Evolutionary biologist Nancy Moran has built a career studying the delicate symbiotic relationships of plant-dwelling insects and their microbial partners; her work at the University of Texas in Austin and elsewhere has “pioneered symbiosis as a field” and illuminated the intricacies of microbial evolution. Her scientific—and personal—relationship with her life partner and fellow biologist Howard Ochman reveals a symbiosis of a different sort.
Every year, 2 million children die because they don’t get enough vitamins and minerals. Now, researchers have fortified corn grain and other staple foods with these essential micronutrients by encapsulating them in a biocompatible polymer. The coating prevents the nutrients from degrading during storage or cooking, and it may help people better absorb them. If the new coating proves effective in large trials, it could offer public health officials a new tool for saving countless lives.
There is no force on Earth quite like a subduction zone. Slips along these faults, found where plates of dense ocean crust dive beneath continents, cause the world’s most destructive earthquakes and tsunamis. But much remains unknown about how those faults slip and stick between catastrophes—and monitoring them requires expensive ships, acoustic beacons, and GPS technology. Now, researchers have found a way to cut costs by replacing the ships with ocean-going drones.
For a heavy drinker whose liver has been destroyed by alcohol, an organ transplant is often the only option. But because of donor liver shortages and transplant rules, many go without. Tens of thousands die from alcoholic liver disease each year in the United States—and some go downhill much faster than others. Now, scientists have found a reason for this disparity: a toxin produced by some strains of a common gut bacterium. Working in mice, they have also tested a potential therapy, based on bacteria-destroying viruses found lurking in the sewer.
Scientists have long thought that insect pollination was key to the rapid spread of flowers during the Cretaceous period, about 145 million to 66 million years ago. But they’ve lacked solid evidence. Now, a team of researchers has uncovered the earliest direct proof of insects pollinating flower plants: an ancient beetle that nibbled a flower and got trapped in amber for nearly 100 million years.