Happy Hour Science – Domesticating Microbes for Beer

Little yummy beer yeasts, thanks www.diArk.org

As our ancestors transitioned from hunter-gatherer to agricultural society, they had to domesticate the plants and animals we know today as farm life. Corn kernels became larger and more full of starch, cows became more docile, and all farm organisms became accustomed to life in rows or pastures tended by humans. But some of what we eat depends on more than just these plants and animals – example, take beer. A new study in PNAS by Diego Libkind et al. describes the domestication of the microbes and yeast needed to make lagers of old and describes an unwitting process paralleling agricultural domestication. Read More

Climbing Mount Chernobyl

Chernobyl Reactor 4, after the explosion

In the last century, humans have made dramatic changes to both local and global ecosystems. Some of these changes have been subtle and remained unnoticed until very recently, while others were so visible and so destructive that their names are indelibly etched into our collective consciousness. Despite a legacy of desolation, many of these places, unsafe and long-abandoned, have made dramatic recoveries. Standing tall, but not alone, among these environmental catastrophes is the melt-down of reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

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Lessons from the Death and Life of Monterey Bay

A few weeks ago, Mark Powell at Blogfish posted “Where are conservation success stories?” in which he asks if we have a bias against good news in conservation. Late last year we presented a series of conservation success stories from the IUCN. Whether because we choose to focus only on the doom-and-gloom news stories or because the natural world really is in pretty bad shape, success stories in conservation are few and far between. That is why The Death and Life of Monterey Bay, a new book by Stephen Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka, is so important. Palumbi is a working scientist and director of the Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey Bay and his work has been cited on this blog before. Carolyn Sotka is the project coordinator for COMPASS, an organization that connects scientist to policy makers and journalists.

In The Death and Life of Monterey Bay, Palumbi and Sotka present the history of Monterey Bay, from discovery, to exploitation, to collapse, and ultimately to rebirth. They weave the narratives of many important players, exploring the legacy of a dedicated conservationist who existed before the term was coined, the hunters, fishers, and canneries who found fortune and destruction, the writers and scientists who made Monterey Bay a literary icon, and the Bay itself, which survived by equal parts luck, tenacity, and foresight. The events in the book span hundreds of years, but we can still glean lessons from both the collapse and rebirth of Monterey Bay.

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Sailing by Starlight: the lost art of celestial navigation

This post is a slightly modified transcript of a talk I gave on celestial navigation. As some of you know, I like to build things, and I recently decided to build some classic navigational tools. Of course, in the process of building these instruments, I had to learn how they work. The history of celestial navigation is fascinating and deeply connected to the history of astronomy and mathematics. The original slide show can be found at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

I’m going to begin with a seemingly simple question, then hopefully give you some basic tools to answer that question. Where are you?

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