LATEST NEWS

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Science in Maine

  • Biotech in Maine - from printing bone and muscle to lung cancer testing

    Research and development in biotechnology is the main cause of the industry’s growth, and the latest biotech news reflects this. Inventions and innovations in 2016 span diagnostics, consumer electronics, artificial human tissue and cryopreservation.

    The latest biotechnology news demonstrates what the future of this field might hold for healthcare and beyond.

    3-D Bioprinting

    A team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center developed an integrated tissue-organ printer able to produce human-scale tissue of any shape, according toNature Biotechnology.

    The printer improves on previous attempts by using a technique that 3-D prints tissues that includes micro-channels, which allows nutrients to penetrate the tissue. Tissues are given a water-based gel, containing the cells and encouraging them to grow, according to the BBC.

    The study found that sections of bone, muscle and cartilage all functioned normally when implanted into animals. Scientists called it a significant advance for regenerative medicine, and Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, told the BBC the results were “striking.”

    “The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress,” Birchall said, predicting that it will be less than a decade before surgeons begin trials of customized printed organs and tissues.

    Google Glass Applications

    Stanford University graduate student Catalin Voss’ Autism Glass project won the $15,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2016. The competition is open to new inventions in healthcare as well as transportation, food and agriculture or consumer devices.

    The 20-year-old inventor’s project adds emotion-recognition software for Google Glass that tells a child with autism whether a person the child looks at is happy, sad or angry, Scientific American explains. Autism Glass uses a smartphone with software to analyze data from the Google Glass and provide feedback to the user. It also records video for parents to review and to help children improve their learning.

    Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced the remote monitoring of organs-on-chips via Google Glass, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Organs-on-chips are microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs. They are used for drug testing and development as well as studying the function of healthy or diseased organs.

    The custom Google Glass application allowed researchers to monitor and control microfluidically sustained liver and heart tissues. They were able to oversee parameters like temperature, pH and morphology of organs-on-chips. They were also able to activate valves remotely to introduce pharmaceutical compounds to organoid tissues. The technology could make applications in biomedicine and healthcare safer (such as work with viruses, radioactive compounds and highly pathogenic bacteria) and more efficient.

    Lung Cancer Testing

    A fast and accurate test is able to detect biomarkers of lung cancer in saliva, according to Medical News Today. In just 10 minutes, patients can receive a result in the comfort of a doctor’s office.

    The breakthrough comes after 10 years of research, led by oral cancer and saliva diagnostics researcher David Wong of the School of Dentistry at UCLA. The “liquid biopsy” method searches for circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The saliva test detects genetic mutations in a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which normally helps cells grow and divide. Mutations in the EGFR are associated with lung cancer.

    Trials in lung cancer patients are taking place in China, as of February 2016. Wong and his colleagues are looking at a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

    Orchid Cryopreservation 

    A literature review from Biotechnology Advances details orchid cryopreservation efforts, focusing on recent advances in the development of orchid cryobiotechnology. This field applies a wide range of cryopreservation methods to orchid explants (cells, organs or pieces of tissue), such as the following applications.

    * Programmed freezing for pollen.

    * Encapsulation-dehydration and encapsulation-vitrification for seeds, protocorms and shoot tips.

    * Vitrification for seeds, cultured cells, shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Droplet-vitrification for shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Preculture-desiccation for shoot primordia and rhizomes.

    Successful development and application of cryobiotechnology extends to nearly 100 species and commercial hybrids of orchids. However, given the diversity of the orchid family (Orchidaceae), this covers less than 0.5 percent of the species. Further efforts are needed to safeguard genetic diversity of the socioeconomically important and culturally valuable orchid species. Orchids derived from cryogenically stored material can be propagated and later reintroduced into their native habitats.

    Orchids are used as food, flavorings, medicines, ornaments and perfumes. Recent clinical trials have proved the medicinal value of some traditional used orchid species. The presence of medicinally active chemicals such as polysaccharides and secondary metabolites including alkaloids, glycosides, phenolic compounds and many others have been also documented in orchid tissues. Orchids are most often used in the modern world as ornamentals and represent 8 percent of the global floriculture trade.

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • 27 Bigelow Laboratory students and scientists to present research at the Ocean Sciences meeting in New Orleans

    The East Boothbay campus of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will be quiet the week of February 21st as nearly half of its scientists travel to New Orleans to share their research findings with international colleagues at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana next week.  Included in the entourage will be 11 college students who will present research findings from this past summer working under the mentorship of Bigelow Laboratory scientists.  The February 21-26 meeting, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Association of Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS) is expected to attract thousands of scientists from around the globe.

