Category Archives: Pictures

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No leader? Now what?

June 2, 2014

Beehives contribute to multidisciplinary study about how leaderless complex systems manage to get things done

When we refer to someone as the “queen bee,” we are suggesting the individual might be in charge of the situation. But, in fact, actual queen bees are not in charge of anything. Their job is to lay eggs, not to rule the hive.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), entomologist Gene Robinson and mechanical engineer Harry Dankowicz at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have teamed up with psychologist Whitney Tabor at the University of Connecticut to study how coordination emerges in leaderless complex societies, such as a bee hive.

The researchers have also designed controlled situations to study how groups of humans manage to coordinate efforts and get things done, even in challenging situations in which there is no leader.

Ultimately, the research may contribute to solving challenges, such as the collapse of pollinating bee colonies or destructive behavior among groups of humans.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #124920, INSPIRE: Asynchronous communication, self-organization, and differentiation in human and insect networks. INSPIRE stands for Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education.

Harvesting sunlight to help feed and fuel the world


Press Release 14-072
Harvesting sunlight to help feed and fuel the world

Three U.S./U.K. funded projects have been awarded a total of almost $9 million in additional funding to continue research projects aimed at improving the efficiency of photosynthesis

Field of corn in the sun

Scientists are using novel methods to explore potential new ways to boost photosynthetic efficiency.
Credit and Larger Version

May 30, 2014

Three research teams–each comprised of scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom–have been awarded a second round of funding to continue research on news ways to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis.

Societal benefits

The ultimate goal of this potentially high-impact research is to develop methods to increase yields of important crops that are harvested for food and sustainable biofuels. But if this research is successful, it may also be used to support reforestation efforts and efforts to increase the productivity of trees for the manufacture of wood and paper and thousands of other products that are derived from wood and chemicals extracted from trees. Another reason why photosynthesis is an important research topic: It has made the Earth hospitable for life by generating food and oxygen.

The second round of funding to the three refunded research teams is from the U.S.’s National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). This funding will total almost $9 million over three years. Each team is receiving additional funding because of the significant progress it achieved via its initial round of funding, which was also jointly awarded by NSF and the BBSRC in 2011.

Why and how can the efficiency of photosynthesis be increased?

A photosynthesizing organism uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce sugars that fuel the organism and release oxygen. But photosynthesis is a relatively inefficient process, usually capturing only about 5 percent of available energy, depending on how efficiency is measured. Nevertheless, some species of plants, algae and bacteria have evolved efficiency-boosting mechanisms that reduce energy losses or enhance carbon dioxide delivery to cells during photosynthesis.

Each of the three funded research teams is working, in a new and unique way, to improve, combine or engineer these types of efficiency-boosting mechanisms, so they may eventually be conferred on important crops that provide food or sustainable biofuels.

Scientists have long sought ways to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis but without, thus far, producing significant breakthroughs. The potentially transformational methods currently being pursued by the three funded teams were developed during an “Ideas Lab”–a workshop held in 2010 that was specially designed to generate innovative, potentially transformative research projects that might open longstanding bottlenecks to photosynthesis research.

If successful in helping to open such bottlenecks and generate ways to improve photosynthetic efficiency, any of the three re-funded research projects could provide critical support for efforts to address food and fuel challenges currently created by increasing human populations and other factors.

John Wingfield, NSF’s assistant director for the Directorate of Biological Sciences, said, “Photosynthesis captures abundant and free solar energy and generates food and oxygen for the planet. Emerging technologies, like synthetic biology, are used in these potentially transformative projects to address the long-standing quest to increase efficiency of photosynthesis.”

The three refunded projects:

1. Plug-and-play photosynthesis led by Anne Jones of Arizona State University: Some single-celled microbes capture solar energy and convert it to fuel for self-replication. Plug-and-play photosynthesis aims to distribute the capture and conversion of energy to two environments, so that each environment can be optimized for maximum efficiency for its role.

The plug-and-play team’s overall goal is to capture unused energy, which would otherwise be dissipated, from a light-capturing photosynthetic cell–and transfer it to a second cell for fuel production. One way to carry out this energy transfer is to repurpose bacterial nanowires, which are tiny, electrically conductive wires that are present in some bacteria for reasons that are not yet completely understood.

These wires will be bioengineered to form an electrical bridge between light-capturing cells and fuel-producing cells–so that the wires will conduct energy from the former to the latter. To advance this project the plug-and-play team, together with other investigators, have corrected a false, but long accepted, mischaracterization of the biochemical composition of the bacterial nanowires and have thereby provided a new starting point for further study and engineering.

The research team is also working to develop another approach to intercellular energy transfer by creating new chemical pathways that would divert energy from the bacterial light-capturing cell to a designed biofuel-producing cell. The plug-and-play team has advanced this effort by developing a bioelectrochemical device that measures energy production by bacterial light-capturing cells.

2. Multi-Level Approaches for Generating Carbon Dioxide (MAGIC) led by John Golbeck of Pennsylvania State University: MAGIC is aimed at engineering a light-driven carbon dioxide pump that will increase the availability of carbon dioxide to an enzyme that promotes photosynthesis and will thereby increase photosynthetic efficiency.

To advance this effort, the team has, through genetic engineering, repurposed a light-sensitive protein, called halorhodopsin, which is found in a one-celled microbe called Natronomonas pharaonis; this protein helps the microbe maintain the correct chemical balance by pumping chloride into it. But the reengineered form of this protein instead pumps carbon dioxide, which is present as bicarbonate, into cells. To evaluate its pump’s effectiveness, the team incorporated its light-driven bicarbonate pump into an artificial vesicle. This vesicle contains a dye whose brightness is proportional to carbon dioxide levels in the vesicle’s interior–and therefore provides important information about the pump’s usefulness. The team is preparing to incorporate its pump into plant cells to determine if resulting increases in the availability of carbon dioxide to plant cells will increase their growth.

3. Combining Algal and Plant Photosynthesis (CAPP) led by Martin Jonikas of Stanford University: Chlamydomonas, a unicellular algae, has a pyrenoid–a ball-shaped structure that helps the algae assimilate carbon to improve its photosynthetic efficiency. CAPP is aiming to, for the first time, transplant the algal pyrenoid and its associated components into higher plants–with hopes of improving these plants’ photosynthetic efficiency and thus their productivity.

So far, the team has identified novel components of the pyrenoid. It has also made progress towards the development of a protein-based sensor that will be used to compare levels of bicarbonate in several cellular compartments in algae. This sensor will be used to help explain the algae’s carbon concentrating mechanism and help evaluate the pyrenoid’s effectiveness after it has been transplanted into higher plants.

Improving on nature

Jackie Hunter, BBSRC chief executive said, “Nature barely skims the surface when it comes to photosynthesis and making use of the sun’s energy. There is huge room for improvement and these research projects are taking steps to help us to unlock hidden potential that could benefit us all. Using the sun’s energy more efficiently means a greater potential to produce fuel, food, fibers, useful chemicals and much more.”

Gregory Warr, an NSF program director, said, “These projects, if successful, could transform the way we generate the fuel, food, clothing and shelter that plants and microbes provide to us.”

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310, lwhitema@nsf.gov
Robert Dawson, U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, 01793 413 204, Robert.Dawson@bbsrc.ac.uk

Program Contacts
Gregory Warr, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8284, gwarr@nsf.gov
Kent Dearn Chapman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7879, kchapman@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

Eradicating invasive species sometimes threatens endangered ones


Press Release 14-071
Eradicating invasive species sometimes threatens endangered ones

Study of California Clapper Rail and salt marsh cordgrass Spartina offers new insights

California Clapper Rail near invasive Spartina along San Francisco Bay.

Endangered California Clapper Rail near invasive Spartina along San Francisco Bay.
Credit and Larger Version

May 29, 2014

What should resource managers do when the eradication of an invasive species threatens an endangered one?

In results of a study published this week in the journal Science, researchers at the University of California, Davis, examine one such conundrum now taking place in San Francisco Bay.

The study was led by UC Davis researcher Adam Lampert.

“This work advances a framework for cost-effective management solutions to the conflict between removing invasive species and conserving biodiversity,” said Alan Tessier, acting deputy division director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences, which supported the research through NSF’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

CNH is also co-funded by NSF’s Directorates for Geosciences and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.

“The project exemplifies the goals of the CNH program,” says Tessier, “which are to advance the understanding of complex systems involving humans and nature.”

The California Clapper Rail–a bird found only in San Francisco Bay–depends on an invasive salt marsh cordgrass, hybrid Spartina, as nesting habitat.

Its native habitat has slowly vanished over recent decades, largely due to urban development and invasion by Spartina.

Study results show that, rather than moving as fast as possible with eradication and restoration plans, the best approach is to slow down the eradication of the invasive species until restoration or natural recovery of the system provides appropriate habitat for the endangered species.

