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Dec 6, 2016

Each animal species hosts a unique microbial community and benefits from it

Each animal species hosts its own, unique community of microbes that can significantly improve its health and fitness. That is the implication of a laboratory study that investigated four different animal groups and their associated microbiota. The research found that each species within the group has a distinctive microbial community. “Previous research has tended to concentrate on the negative effects of microbes. In this case we are showing that whole communities of microbes have positive effects as well,” said Vanderbilt graduate student Andrew Brooks, co-first author of the study.

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Oct 25, 2016

Steve Baskauf and Vanderbilt's Bicentennial Oak

From the October 19th issue of MyVU: Vanderbilt University’s Bicentennial Oak has been recognized as a Landmark Tree by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. The designation is given to Tennessee trees that are “commonly recognized as an established and familiar feature of the community or can be confirmed as a significant part of the community’s heritage.” The Bicentennial Oak is the only tree on the Vanderbilt campus known to predate the university.

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Oct 24, 2016

Suzana Herculano-Houzel examines the evolution of the brain

In News@Vanderbilt (Oct. 17, 2016) Suzana Herculano-Houzel examines the question, “What is different about humans that allowed them to evolve brains with so many neurons, which large apes can’t afford?”

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Oct 24, 2016

The Bordensteins on

You would expect a spider to excel at pulling strings, but in this case, it's a virus that appears to have pulled the strings of widow spiders -- DNA strings, that is. A husband-and-wife research team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville recently discovered eerily spider-like DNA hidden within an itsy-bitsy virus named WO. The newfound DNA is somewhat similar to a portion of the gene that makes widow spiders venomous, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications last week. "This is the first time we've seen a possible transfer of genetic information between an animal and a bacterial virus," said Seth Bordenstein, a biologist at the university who co-authored the study with his wife and lab partner, Sarah Bordenstein.

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Oct 11, 2016

Bordensteins Discover a Bacterial Virus with Animal DNA

If you pick a random species of insect and look inside its cells, there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll find bacteria called Wolbachia. And if you look at Wolbachia carefully, you'll almost certainly find a virus called WO, lying in wait within its DNA. And if you look at WO carefully, as Seth and Sarah Bordenstein, from Vanderbilt University, have done, you'll find parts of genes that look like they come from animals—including a toxin gene that makes the bite of the black widow spider so deadly.

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Aug 9, 2016

Discovery of male-harming DNA mutation reinforces ‘mother’s curse’ hypothesis

There is new evidence that the "mother's curse" - the possibility that moms may transmit genes to their children that harm their sons but not their daughters - holds true in animals. Such a possibility arises because there are two independent parts of the genome in the eukaryote cells, which are found in plants and animals, and the two are locked in a "conflict-driven molecular arms race" that impacts human health and wellness. The lion's share of the genome is located in the cell nucleus. But there is also a much smaller secondary portion located in the mitochondria.

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Jul 13, 2016

These days, fecal transplantation is no joke

Fecal transplants are increasingly being used as the treatment of last resort for certain infections in the human gut and have had remarkable success treating the nursing home and hospital-acquired scourge, Clostridium difficile colitis, an infectious diarrhea that often follows antibiotic treatment. There is also preliminary evidence that the transplantation of stool from healthy individuals can be effective in treating multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

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Jul 13, 2016

When mitochondrial genes act up

Mitochondrial disorders are a chameleon-like set of diseases that take many different forms and vary widely from individual to individual.

Mitochondria are special organelles found in cells that produce most of the chemical energy that powers cell operations. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been associated with a wide variety of illnesses, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

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Jun 22, 2016

Study gives new meaning to the term ‘bird brain’

The macaw has a brain the size of an unshelled walnut, while the macaque monkey has a brain about the size of a lemon. Nevertheless, the macaw has more neurons in its forebrain – the portion of the brain associated with intelligent behavior – than the macaque.

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Jun 9, 2016

Lauren Jackson named 2016 Pew Scholar

The Pew Charitable Trusts today named 22 exceptional early-career scientists as Pew scholars in the biomedical sciences. The 2016 class of Pew biomedical scholars is drawn from prestigious institutions across the country, with each scholar receiving four years of flexible funding to pursue foundational, innovative research.

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