    “This meeting serves as a global platform for the world’s experts to share information, data, and new insights that participants take home and incorporate into their own research,” said Dr. David Fields, who leads the undergraduate research program at Bigelow Laboratory. “We are delighted to provide this opportunity for students for it will not only expand their thinking, but they will have the unique chance to present their research findings in a professional setting among leaders in ocean science research. It will be an amazing experience for them.”

    The 11 students—Francisco Spaulding Astudillo, Emma Cold, Evangeline Fachon, Andrew Goode, Jeremiah Ets-Hokin, Alicia Hoeglund, Devan Khana, Emily Lyczkowski, Julia Maine, Halley McVeigh, and Jes Waller—will be accompanied by their Bigelow Laboratory mentors.  In addition to Fields, Research Scientists Christoph Aeppli, William Balch, Pete Countway, Mike Lomas, Patricia Matrai, Nicole Poulton, Ramunas Stepanauskas, and Benjamin Twining will be attending the meeting. Postdoctoral Researchers Steven Baer, Jason Hopkins, Younjoo Lee, Daniel Ohnemus, Kerstin Suffrian, LeAnn Whitney, and Meredith White also will be presenting.  Research technician Laura Lubelczyk rounds out the Bigelow Laboratory contingent.

    “This meeting comes at a critical time for the oceans and is a superb venue for sharing what is known about what is happening in the global ocean,” said Matrai, who also served as ASLO treasurer. “It offers scientists an opportunity to share what they are learning, discuss new findings, and collectively get a better handle on the state of the ocean

    The Bigelow Laboratory cohort promises to share what they learn over the course of the meeting.  Check back at www.bigelow.orgregularly for updates or follow along at @Bigelowlab.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Opportunities await girls seeking science and technology careers in Maine

    For too long, men continue to outnumber women working in engineering and computer science careers in America. Fortunately, there are now a number of agencies and groups working to change that disparity.

    Despite the fact that there have been women, throughout history, whom have made important contributions and discoveries to science very few pursue careers in science and technology.

    Research shows unequivocally that girls have just as much aptitude for science and math as boys. The problem is rooted in social systems and cultural biases that encourage girls and young women to find careers in fields traditionally held by women.

    Social pressures continue to discourage girls.

    “If you keep telling girls they're less good at science, that will probably be self-fulfilling. But there are quite a lot of women who are good at it,” said Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist and professor at Harvard University in Marie Claire magazine.

    “If you look through the shelves of science books, you'll find row after row of books written by men. This can be terribly off-putting for women,” said Randall, who was the first woman to be tenured as a physics professor at MIT and then at Harvard.

    Why should more women work in science and engineering careers?

     “We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent . . . that is not being encouraged," said President Barack Obama. 

    In a 2015 research report, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) answered the question this way: “The representation of women in engineering and computing matters. Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. Everyone’s experiences should inform and guide the direction of engineering and technical innovation. In less than 10 years, the United States will need 1.7 million more engineers and computing professionals. We simply can’t afford to ignore the perspectives or the talent of half the population."

    More women in science and technology careers could also help close the gender wage gap. Women in science, math and tech jobs earn 33 percent more than women in other occupations.

    Women are making progress in some careers that require math and science education. But according to the National Girls Collaborative Project and the National Science Foundation, female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (58 percent) and biological and medical sciences (48 percent) and relatively low shares in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent).

    Even though women make up 47 percent of the American workforce, just 15.6 percent of chemical engineers, 12.1 percent of civil engineers and 7.2 percent of mechanical engineers are women.

    One of those female mechanical engineers, Debbie Sterling, in 2012 founded GoldieBlox, a toy company that makes toys to inspire a generation of future of women engineers. Other organizations, like the AAUW and the National Girls Collaborative Project, are sponsoring research about the disparities in the science and math workforce to encourage changes.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed a joint program with the Girls Scouts of America to create science, technology and engineering projects for girls.

    Organizations like NASA recognize that women represent an untapped pool of science and technology talent. The agency wants to show girls that there are many rewarding opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

    In Maine, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, holds summer camp programs each year to develop children’s interests in math and technology. The school is working to encourage more girls to attend its camp.

    Surrounded by an encouraging social atmosphere, girls at MSSM have an opportunity to excel in the science and technology studies. 

  • Maine researchers published in Science discover increased carbon dioxide enhances plankton growth

      

    Science study reports that coccolithophores’ abundance has increased by an order of magnitude since 1960s, significantly changing the ocean’s garden.

    by Ramona du Houx

    Coccolithophores—tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web—have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period.

    “This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change,” said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

    This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

    “The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing,” said Dr. Balch.

