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From the College of Natural Sciences
Alma Solis’s Research Helps Protect Farms from Pests and Control Invasive Plants

Alma Solis’s Research Helps Protect Farms from Pests and Control Invasive Plants

Alma Solis (B.S. '78, M.S. Biology, '82) is a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and curator for the Smithsonian Institution.

Alma Solis. Photo credit: Vivian Abagiu.
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In Singing Mice, Scientists Find Clue to Our Own Rapid Conversations

In Singing Mice, Scientists Find Clue to Our Own Rapid Conversations

Alston's singing mouse. Photo by Bret Pasch.

Studying the songs of mice from the cloud forests of Costa Rica, researchers from New York University School of Medicine and The University of Texas at Austin have identified a brain circuit that might enable the high-speed back and forth of human conversation. This insight, published online today in the journal Science, could help researchers better understand the causes of speech disorders and point the way to new treatments.

Texas Invasive Species Program Gets Boost from Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation

Texas Invasive Species Program Gets Boost from Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation

Destructive and costly fire ants, crazy ants, moth larvae and invasive grasses can wreak havoc on Texas ecosystems, but biologists at The University of Texas at Austin are bringing the fight to them. With the help of a $6 million continuing grant from the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation, researchers in the Texas Invasive Species Program will seek n...
Beauty, Bonding and Rethinking Evolution

Beauty, Bonding and Rethinking Evolution

Across the animal kingdom, males and females of the same species are often locked in a battle of the sexes. The instigator is evolution itself. It drives them to develop weapons, tactical tricks and defensive maneuvers that aid in an animal's fight to pass its genes on to a new generation.

Central Texas Salamanders, Including Newly Identified Species, At Risk of Extinction

Central Texas Salamanders, Including Newly Identified Species, At Risk of Extinction

This newly identified, unnamed salamander lives near the Pedernales river west of Austin, Texas. Photo credit: Tom Devitt.

Biologists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered three new species of groundwater salamander in Central Texas, including one living west of Austin that they say is critically endangered. They also determined that an already known salamander species near Georgetown is much more endangered than previously thought.

Evolution Used Same Genetic Formula to Turn Animals Monogamous

Evolution Used Same Genetic Formula to Turn Animals Monogamous

In many non-monogamous species, females provide all or most of the offspring care. In monogamous species, parental care is often shared. In these frogs, parental care includes transporting tadpoles one by one after hatching to small pools of water. In the non-monogamous strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio, left) moms perform this task; however, in the monogamous mimic poison frog (Ranitomeya imitator, right) this is dad's job. Credit: Yusan Yan and James Tumulty.

Why are some animals committed to their mates and others are not? According to a new study led by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin that looked at 10 species of vertebrates, evolution used a kind of universal formula for turning non-monogamous species into monogamous species — turning up the activity of some genes and turning down others in the brain.

Females Prefer City Frogs’ Tunes

Females Prefer City Frogs’ Tunes

Túngara frog females prefer the more complex mating calls of urban males.

Urban sophistication has real sex appeal — at least if you're a Central American amphibian. Male frogs in cities are more attractive to females than their forest-frog counterparts, according to a new study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Giant Flightless Birds Were Nocturnal and Possibly Blind

Giant Flightless Birds Were Nocturnal and Possibly Blind

A new analysis of the skulls of extinct elephant birds show they were nocturnal and possibly blind. Credit: John Maisano/University of Texas at Austin.

If you encountered an elephant bird today, it would be hard to miss. Measuring in at over 10 feet tall, the extinct avian is the largest bird known to science. However, while you looked up in awe, it's likely that the big bird would not be looking back.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, including the Occasional Spider Web

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, including the Occasional Spider Web

If creepy-crawly, eight-legged types are the stuff of your Halloween fears, you might want to stop reading here.

Biologists Receive $2 Million to Classify the Microbial World

Biologists Receive $2 Million to Classify the Microbial World

UT Austin biologists have received funding to classify the world’s microbes based on genetics, function and ecology. This image is a tree of life for one group of microbes called archaea. In this case, they are all found in the guts of great apes. Credit: Howard Ochman/University of Texas at Austin.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a team of four researchers, including University of Texas at Austin biologists Howard Ochman and Mark Kirkpatrick, approximately $2 million over three years to classify the entire microbial world into genetic, ecological and functional units. The researchers also aim to understand how diversity originates and to analyze the genetic basis of functional and ecological differences between emerging species.

Common Weed Killer Linked to Bee Deaths

Common Weed Killer Linked to Bee Deaths

Honey bee. Credit: Alex Wild/University of Texas at Austin

The world's most widely used weed killer may also be indirectly killing bees. New research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that honey bees exposed to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, lose some of the beneficial bacteria in their guts and are more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.

Flu Season Forecasts Could Be More Accurate with Access to Health Care Companies’ Data

Flu Season Forecasts Could Be More Accurate with Access to Health Care Companies’ Data

In an era when for-profit companies collect a wealth of data about us, new research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that data collected by health care companies could — if made available to researchers and public health agencies — enable more accurate forecasts of when the next flu season will peak, how long it will last and how many people will get sick.

Fish’s Use of Electricity Might Shed Light on Human Illnesses

Fish’s Use of Electricity Might Shed Light on Human Illnesses

Brienomyrus brachyistius, commonly known as the baby whale.

Deep in the night in muddy African rivers, a fish uses electrical charges to sense the world around it and communicate with other members of its species. Signaling in electrical spurts that last only a few tenths of a thousandth of a second allows the fish to navigate without letting predators know it is there. Now scientists have found that the evolutionary trick these fish use to make such brief discharges could provide new insights, with a bearing on treatments for diseases such as epilepsy.

DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

This illustration shows the most common structure of DNA found in a cell, called B-DNA. Credit: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In the same way that barcodes on your groceries help stores know what's in your cart, DNA barcodes help biologists attach genetic labels to biological molecules to do their own tracking during research, including of how a cancerous tumor evolves, how organs develop or which drug candidates actually work. Unfortunately with current methods, many DNA barcodes have a reliability problem much worse than your corner grocer's. They contain errors about 10 percent of the time, making interpreting data tricky and limiting the kinds of experiments that can be reliably done.

Leafcutter Ants' Success Due to More Than Crop Selection

Leafcutter Ants' Success Due to More Than Crop Selection

A rare peak inside the garden of a leafcutter ant colony reveals the queen (center-left), brood, and an extensive matrix of fungal hyphae that form both the nest structure and the insects' exclusive diet. Public domain image by Alex Wild, for the University of Texas at Austin's "Insects Unlocked" project.

A complex genetic analysis has biologists re-evaluating some long-held beliefs about the way societies evolved following the invention of agriculture—by six-legged farmers.