UW Today

Department of Biology

October 12, 2016

In new book, UW’s Estella Leopold revisits childhood at the family shack, described in Aldo Leopold’s best-seller ‘A Sand County Almanac’

Cover for "Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited" by Estella Leopold.

Estella Leopold, a University of Washington professor emeritus of biology, has written a new memoir of her formative years, “Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited.” She describes life on the land where her father, Aldo Leopold, practiced the revolutionary conservation philosophy described in his famous book of essays “A Sand County Almanac.”

September 27, 2016

Researchers modify yeast to show how plants respond to a key hormone

a mutant plant

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a novel toolkit based on modified yeast cells to tease out how plant genes and proteins respond to auxin, the most ubiquitous plant hormone. Their system, described in a paper published Sept. 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, allowed them to decode auxin’s basic effects on the diverse family of genes that plants utilize to detect and interpret auxin-driven messages.

September 23, 2016

How natural selection acted on one penguin species over the past quarter century

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

University of Washington biologist Dee Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of data on Magellanic penguins to search for signs that natural selection — one of the main drivers of evolution — may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published Sept. 21 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work on the penguins at the Punta Tombo breeding site in Argentina.

September 22, 2016

5 UW professors among HHMI’s inaugural class of Faculty Scholars

Photo by Katherine Turner.

Amid a decline in funding for scientific research, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation to launch a new Faculty Scholars program. Announced Sept. 22 by HHMI, the inaugural crop of early-career scientists includes 5 faculty members from the University of Washington.

September 19, 2016

Award for genetic tracking to rein in pangolin poaching

A pangolin in the grass.

A team of conservationists at the University of Washington is among the Grand Prize Winners of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge for a proposal to identify poaching hotspots for pangolins, one of the most trafficked group of mammals in the world.

August 29, 2016

Plants’ future water use affects long-term drought estimates

farmers in field

Many popular long-term drought estimates ignore the fact that plants will be less thirsty as carbon dioxide goes up. Plants’ lower water use could roughly halve some current estimates for the extent of future drought, especially in central Africa and temperate Asia.

August 18, 2016

Follow your nose: UW’s young corpse flower relocates to Volunteer Park Conservatory for fetid first bloom

corpse flower

Visitors to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory are in for a stinking treat, courtesy of the Department of Biology at the University of Washington. The conservatory has taken in a young corpse lily, affectionately known as Dougsley, which is set to blossom this week or next.

Paleontologists with the UW’s Burke Museum discover major T. rex fossil

Paleontologists with the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the UW have discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a very complete skull. The find, which paleontologists estimate to be about 20 percent of the animal, includes vertebrae, ribs, hips and lower jaw bones.

August 15, 2016

UW research backs up ongoing efforts to protect the enigmatic Nautilus


University of Washington biologist Peter Ward’s body of research has helped policymakers recognize the impact nautiluses have on ocean ecosystems, as well as how they can — and cannot — replenish their numbers in the face of unrestricted, unregulated fishing. At a CITES meeting in September, Ward and his team hope nautiluses will get much-needed protections from trade and harvesting.

July 6, 2016

Acid attack — can mussels hang on for much longer?


Scientists from the University of Washington have found evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions can prevent mussels attaching themselves to rocks and other substrates, making them easy targets for predators and threatening the mussel farming industry.

May 11, 2016

Skull specializations allow bats to feast on their fellow vertebrates

Skull of a fish-eating bat.

Over their 52-million-year history, a few bats have evolved a taste for their fellow vertebrates. Now biologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of History and Culture are shedding light on how these so-called “carnivorous bats” adapted to the daunting task of chowing down their backboned prey.

April 6, 2016

Marine preserve to help penguins in a ‘predictably unpredictable’ place

A Galapagos penguin.

New regulations by the government of Ecuador to protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands as a marine preserve, including main feeding areas for Galapagos penguins.

