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Biology

Black jacobin hummingbird
Fall 2018

Higher calling

For decades, scientists have been intrigued by a black hummingbird that appears to be singing, its throat and jaw moving in all earnestness, but without making any obvious sound. Augusto Ruschi, a naturalist who catalogued dozens of hummingbirds in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, first noticed it in 1959.

The bird, called a black Jacobin, appeared to have portions of its song that were ultrasonic, “inaudible to humans,” said Ruschi, “and while one would only perceive it with special equipment, one can notice the moment in which the bird emits it, as its guttural region makes characteristic movements, commonly observed when a bird sings.”

It would be … » More …

Cover of The Book of Caterpillars
Summer 2018

The Book of Caterpillars

Cover of The Book of Caterpillars

Edited by David G. James

The University of Chicago Press: 2017

 

Meet some of the world’s most wild, weird, and beautiful caterpillars. Using its own hairs, the lichen moth builds a basket around itself to stay protected during metamorphosis.

As the Red Helen caterpillar develops, its body starts to resemble a snake’s head. When threatened a red, forked appendage inflates from behind its own head, giving off an unpleasant … » More …

Darwin's finches illustration
Summer 2018

Another look at Darwin’s finches

Darwin developed key aspects of his theory of evolution while pondering finches from the Galapagos Islands. It’s only fitting that reproductive biologist Michael Skinner would choose those same islands to propose a Lamarckian idea—that environment can directly impact inheritance of physical traits.

In this case, the process is driven by epigenetics, he says. “If we think about evolution, we can’t simply think of genetics. We also need to think about epigenetics.”

According to Skinner, epigenetic mutations occur 1,000 times more frequently than do genetic mutations and could help explain why new species emerge more often than expected.

“The reason epimutations exist might be to dramatically … » More …

Summer 2018

Evolution evolution

In a word, Michael Skinner is tenacious. Growing up on a ranch outside Pendleton, the former Eagle Scout and college wrestler learned early on that you don’t back down from a little head-butting or controversy. It’s all just part of the game.

The trait has served Skinner ’82 PhD well over the years and enabled him to persevere through the fallout of a chance discovery in his reproductive biology lab in the 1990s. The unexpected findings threw 200 years of scientific ideology into question and initiated a paradigm shift in the understanding of inheritance and evolution. They also sparked a wave of outrage and … » More …

Frog in Honduras. Photo Travis King
Spring 2018

Gallery: Wildlife of Honduras

WSU environmental biology doctoral student Travis King joined a team of biologists in 2017 to monitor wildlife in the remote region of La Mosquitia in Honduras, home to the newly-discovery “City of the Lost Monkey God.”

Travis and his colleagues in Conservation International and the Honduran government used motion-activated camera traps, hair collecting traps, and other methods to identify the wild animals in this untamed region. Below are some of the images that King brought back.

 

Read more about Travis and his research in “To catch a cat.”

Omar Cornejo and Joanna Kelley in their WSU lab
Spring 2018

It’s in the genes

When Omar Cornejo got his genomic analysis back from 23andMe, he and his wife, fellow population geneticist Joanna Kelley, were both a bit surprised and vindicated. Venezuelan, Cornejo expected to see the alleles, or variations of a gene, from Native American, western European, and North African populations. But he was unaware that his family’s deep history also included ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa.

That just goes to show the importance of broadly sampling the genome, says Kelley. “The lesson is that if you just look at the mitochondria, you’d assume this person is from Africa. But if you look at just the Y chromosome, you’d assume … » More …

Spring 2018

What dreams may come

If Shakespeare lived today, the playwright would surely be prescribed a sleep study. With his many references to sleep walking, apnea, insomnia, and nightmares, you can almost see the baggy-eyed bard sitting in his nightcap writing by candlelight.

O sleep, gentle sleep! Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, that thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down?he bemoans in Henry IV, Part 2.

It’s a familiar lament to all those who have lain awake yearning for sleep’s healing balm. But there the comparison ends.

While Shakespeare’s restless, seventeenth-century nights were lit with a single amber flame, today’s insomniacs are usually staring at … » More …

Cell illustration
Spring 2018

Gaining on muscle loss

Cancer, says Dan Rodgers, is a hellish parade of horribleness.

Cancerous cells multiply aggressively, interfering with the normal function of healthy organs. Tumors secrete hormones and other chemicals that exploit the body’s own defenses to the cancer’s advantage. Your body knows something is wrong, so stress hormones are released in an effort to inhibit growth processes and channel nutrients to the brain.

Deprived of resources, muscles begin to atrophy. Washington State University muscle biologist Rodgers, together with colleagues at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, investigated treatments for tumor-induced muscle wasting called cancer cachexia. The research was so promising that Rodgers … » More …

Cougar head on camera
Spring 2018

Gallery: Central Washington wildlife caught on camera

Using over 400 motion-activated camera traps, Washington State University wildlife biologist Daniel Thornton and his graduate students Travis King and Arthur Scully searched for the rare and elusive lynx in the Kettle Mountains and north Cascades of central Washington.

An assistant professor in the School of Environmental Science, Thornton led the largest lynx camera survey ever done in the state in 2016. The researchers found the first photographic evidence of a lynx in the Kettles in nearly two decades.

Read more about Thornton’s research on lynx. You can also read about Travis King and his work in both Washington and Central America in “» More …