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From the College of Natural Sciences
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).

Technological Leaps Help Biologists Study Quickly Changing Landscapes

Technological Leaps Help Biologists Study Quickly Changing Landscapes

Biologists, naturalists and ecologists are typically known for conducting boots-on-the-ground field research, whether it is hiking through the jungles of Costa Rica to study rare frogs, paddling along Arctic coastlines to study sources of carbon or studying endangered birds in South Texas. But increasingly, technology is expanding the work these scientists can do beyond where their feet alone can take them.

New Tumor Cell Tracking System Aims to Understand Cancer Treatment Resistance

New Tumor Cell Tracking System Aims to Understand Cancer Treatment Resistance

HeLa cells, a cancerous cell line used by researchers around the world to study a large variety of important research questions. Photo credit: Tom Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research. Photo courtesy of NIH.

Despite tremendous advances in medicine, tumors are challenging to cure because they are made up of heterogeneous cells. In other words, like human families, the individual cells of a tumor share some common traits and characteristics, but as the tumor expands, the cells also develop their own identities. And, as a result, some cells are more resistant to therapy than others and quicker to adapt and change.

Combining Agrochemicals More Harmful to Bees than Previously Understood

Combining Agrochemicals More Harmful to Bees than Previously Understood

When multiple agrochemicals are used, their effects on bees can be magnified. Photo courtesy of Emily Bailes.

Bees perform critical services in ecosystems, including by pollinating the plants that humans and other animals rely on for food. According to new research, however, bees exposed to multiple types of agricultural chemicals face much greater risk than previously understood. The finding, published in the journal Nature, has researchers raising the alarm that regulatory approval processes need updating to allow for more consideration of the environmental risks brought about by these chemicals' interactions.

Unlocking Secrets of Some of the World’s Smallest Viruses

Unlocking Secrets of Some of the World’s Smallest Viruses

A typical flu virus is so small that a thousand of them could fit in the width of a human hair.

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

The three-year study focused on Coyote Ridge, a grassland near San Jose, California, which has several endemic plant species. Credit: Erika Zavaleta/University of California, Santa Cruz.

The loss of plant species that are especially vulnerable to climate change might lead to bigger problems than previous studies have suggested, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If confirmed, the findings can help inform conservation strategies and lead to more accurate predictions about what ecosystems will look like in the future.