"The greatest amount of life can be supported by great diversification of structure." Charles Darwin

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Scientists can sing!

Protein biochemist Dr. Charisse Crenshaw sang Christmas carols at Salk Institute during the 2012 NPAG Christmas party.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Illuminating the firefly genome

The magical sparks of fireflies conjure up memories of childhood and summer nights. Please help us sequence the firefly genome by voting for our project (#MYFG4, glowing fireflies) at: http://www.pacb.com/smrtgrant/

We are one of the top five finalists in PacBio’s 2016 “Explore Your Most Interesting Genome” contest. You can find more information about the firefly genome project here: https://experiment.com/projects/illum...

This project will illuminate how a complex trait like light production works to benefit future biomedical research, and will help guide future efforts to conserve disappearing firefly populations.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Inoculating bioluminescent mushrooms

Panellus stipticus, also known as bitter oyster, is a bioluminescent fungus. Unlike the other bioluminescent systems, such as fireflies and dinoflagellates, the molecular mechanism of bioluminescence in the fungal lineage is largely unknown. Interestingly, since Panellus stipticus is a white-rot fungus inhabiting hard wood, which contains specialized enzymes that degrade lignin, this species was selected by the Joint Genome Institute for whole genome sequencing through the 1000 Fungal Genomes project. These genomic resources will be very useful when comes to resolve the genetic basis for bioluminescence in Panellus.

This spring we decided to inoculate some logs with Panellus mushroom plug spawn purchased from a mushroom company called Everything Mushrooms.

We followed the procedure for growing shiitake mushrooms, and inoculated a few maple and pear tree logs. According to experience of growing shiitake mushrooms, it will take about a year for the vegetative mycelium to spread throughout the log. Hopefully we'll have mushrooms next spring. Interestingly, the special techniques of inducing the growth of mushroom fruit bodies involve either knocking on wood with a hammer (mimicking tree falling?) or soaking the logs in ice water for 36 hours (mimicking wintering?). Since Massachusetts has very cold winter, these procedures may not be necessary. Fingers crossed. Hopefully we'll get something growing next year. We also gave away an inoculated log to a interested neighbor who walked by as we were doing this.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Luminous arthropods

The phenomenon of bioluminescence has evolved at least three times within arthropods. These known luminescent arthropods include fireflies, Sierra luminous millipedes, and the South American luminous giant cockroaches (Lucihormetica luckae). Except in fireflies, the molecular mechanisms for bioluminescence in arthropods remain largely unknown. This will be a very interesting area of research in the near future.

Lucihormetica luckae (Blaberidae) from Ecuador. It is still debatable whether these South American giant cockroaches are truly luminescent or instead just fluorescent, but it's interesting to note that the producers of the Disney movie WALL-E might have borrowed the idea from this organism to create the image of Eve.

Our lab also had a lot of fun catching some local fireflies in a night field trip last fall.

There is also an interesting article recently appearing on National Geographic about bioluminescence in diverse lineages of life (click the link below).

Saturday, March 14, 2015

General Relativity turns 100

Science magazine celebrates the 100th anniversary of Einstein's general theory of relativity, a theory that forever changed our view of the universe.
See papers from this special issue:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Scientists figured out how chameleons change colors

When we consider colors seen in animals and plants, we would assume they are due to the presence of pigment molecules that absorb light at different wave lengths. For example, plants are green because Chlorophyll absorbs strongly the blue and red portion of the visible light spectrum, and leaves out the green. It is also known that some animals can rapidly control their body color to blend in or stand out from their environmental background colors.

Cuttlefish represent a well-known case deep from the ocean, where they can alter body color to camouflage themselves, attract mates, or warn off potential predators. This is achieved by actively controlling several groups of blue, red, yellow, brown, and black pigmented chromatophores. The pigmented chromatophores can be folded when retracted, and the collective action of these chromatophores then give rise to the remarkable color patterns on the skin.

The mechanism for color change in cuttlefish has been thought as a general mechanism for color and pattern change seen in animals. Until recently have scientists revealed a new mechanism in chameleons for controlling body colors without using pigments. It turns out that chameleons does it through a clever way of manipulating reflection.  Rather than moving pigments around in the cell, chameleons actually use a tunable lattice of guanine crystals to reflect certain wavelengths of light.  Its like the iridescence of a blue morpho butterfly, but customizable! Here is a nice viedo clip introducing this fascinating study:

The original research paper can be found here: