Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘NSF’

Those wild and crazy snails are back, with lessons about sex

In University research on April 27, 2016 at 11:50 am
 In a study involving multiple generations of a freshwater snail in New Zealand, researchers at the University of Iowa found that polyploidy doesn't appear to be an asset—nor is it a drawback—for females bearing offspring without the help of a male. Instead, it's the snails' sexuality that creates the advantage: Asexual females, the study found, grew twice as fast during the late juvenile phase and reached reproductive maturity 30 percent faster than female snails that mated with males. Photo by Justin Torner.

In their cups: University of Iowa researchers grew multiple generations of tiny freshwater snails in the lab to study whether having multiple genomes provides advantages. Photo by Justin Torner from the U of I news website.

The snails are back. Or more precisely, researchers using snails as a model to understand the biological benefits of sexual reproduction are back with results.

I wrote about the research about two years ago, when conservative news outlets began ridiculing an $876,000 National Science Foundation grant to study “snail sex.” Two University of Iowa researchers, Maurine Neiman and John Logsdon, were among those receiving the grant.

Although multiple conservative outlets had reported and commented on the grant, none had asked the researchers to explain its significance. I was the first writer to contact them for any more than a cursory question. To me it was an example of a gap in science reporting in Iowa and conservative bias against government spending.

The bottom line: The tiny New Zealand snails are good models to study the evolutionary benefits of sexual reproduction, the true purpose of the study. The snails, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, have two genetic lines, one that reproduces sexually and another asexually, allowing the scientists to compare their genes for signs of advantages or disadvantages to sex.

Now results are coming out of this and related snail research, and the results are surprising. Sex and its biology, it turns out, aren’t as simple as scientists thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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Roundup, with video: Glycerin glue, prairie STRIPS and crop-generated CO2

In Industry Research, University research on December 15, 2014 at 6:49 am
A NASA video of a computer carbon dioxide model colors the gas as it's released and circulated around the planet.

A screenshot from a NASA video visualizing a simulation of a year’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions. Image from NASA at http://www.nasa.gov/press/goddard/2014/november/nasa-computer-model-provides-a-new-portrait-of-carbon-dioxide/

For most of the Midwest, the crops are in, whether corn, soybeans, oats or other commodities. Perhaps it’s a good time for a harvest of recent agriculture-related research developments to round out the year.

One has to do with new uses for crops and the byproducts of converting them into fuels. It could mean an inexpensive new adhesive.

Meanwhile, Iowa-based technology to make mass-scale commodity production more sustainable is getting national attention and praise.

And finally, there’s research showing that widespread crop production is having an out-sized influence on the carbon cycle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Snail episode illustrates science news’ slow crawl

In Uncategorized, University research on April 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm
snail dime

The tiny shells of the New Zealand mud snail. U.S. Geological Survey photo.

Since I posted it about a week ago, more than 2,000 visitors have read my report on the conservative criticism directed at University of Iowa professors Maurine Neiman and John Logsdon. Along with Jeffrey Boore at the University of California, Berkeley, they study the genetic makeup of two genetic lines of a New Zealand snail, one of which reproduces sexually and the other asexually.

Their goal is to elucidate the genetic foundation for sexual reproduction. But conservative websites, bloggers and pundits from Michelle Malkin to Fox News blasted the four-year, National Science Foundation grant as a waste of tax money for studying “snail sex.” The big number of hits (thanks in large part to Logsdon and Neiman spreading the word) indicates how interested people are in the intersection of science, government and politics.

What’s surprising is how big this was on conservative media, but how other press – even Iowa news operations – missed the story. Read the rest of this entry »

U of I professors slimed for their snail research

In University research on April 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm
snails

Potamopyrgus antipodarum, the New Zealand snail under scrutiny. Image © Bart Zijlstra / http://www.bartzijlstra.com via University of Iowa.

At first, it may sound completely ridiculous: a four-year, $876,000 grant from the federal National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “snail sex.”

That’s how a conservative news website branded it – wrongly. And it’s how two University of Iowa researchers and their California colleague found themselves at the center of the latest debate on government’s role in supporting basic science research, a debate that started with a similar attack on duck penis research. Read the rest of this entry »

Pardon me, but there’s a bioplastic in my froyo

In University research on March 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm
medium_4506658849

photo credit: timlewisnm via photopin cc

Not long ago, I took the teenager to an Orange Leaf frozen yogurt shop. It was kind of bizarre, facing off against a bank of machines dispensing flavors like birthday cake and lychee. I think the kid got a bit of every kind. He didn’t finish.

What this has to do with Iowa science is the shovel-like plastic spoon I used. I happened to look at the back of the handle and saw something surprising.

Read the rest of this entry »

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