February 23, 2016

Four UW scientists awarded Sloan Fellowships for early-career research


Four faculty members at the University of Washington have been awarded early-career fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The new Sloan Fellows, announced Feb. 23, include Bingni Brunton, assistant professor of biology; Christopher Laumann, assistant professor of physics; Matthew McQuinn, assistant professor of astronomy; and Emina Torlak, assistant professor of computer science and engineering….

February 8, 2016

UW biology professor is a finalist for top conservation prize

Dee Boersma

P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington professor of biology and Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science, is one of six finalists for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation. Boersma is the first UW faculty member nominated for this prize — the highest honor for animal conservationists — which has been awarded every other year since 2006.

December 15, 2015

UW conservationists celebrate new protected areas for Argentine penguins

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

On Dec. 3, the legislature for Argentina’s Chubut province established a new marine protected area off Punta Tombo, which would help preserve the feeding grounds for about 500,000 Magellanic penguins that make their home along this rocky stretch of Argentine coast. This is welcome news for the UW scientists who have studied these penguins for decades and advocated for their conservation.

December 10, 2015

Trees either hunker down or press on in a drying and warming western U.S. climate

Trembling aspen.

Two University of Washington researchers have uncovered details of the radically divergent strategies that two common tree species employ to cope with drought in southwestern Colorado. As they report in a new paper in the journal Global Change Biology, one tree species shuts down production and conserves water, while the other alters its physiology to continue growing and using water.

November 19, 2015

Sequencing algae’s genome may aid biofuel production

Chrysochromulina tobin

University of Washington scientists have sequenced the complete genetic makeup of a species of ecologically important algae, which may aid in biofuel production.

September 14, 2015

A more acidic ocean will bend the mermaid’s wineglass

Mermaid's wineglass algae.

New research from the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories shows that a more acidic ocean can weaken the protective shell of a delicate alga. The findings, published Sept. 9 in the journal Biology Letters, come at a time when global climate change may increase ocean acidification.

September 10, 2015

UW scientists will continue studies of evolution ‘in real time’ with five-year grant renewal

Faculty members from several departments at the University of Washington will share $2.25 million in research funds from the National Science Foundation to study and apply the principles of evolution “in real time.” Their studies are a part of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Founded in 2010, this NSF science…

September 4, 2015

Grant will help Native American undergraduates attend first scientific meeting

Two professors from the University of Washington and Oklahoma State University have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to bring six Native American undergraduate students to their first scientific meeting. The students will attend the Jan. 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Portland, Oregon. Known commonly…

August 25, 2015

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

Nautilus pompilius swimming next to Allonautilus scrobiculatus off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea.

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn’t seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers one of the world’s rarest animals, a remote encounter that may become even more infrequent if illegal fishing…

August 13, 2015

‘Scarface,’ an ancient cousin to mammals, unearthed in Africa

Photograph of the skull of Ichibengops munyamadziensis.

A team of scientists has identified a new species of “pre-mammal” based on fossils unearthed in Zambia’s Luangwa Basin in 2009. The ancient, Dachshund-sized creature lived some 255 million years ago, in a time just before the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history. Its discoverers include Christian Sidor, professor of biology at the University of…

July 16, 2015

UW researchers show that the mosquito smells, before it sees, a bloody feast

A female mosquito feeding on a host.

A team of biologists from the University of Washington and the California Institute of Technology has cracked the cues mosquitoes use to find us.

July 8, 2015

UW’s Conservation magazine snares top writing honors

The UW-based Conservation magazine has won a gold award in a national competition sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE. Conservation shares this top honor with a magazine from Stanford Medicine. The award recognizes magazines produced by universities or colleges for special external constituencies, including publications affiliated with individual colleges…

June 30, 2015

UW team programs solitary yeast cells to say ‘hello’ to one another

UW researchers have produced cell-to-cell communication in baker's yeast, a first step in learning to build multicellular organisms from scratch. The red yeast cells have been engineered to produce the plant hormone auxin, which "tells" the green cells to express a gene differently.