    These findings were reported in the November 26th edition of Science and based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS) Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program.

    Dr. Balch, who is also a co-author of the paper, added, “We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.”

    “Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should,” said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins, and one of the study’s five authors.

    Gnanadesikan said the Science report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it’s not clear what those are. “What is worrisome,” he said, “is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function.”

    Coccolithophore blooms photographed from a far. Photo Credits: Ocean Ecology Laboratory, Ocean Biology Processing Group NASA Goddard Space Center.

    The result highlights the possibility of rapid ecosystem change, suggesting that prevalent models of how these systems respond to climate change may be too conservative, he said.

    Coccolithophores are often referred to as “canaries in the coal mine.” Some of the key coccolithophore species can outcompete other classes of phytoplankton in warmer, more stratified and nutrient-poor waters (such as one might see in a warming ocean).

    Until this data proved otherwise, scientists thought that they would have more difficulties forming their calcite plates in a more acidic ocean. These results show that coccolithophores are able to use the higher concentration of carbon derived from CO2, combined with warmer temperatures, to increase their growth rate.

    When the percentage of coccolithophores in the community goes up, the relative abundance of other groups will go down. The authors found that at local scales, the relative abundance of another important algal class, diatoms, had decreased over the 45 years of sampling.

    The team’s analysis was of data taken from the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea since the mid-1960s compiled by the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey. The CPR survey was launched by British marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy in the early 1930s. Today it is carried on by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Sciences and is conducted by commercial ships trailing mechanical plankton-gathering gear through the water as they sail their regular routes. Dr. Willie Wilson, formerly a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory, is now director of SAHFOS.

    “In the geological record, coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth’s warm interglacial and high CO2 periods. The results presented here are consistent with this and may portend, like the “canary in the coal mine,” where we are headed climatologically,” said Balch.

    The lead author of the paper was Sara Rivero-Calle, a PhD candidate at John Hopkins University. In addition to Balch, her co-authors were Anand Gnanadesikan of John Hopkins, Carlos E. Del Castillo of NASA, and Seth D. Guikema of the University of Michigan.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Bigelow Laboratory and Colby College collaborate with Tiny Giants exhibit

    Marine microbes produce half the oxygen we breathe. They are the base of the food chain, and without them the food source for billions of people would be threatened. Microbes also offer the potential for discoveries of new pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and fuel sources and the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change.

    They also are stunningly beautiful.

    The invisible world of marine microbes will be revealed through a photographic art exhibit at Colby College throughout the fall semester from Sept. 17-Dec. 17.

    Eighteen large images (up to five feet by four feet) make the invisible microscopic marine organisms visible, helping to tell the stories of the critical roles these tiny creatures play in planetary health and balance.

    “Our idea behind the Tiny Giants images was to pique people’s imaginations about the invisible creatures that we study that are vital to our very existence,” said Dr. Benjamin Twining, director of research and education at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, where the exhibit was created. “Their visual depiction provides the opportunity for people to also learn about marine microbes. We are delighted that Colby College decided to take this a step further and explore microbes from a variety of vantage points, from using them as a muse for sculptural inspiration to examining how microbial knowledge might be used to help guide policy positions.”

    Colby professors in biology, environmental science, the humanities, art, theater and dance will use the exhibit as a launching point in their fall courses as they integrate the concept of invisible marine microbes into their respective disciplines.

    “We’re excited to show the images in the Tiny Giants exhibition on campus this fall” said Colby Provost and Dean of Faculty Lori G. Kletzer. “Colby’s strategic partnership with Bigelow Laboratory provides world-class opportunities in marine science and climate science for our students—we knew that. And now the unique aesthetic for examining the natural microbial world through these photos completely reinforces the interdisciplinary approach that both our institutions value so highly.”

    The Tiny Giants exhibit will formally opened with a reception in Miller Library on Colby’s campus on Thursday, Sept. 17th.

    Photographs will be on view at three campus locations through Dec. 17: at the Miller Library, Olin Science Library and the Davis Curricular Gallery in the Colby College Museum of Art.

    Participating Colby faculty members who will incorporate Tiny Giants into semester activities include the Julian D. Taylor Associate Professor of Classics and Director of Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities Kerill O’Neill, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society James R. Fleming, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Denise A. Bruesewitz, Assistant Professor of Art Bradley A. Borthwick, Associate Professor of Art Tanya R. Sheehan, Associate Professor of Biology Catherine R. Bevier, and Technical Director in Theater and Dance John E. Ervin.

    The art and science educational collaboration will conclude with an event in early December that will showcase students’ work inspired by Tiny Giants.

