Tag Archives: brown bag lunches

Mind the (Canopy) Gap: Recap of a Talk by Dr. Julia Burton

[Photo by Aaron Carlson via CC 2.0] 

The Talk:

Can silvicultural practices be leveraged to maintain diversity in understory plant communities?

In Plain English:

How does cutting down trees affect plant life on the ground?

The Speaker:

Julia Burton of Utah State University

The Sponsor:

USU College of Natural Resources

What It Covered:

Julia Burton studies one of the more neglected niches in forest ecology–the understory. Many conservation researchers and most media reports focus on the “charismatic megafauna”–trees and large mammals, but vines, shrubs, and other plants that live at ankle-level make up a large share of biomass and biodiversity.

North American forest understory plants are often dismissed as weeds or kinda boring plants, but they could play a key role in achieving the goals of silviculture, or forestry.  Burton pointed out that people in forest management are asked to achieve a lot more goals than their counterparts in the past. Not only are forest managers asked to maintain biodiversity, growth, biomass, but they’re also expected to sustain timber production, water resources, ecosystem health, and carbon sequestration ability. 

To do that, we need to understand our forests’ dynamics really well, Burton argued. Her work has focused on the upper MidWest and Northwest, the North American forest with the largest potential for storing carbon against climate change.

Continue reading “Mind the (Canopy) Gap: Recap of a Talk by Dr. Julia Burton” »

Why DNA is like a phone cable (Recap of a Talk by Prof. Jacqueline Barton)

[Computer rendering of DNA. Via Caroline Davis2010 on Flickr & CC 2.0] 

The Talk:

“DNA-mediated Signaling with Metalloproteins”

In Plain English:

DNA can conduct electricity–like metal wire–and that helps the cell life

The Speaker:

Jacqueline Barton of Caltech

The Sponsor:

MIT Inorganic Chemistry (invited by the grad students)

What It Covered:

When Jacqueline Barton’s lab began publishing papers claiming that DNA can conduct electricity, many of her colleagues didn’t believe them. But in experiment after experiment, they kept finding that they could send small amounts of electricity–much lower than the amount that flows through your charger cord–from an electrode on one end of a DNA strand through to the other.

The exceptions were stretches of DNA with “missense mutations“, hiccups in the genetic code that violated the rule of “G” aligns with “C” and “A” aligns with “T”.

A,T, G, and C are biologists’ shorthand for four small molecular structures– adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine– that repeat over and over again along DNA’s backbone. It just so happens that a G-C pair takes up exactly the same amount of space and adds exactly the same amount of twist as an A-T pair.  Anything else–a misplaced guanine, a broken cytosine, or a chemical tag on thymine– throws the DNA’s twist out of whack. And apparently,  the missense mutations also blocked electrical currents’ flow through a tiny gap in the center of the DNA.  Mismatched base pairs or base pairs that were even slightly damaged blocked the electrons’ path. Continue reading “Why DNA is like a phone cable (Recap of a Talk by Prof. Jacqueline Barton)” »

Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: June 2nd through June 8th

Every week, I compile a list of biology-related talks at the universities and museums around the Boston Metro Area.

A pdf of this week’s complete list can be found here. (PDF includes links to event details.)

This week I added a new section called “Out of Town But Intriguing” that includes talks at colleges outside of the immediate Boston Metro area like Brown, Brandeis, and Woods Hole.  The scope of that section is going to be limited to places that are either closely affiliated with the Boston universities and/or easily accessible via commuter rail, but not ALL of the science happens in Boston/Cambridge.

Anyway, here are some of this week’s highlights:

Most Intriguing Dissertation Defense Title: “Judging a Planet By Its Cover: Insights into the Lunar Crustal  Structure and Martian Climate History from Surface Features” @MIT on Tuesday, 2:00 pm

Best Pop Culture Pun: “Breaking Bad: How Aneuploidy Drives Cancer” @Harvard Medical on Thursday, 4:00 pm

Highest Buzzword Density in a Talk Title: “A Probiotic Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders?” @MIT on Wednesday, 6:00 pm

Mini-Conference  I’m Most Psyched for: 2014 Boston University Bioinformatics Student-Organized Symposium @BU Main Campus on Wednesday, 9:30 am – 5:45 pm Continue reading “Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: June 2nd through June 8th” »

Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 26th through June 1st

Every week, I compile a list of biology-related talks at the universities and museums around the Boston Metro Area.

A pdf of this week’s complete list can be found here. (PDF includes links to event details.)

There aren’t very many talks this week, because almost everybody is busy graduating and/or being on summer break, but this week’s highlights include:

Strangest Memorial Day Activity: Watching MIT students’ tiny robots compete at robot “sumo wrestling” @MIT Museum on Monday, 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Science Talk I’m Most Curious About:Cell Adhesion Molecules at the Synapse: Linking Synaptic Function and Diversity to Neuropsychiatric Disease” @BU Medical on Wednesday, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Non-Science Talk I’m Most Curious About:Post Arab Revolutions: What Social Media is Telling Us” @Harvard on Tuesday, 12:30 pm

New Favorite Science Phrase: “Seismic Interferometry” as in “Using Relative Traveltimes: SVD-enhanced seismic interferometry and microseismic location uncertainty” @MIT on Friday, 10:00 am

Continue reading “Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 26th through June 1st” »

Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 19th through 25th

Every week, I compile a list of biology-related talks at the universities and museums around the Boston Metro Area.

A pdf of this week’s complete list can be found here. (PDF includes links to event details.)

This week’s highlights include:

Talk Title that Could Most Easily Be a Band Name/Album Name Combo: “Hellstrip Gardening: Paradise at the Curb” @The Arnold Arboretum in JP on Wednesday, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Speaker of the Week (who I Can Personally Vouch for Being Awesome): Ruha Benjamin of BU @Middlesex Lounge/NOVA SciCafe on Tuesday, 7:00 pm

Famous Person Circus of the Week:  Alan Alda will be moderating a panel on “The Future of Technology: Benefits & Risks” featuring George Church, Andrew McAfee of MIT , founding Skype Engineer Jaan Tallinn, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, and Ting Wu of Harvard Medical School @MIT on Saturday, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm Continue reading “Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 19th through 25th” »

Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 12th through 19th

Every week, I compile a list of biology-related talks at the universities and museums around the Boston Metro Area.

A pdf of this week’s complete list can be found here. (PDF includes links to event details.)

This week’s highlights include:

Visiting famous person of the week: This Saturday Harvard Natural History Museum is showing a series of films about this gorgeous national park in Mozambique (Gorongosa), and they’re capping it off with a panel discussion featuring none other than E.O. freakin’ Wilson.

Least well-thought-out talk title: “There Will Be Blood: Seal and Sea Lion Healthcare at the New England Aquarium” at the New England Aquarium on Tuesday at 7:00 pm

Continue reading “Boston & Cambridge Biology Talks: May 12th through 19th” »