UW researchers have produced cell-to-cell communication in baker’s yeast — a first step in learning to build multicellular organisms or artificial organs from scratch.

June 29, 2015

Researchers discover how petunias know when to smell good

Image of the common garden petunia

A team of UW biologists has identified a key mechanism plants use to decide when to release their floral scents to attract pollinators.

June 19, 2015

Access to electricity is linked to reduced sleep

A Toba/Qom child sleeps.

New research comparing traditional hunter-gatherer living conditions to a more modern setting shows that access to artificial light and electricity has shortened the amount of sleep humans get each night.

June 18, 2015

Evidence from ivory DNA identifies two main elephant poaching hotspots

elephants socializing

University of Washington biologist Samuel Wasser uses DNA evidence to trace the origin of illegal ivory and help police an international trade that is decimating African elephant populations. New results show that over the past decade, ivory has largely come from just two areas in Africa.

June 17, 2015

Plants make big decisions with microscopic cellular competition

A picture of stomata.

A team of University of Washington researchers has identified a mechanism that some plant cells use to receive complex and contradictory messages from their neighbors.

June 11, 2015

How the hawkmoth sees, hovers and tracks flowers in the dark

A hawkmoth clings to a robotic flower used to study the insect’s ability to track the moving flower under low-light conditions.

What researchers have discovered about the hummingbird-sized hawkmoth could help the next generation of small flying robots operate efficiently under a broad range of lighting conditions. The research is published in the June 12 edition of Science.

June 4, 2015

Warmer, lower-oxygen oceans will shift marine habitats

shark in the water

Warming temperatures and decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen will act together to create metabolic stress for marine animals. Habitats will shift to places in the ocean where the oxygen supply can meet the animals’ increasing future needs.

May 4, 2015

Puget Sound’s clingfish could inspire better medical devices, whale tags

Northern clingfish.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories are looking at how the biomechanics of clingfish could be helpful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery and even to tag and track whales in the ocean.

April 15, 2015

3-D printed blossoms a growing tool for ecology

A hawk moth probes a flower with its proboscis.

3-D printing has been used to make everything from cars to medical implants. Now, University of Washington ecologists are using the technology to make artificial flowers, which they say could revolutionize our understanding of plant-pollinator interactions.

March 18, 2015

New Air Force center at UW learns from animals for better flight

Yonatan Munk, a postdoctoral researcher in biology, studies how moths fly.

A new center at the University of Washington funded by the U.S. Air Force will focus on how elements in nature can help solve challenging engineering and technological problems related to building small, remotely operated aircraft.

January 15, 2015

Tiny plant fossils a window into Earth’s landscape millions of years ago


An international team led by the University of Washington has discovered a way to determine the tree cover and density of trees, shrubs and bushes in locations over time based on clues in the cells of plant fossils preserved in rocks and soil.

November 6, 2014

Zebrafish stripped of stripes

Sideview of fish

Within weeks of publishing surprising new insights about how zebrafish get their stripes, University of Washington researchers now explain how to “erase” them.

October 3, 2014

Not stuff of musty museums: Enlist evolutionary biology against modern threats

Full-size models of elephant, leopard, rhino on display

Using evolutionary biology is one way to try to outwit evolution where it is happening too quickly and to perhaps find accommodations when evolution occurs too slowly.

September 23, 2014

Dying brain cells cue new brain cells to grow in songbird

Sparrow perches among tree branches

Using a songbird as a model, scientists have described a brain pathway that replaces cells that have been lost naturally and not because of injury.

August 6, 2014

Penguins at risk world over, scientists urge new strategies

A Magellanic penguin and two chicks

Scientists writing in the current issue of Conservation Biology call for marine protected areas and partially protected areas to help penguins cope.

June 26, 2014

Foul fumes derail dinner for hungry moths

moth with flower and exhaust pipe

New research on how pollinators find flowers when background odors are strong shows that both natural plant odors and human sources of pollution can conceal the scent of sought-after flowers.

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