    The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours and when the museum is open, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity to see the invisible—and the beauty and wonder of these diminutive creatures that play such an important role in keeping the planet balanced. The photos represent the technological and scientific achievement of capturing microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye. Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences took the photographs at three different scales, using three different types of microscopes.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Scientists from Maine's Bigelow labs used single cell genomics to identify frozen bacteria

    Bigelow Laboratory of Maine's incoming postdoctoral researcher Stephanie A. Carr and Dr. Beth Orcutt used single cell genomics to identify an Atribacteria (uncultivated bacteria that live without oxygen) cell from frozen Antarctic deep subsurface sediment. Reported in Frontiers in Microbiology, this demonstrates the huge potential for single cell techniques to be used to help unlock a massive amount of genomic information stored in previously collected frozen sediment cores.

    The sampled sediment was collected from the Adélie Basin, Antarctica, from 97.4 meters below sea floor during Expedition 318 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Originally, the sediment sample was frozen for DNA analyses, which is less than ideal for single cell sorting techniques.

    Given the amount of existing frozen sediments that have been collected for biological studies throughout the history of ocean drilling programs, the successful isolation of an Atribacteria cell from frozen sediment demonstrates how single cell techniques can potentially unlock genomic information from a huge reservoir of already collected, frozen sediments.

    This finding was also the first report of a single cell Atribacteria genome from marine sediment and highlights the potential role of Atribacteria in carbon cycling in the deep biosphere.  In non-marine Atribacteria, a partial single cell genome suggests that Atribacteria use carbon to grow and produce waste products such as acetate, ethanol, and carbon dioxide. These products may support methane-producing bacteria and help explain the frequent occurrence of Atribacteria in anoxic methane-rich sediments.

  • UMaine researchers strive to increase bee populations in Maine

    by Ramona du Houx

    A group of University of Maine researchers is working to enhance native and honey bee populations by increasing beneficial pollinator flowers across Maine’s landscape. This is not a new idea — what is new is their choice of research location. Some might describe one of their sites as trashy, but the researchers think it’s just what they need. (see previous investagetive article HERE.)

    The researchers — Alison Dibble, Lois Stack, Megan Leech, and Frank Drummond — are planting pollinator demonstration gardens at the inactive Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden and at G.W. Allen’s Blueberry farm located in Orland. Both plots will be used to educate farmers and community members about strategies that they can adopt to help keep bee communities thriving in the state.

    “This project is important because one of the many hypothesized stressors that have been implicated in bee decline, including honey bees and native bees, is not having enough floral resources, which provides the pollen and nectar essential for bees,” says Drummond, professor of insect ecology.

    Funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the two-year project’s objective is to identify plantings — annuals, herbaceous perennials and woody shrubs — that are most beneficial to bees across Maine’s terrain, which is dominated by forest ecosystems that are not particularly conducive to bee life.

    By enhancing habitats to fit the needs of pollinators, the researchers are giving back to the tiny buzzing insects that provide our agricultural systems with the crucial service of pollination.

    As bees forage for food, they pollinate flowering plants by depositing pollen on the flower’s stigma, the receptive part of the plant’s female reproductive organ. The pollen will then germinate and fertilize the flower to produce fruits and seeds.

    Conservation biologists in Maine, as well as worldwide, have raised concerns about declines in bee abundance and species diversity. Due to conversion of landscape for residential and commercial uses, natural bee habitats are being eliminated, which could have serious implications to various agricultural crops in Maine, such as blueberries.

    According to David Yarbrough, professor of horticulture and a wild blueberry specialist for University of Maine Cooperative Extension, last year’s harvest of wild blueberry crops in Maine brought in a $250 million monetary return.  In 2014, Maine produced and harvested more than 104 million pounds of blueberries made possible, in part, by the free services bees provide.

    According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, bees provide pollination to 80 percent of all flowering plants and 75 percent of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. About 25,000 species of bees are known throughout the world and Maine is home to more than 270 species of native bees.

    During the demonstrations, researchers and educators will discuss plants that are best utilized by bees and will stress the need to avoid flowers and shrubs treated with systemic insecticides because they can be detrimental to bees, says Drummond.

    “It’s not just about planting flowers: it’s about planting flowers that are safe for the bees,” he says. Both sites will help researchers, farmers and educators better understand how these plots should be managed in order to be successful both agriculturally and ecologically. The first demonstration date has not been set, but the researchers are aiming to hold one in mid-August.

    Pine Tree landfill, the first site for the demonstration, is managed by Casella Waste Services, which owns more than 400 landfills in the Northeast. If all goes well, the company hopes to host more pollinator gardens on their landfills, transforming unused land into flower-filled paradises for bees.

