Skip to main content

Biology Alum Heads to Space!

February 5, 2024

A former University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill student, and now a NASA astronaut, Zena Cardman, is set to embark on her first spaceflight as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-9 Mission.

Scheduled for launch no earlier than August, Cardman will join three other crew members on a six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS). READ MORE

Enigmatic fossil plants with three-dimensional, arborescent-growth architecture – “Dr. Seuss” Tree, feat. research by Patricia Gensel

February 2, 2024

Newly discovered tree fossils from ~350 Ma in New Brunswick, Canada, are architecturally unique, and Gastaldo et al. interpret them to presage modern treefern lineage growth forms. These fossils, preserved by earthquake-induced burial in an Early Carboniferous rift lake, may represent early evidence of a subcanopy forest niche. Robert A. Gastaldo, Patricia G. Gensel, et. al.

New York Times “A Fossilized Tree That Dr. Seuss Might Have Dreamed Up”
Wall Street Journal Rare Fossilized Dr. Seuss-Like Trees Reveal Oddball Natural Experiment”

Current Biology Paper: GastaldoGensel2024 Sanfordiacaulis[1]

‘A picture of winners and losers’: Several Triangle bird species declining as the climate warms, feat. Allen Hurlbert

February 1, 2024

Bird populations are declining, including in the Triangle.

A 2019 study led by bird research and conservancy organizations found “major” population loss among North America’s birds — nearly 3 billion birds have been lost since the 1970s. That’s more than a 25% decline in total bird abundance.

“That finding was a really big shock, and maybe a wake-up call that our ecosystems are no longer able to support biodiversity in the way that they once were,” said Allen Hurlbert, a UNC-Chapel Hill biology professor.

According to UNC-Chapel Hill biology professor Allen Hurlbert, white-eyed vireo populations are among the approximately 13 well-monitored bird species that are doing well in North Carolina’s Triangle region. Twenty-two well-monitored species show a strong decreasing trend.
Hurlbert oversees a lab that explores large-scale patterns in biodiversity across the globe. He also runs North Carolina’s Mini Breeding Bird Survey, a bird monitoring program that spans Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.


An “Emergent” Field Possibly Guides the Future of Cell Engineering, feat. Kerry Bloom

January 30, 2024

Particles bouncing off a surface, altering their direction of movement; electric fields acting on charges; mass continuing its motion after a push. These are the basic physical properties many are intimately familiar with, yet the laws of underpinning them — those of quantum mechanics — are far less intuitive. More importantly, these physical properties interact on a larger scale and constitute observations in daily lives, once again eluding intuition.

Cells also contain similar mysteries. On one hand, the genomes — guides to the creation of raw materials for the mansion of organisms — of various species including humans, have been accurately sequenced since the 1990s. One notable example is the yeast cell that was sequenced in 1996. This was the first eukaryote, which has linear DNA capable of highly complicated coiling, to be sequenced. On the other hand, biologists have had little insight into how to construct the intricate machinery of cells — holding every single building block in their hands — without a guidebook of how to put those blocks together. The ambition of Dr. Kerry Bloom in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with his lab members, is to contribute to writing this guidebook, specifically regarding DNA.

“Change is our one constant,” remarked Dr. Bloom when discussing the path of exploration undertaken by his lab.

READ MORE on page 14 in the most recent issue of Carolina Scientific

‘It’s insane’: New viruslike entities found in human gut microbes, feat. Mark Peifer

January 29, 2024

Analysis of sequence databases reveals novel circular RNA genomes belonging to “obelisks”

As they collect and analyze massive amounts of genetic sequences from plants, animals, and microbes, biologists keep encountering surprises, including some that may challenge the very definition of life. The latest, reported this week in a preprint, is a new kind of viruslike entity that inhabits bacteria dwelling in the human mouth and gut. These “obelisks,” as they’re called by the Stanford University team that unearthed them, have genomes seemingly composed of loops of RNA and sequences belonging to them have been found around the world.


Lessons in Field Work: 3 Biology Undergrads Intern at the UNC Outer Banks Field Site

January 19, 2024

Each fall, the program hosts a group of UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate students at the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese, North Carolina, where they spend the semester taking classes in ecology and environmental policy, engaging in research, and completing internships with local organizations.

The internships align with each student’s field of study. Montes de Oca was one of three biology majors last year, and her project assessed pollinator health. The other two — Drew Huffman and Ella Hennessey — also completed internships focused on biodiversity across the islands.


Doctoral Student Protects Galapagos’ Sharks

January 19, 2024

It’s 5 p.m. and the sun is starting to set. But Savannah Ryburn’s workday is just beginning. A doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences’ environment, ecology and energy program, Ryburn has dedicated the last five years to researching the diet of juvenile blacktip and scalloped hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands.


UNC Class Combines Science and Art

January 18, 2024

Science-based artwork of varied colors, sizes and subjects — from the Black Death to the Great Dismal Swamp —hung along the walls of the Genome Sciences Building lobby for a one-day exhibition on Friday evening.

The show, “Artist/Scientist: Printmaking and Biology,” displayed works by students in Studio Art 409: Art and Science: Merging Printmaking and Biology. The undergraduate honors course was co-taught in the fall by art professor Beth Grabowski and biology professor Bob Goldstein.