Fun Science FRIEDay – Harnessing Synthetic Biology to Fight Ocean Pollution

Plastics, more importantly microplastics, clog our oceans. This phenomena in the ocean has been likened to smog around cities. These plastic particles are dangerous because they can absorb toxins, subsequently be consumed by zooplankton and invertebrates, and bioaccumluate up the food web to fish that are consumed by humans. A study in Nature found that 25 percent of seafood sold contains microplastics! There has been a recent awareness of the unseen harm that exists when plastic pollution in the ocean degrades into microplastics. A report in Environmental Research Letters estimated that “accumulated number of micro plastic particles… ranges from 15 to 51 trillion particles, weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons.” That is cray cray. Despite a better awareness of the impact of microplastics on marine ecology, we still have a poor spatial understanding of microplastics in the ocean. The presence and density of microplastics is determined by trawling the ocean (i.e., researchers go out with a net and physically count the pieces of plastic they pick up). As you can imagine, this is not very effective.

Conceptualization of plastic degrading in the ocean. (Photo credit: Archipelagos Institute)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Drug Resistant Bacteria, The Movie

In today’s FSF we bring you both a jaw dropping, and somewhat terrifying cinematic visualization of how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, and overtime can become super bugs immune to any antibiotic treatment.  A concise and detailed description is presented below:

This stunning video of evolution in action captures how bacteria with no resistance to an antibiotic can in a very short time become resistant to concentrations of more than a thousand times the initial concentration. Other scientists have documented this phenomenon before, but never with such vivid clarity as that provided by Michael Bay and Roy Kishony of Harvard University.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Evolution, what’s it good for?

It is widely accepted that the world around us is changing, and as a result the organisms that exist adapt with that change or are resigned to the fossil record. Evolution, it’s a fact of life… or is it? UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf, and colleagues,  have discovered an organism that has remained relatively unchanged over a 2.3 billion year period. Meh, who needs evolution? These bacteria were discovered in the muddy sediments of the deep sea and represent the greatest lack of evolution ever seen!

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper - no longer in publication)

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper – no longer in publication)

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Return from the Cayman Abyss: cruise post-mortem and some thoughts on media coverage

AndrewThumbAt 7 AM EST on Monday, February 25, the ROV Isis rose from the depths of the Cayman Abyss, bringing to a close the 82nd cruise of the RRS James Cook. During JC82, we explored two recently discovered hydrothermal vents fields in the Cayman Trough: Von Damm, named for the late marine geochemist Karen Von Damm, and Beebe, named for the 20th century explorer William Beebe. By any measure, JC82 was a massive success. The samples and videos we’ll bring back will provide ecologists, geologists, and chemists with new insights into fundamental ocean systems for years. The images alone, some beautiful, some heart-breaking, have already inspired.

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Eyeless shrimp, dancing anemones, and a garden of filamentous bacteria. I’m a pretty good writer, and I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this is. Photo Credit: NERC

Since I last updated the blog on our adventures exploring the Cayman Trough, we’ve had a steady stream media coverage, most of which has been excellent, some of which has been… strange. It’s been fascinating watching the articles come out, seeing what different media outlets consider the story, and, most important to me, getting a chance to share our adventure with a wide audience. Now that the #DeepestVents cruise is officially over (and we’re in transit to yet another, equally exciting bolt on cruise to investigate submerged lava flows off the island of Montserrat), I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the cruise, the story, and how the media shaped it.

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