“Just thinking from a single-species standpoint doesn’t work,” said paper co-author and UC-Davis environmental scientist Alan Hastings.

“The whole management system needs to take longer, and you need to have much more flexibility in the timing of budget expenditures over a longer time-frame.”

The scientists combined biological and economic data on Spartina and on the Clapper Rail to develop a modeling framework to balance conflicting management goals, including endangered species recovery and invasive species restoration, given fiscal limitations.

While more threatened and endangered species are becoming dependent on invasive species for habitat and food, examples of the study’s specific conflict are relatively rare–for now.

Another case where the eradication of an invasive species threatened to compromise the recovery of an endangered plant or animal is in the southwestern United States, where an effort to eradicate Tamarisk was cancelled because the invasive tree provides nesting habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

“As eradication programs increase in number, we expect this will be a more common conflict in the future,” said paper co-author and UC Davis scientist Ted Grosholz.

Other co-authors include scientists James Sanchirico of UC Davis and Sunny Jardine of the University of Delaware.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
Kat Kerlin, UCDavis, (530) 752-7704, kekerlin@ucdavis.edu

Related Websites
NSF Grant: CNH: Removal and Restoration: Social, Economic and Ecological Dynamics of Invasive Spartina in San Francisco Bay: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1009957&HistoricalAwards=false
CNH 2013 Grants: National Science Foundation awards $19.4 million for research on coupled natural and human systems: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=129178
CNH: Human Disease Leptospirosis Identified in New Species, the Banded Mongoose, in Africa: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=127914
CNH: Cooking Up Clean Air in Africa: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=126403&org=NSF
CNH: Studying Nature’s Rhythms: Soundscape Ecologists Spawn New Field: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=123046&org=NSF
CNH: Climate of Genghis Khan’s ancient time extends long shadow over Asia of today: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=130669&org=NSF&from=news
CNH: Summertime: Hot Time in the City: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=128204

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

The ‘Serpent’ Star-forming Cloud Hatches New Stars

Stars that are just beginning to coalesce out of cool swaths of dust and gas are showcased in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Infrared light has been assigned colors we see with our eyes, revealing young stars in orange and yellow, and a central parcel of gas in blue. This area is hidden in visible-light views, but infrared light can travel through the dust, offering a peek inside the stellar hatchery.

The dark patch to the left of center is swaddled in so much dust, even the infrared light is blocked. It is within these dark wombs that stars are just beginning to take shape.

Called the Serpens Cloud Core, this star-forming region is located about 750 light-years away in Serpens, or the “Serpent,” a constellation named after its resemblance to a snake in visible light. The region is noteworthy as it only contains stars of relatively low to moderate mass, and lacks any of the massive and incredibly bright stars found in larger star-forming regions like the Orion nebula. Our sun is a star of moderate mass. Whether it formed in a low-mass stellar region like Serpens, or a high-mass stellar region like Orion, is an ongoing mystery.

The inner Serpens Cloud Core is remarkably detailed in this image. It was assembled from 82 snapshots representing a whopping 16.2 hours of Spitzer observing time. The observations were made during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” a phase that began in 2009 after the observatory ran out of liquid coolant, as planned. 

Most of the small dots in this image are stars located behind, or in front of, the Serpens nebula.

The 2MASS mission was a joint effort between the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

New NSF data say foreign graduate enrollment in science and engineering continues to rise


Press Release 14-070
New NSF data say foreign graduate enrollment in science and engineering continues to rise

Overall graduate enrollment remains flat

International flags.

NSF data show enrollment trends in graduate S&E education.
Credit and Larger Version

May 22, 2014

The number of citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the United States declined in 2012, while the number of foreign students studying on temporary visas increased, according to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The 1.7 percent drop in U.S. citizens and permanent residents was countered by a 4.3 percent increase in enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students on temporary visas. Overall growth of S&E graduate student enrollment stalled for the second year in a row in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, after experiencing annual increases of 2 to 3 percent from 2005 to 2010. S&E graduate enrollment grew by less than 1 percent in 2011 and 2012.

These and other findings are from the fall 2012 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, cosponsored by the NSF and the National Institutes of Health. For more information, see the Survey of State Government Research and Development: FYs 2010 and 2011.

Please visit the NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics for more reports and other products.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Kimberly D. Osborne, NSF, (703) 292-2298, kosborne@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Kelly H. Kang, NSF, (703) 292-7796, kkang@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/