor to climate change and finding ways to sequester it underground could have impacts on efforts to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Scientists have found over a thousand versions of a natural gene editor in bacteria, which could lead to better gene editing tools to treat diseases. Image courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute.

Few developments have rocked the biotechnology world or generated as much buzz as the discovery of CRISPR-Cas systems, a breakthrough in gene editing recognized in 2020 with a Nobel Prize. But these systems that naturally occur in bacteria are limited because they can make only small tweaks to genes. In recent years, scientists discovered a different system in bacteria that might lead to even more powerful methods for gene editing, given its unique ability to insert genes or whole sections of DNA in a genome.

Like Their Domestic Cousins, Native Bees are Hurt by Pesticides

Like Their Domestic Cousins, Native Bees are Hurt by Pesticides

Image of a Mason Bee or Blueberry Bee (Megachilidae, Osmia sp.) by Alejandro Santillana, Insects Unlocked

Because they are critical in maintaining our food supply, a lot of research and public attention has been focused (rightly) on the health of domesticated honey bees. On the other hand, native bees also play critical roles in their environments, including pollinating flowers and agricultural crops. Unfortunately, hundreds of North American native bee species are in decline, due to a variety of factors including loss of habitat, nutritional stress, climate change and exposure to pathogens and agrochemicals.

Computer Scientist Named to President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Computer Scientist Named to President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

William H. Press, a computer scientist and computational biologist at The University of Texas at Austin, will provide scientific perspective to the White House, as a recently named member of President Biden's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).