    “I think the landfill is a great location for this project because it’s a piece of land that is not currently being used. Right now they use the methane that comes from the landfill to produce energy. So if we can use the same land for something else that is a good cause, it’s a win-win,” says Leech, a graduate student working with Drummond.

    Leech’s master’s thesis is focused on flower nutrition, specifically whether bees visit flowers with higher nutritional value more frequently. She’s also looking at other floral characteristics that would impact flower nutrition such as nectar and pollen. The idea for her thesis sprouted while working on Dibble’s bee module project, when she observed bees showing a preference for some flowers over others, and wondered if it was related to nutrition.

    The bee module — a five-year project started in 2012 — is aimed at determining which plants elicit the most bee visitations in order to create a baseline of what plants should be selected for the pollinator demonstration sites. In order to collect the data, Dibble setup 36 plots within 100-foot-by-100-foot areas on three Maine blueberry fields and at the University of Maine Rogers farm. By placing plots side-by-side, researchers were able to collect observations of bee visitations on a variety of different planting selections, which will help to better inform their recommendations to farmers.

    The data they collect, which will focus on the success of flowering plant germination and bee visitation preferences, will be looked at over the next two years to determine if the increase in floral resources was beneficial to the bee populations.

    Promoting the health of bee populations is relatively inexpensive in terms of the alternative, which is trying to pollinate plants without bees. If farmers planted pollinator plots next to their agricultural crops, they could decrease rental costs for honeybees, which are usually imported by farmers during the planting season, says Drummond.

    Drummond hopes the project will encourage nonfarmers to invest in pollinator plantings for municipalities, private homes and state agencies, so — on a landscape level — bee numbers can increase.

    “In the past, we’ve mostly been focusing on the farmers. But what makes this project more unique is that we are trying to provide outreach for the nonfarmers who can also have an impact on improving bee communities on the landscape,” says Drummond.

  • Maine's Jackson Lab to recieve $800K for research on aging

    Maine's Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor has received a $835,037 federal grant to support its continuing research on the aging process. The laboratory is reknowned for genitic reserach with mice. They also ship mice worldwide to other scientific institutions.

    This award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support Jackson Lab's Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, which combines the practices of biology and genomics to develop a better understanding of how aging works.

    The Center is located in a building a voter-approved bond issued helped to support during the Baldacci administration. LePage has not even considered putting research and development bonds out to voters. Meanwhile Jackson Laboratory and others help strengthen Maine's economy and quality of life.

    Maine has the oldest population in America.

    "The work done by Jackson Laboratory has significantly expanded our knowledge of human genetics," Sen. Collins and Sen. King said in a joint statement. "As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, it is vital that we continue to expand our knowledge of the aging process."

  • Bigelow scientists to exhibit microbe art photos in Boston

     

     A photo taken by a scientist from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences that will be exhibited in Boston

    A team of scientists from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the New England Aquarium will gather at the popular new District Hall, 75 Northern Ave. in Boston’s Innovation District on Thurs. Jan. 15 to celebrate the technological and scientific achievement of a gallery of photos that capture microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye.

    Called “Tiny Giants: Marine microbes revealed on a grand scale,” the photographic art exhibit illuminates the intricate details of microscopic creatures that are vital to the oxygen we breathe, the food chain essential from fish to whales to humans, and that mitigate the damaging effects of climate change.

    The photos were taken by scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in East Boothbay, Maine. To understand the microbes’ significance, presentations will be made by Dr. Graham Shimmield, Bigelow Laboratory’s Executive Director, and Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, the Aquarium’s CEO and President.

    Guests can share dinner and a glass of wine with Bigelow Laboratory and Aquarium scientists including: Bigelow Laboratory’s Dr. Pete Countway, a microbial ecologist, who took many of the photographs;Dr. David Emerson, an iron-oxidizing bacteria expert; Dr. Paty Matrai, an expert on atmospheric and ocean conditions in the Arctic Ocean; and Dr. Benjamin Twining, a senior research scientist and director of education and research at the Laboratory. From the Aquarium will be: Dr. Scott Kraus, vice president of research; Dr. John Mandelman, director of research and a senior scientist; Dr. Kathleen Hunt, an expert in marine wildlife stress; and Dr. Randi Rotjan, a coral reef and hermit crab researcher.

    Tickets are $50 and include exhibit admission, wine, appetizers, and dinner. Space is limited. Please RSVP online: http://bit.ly/1vSoDuA

    Or, call 207-315-2567 x112 or email Dana Wilson, dwilson@bigelow.org