UW News

Department of Biology


November 7, 2018

After a bad winter in the ocean, female Magellanic penguins suffer most, study shows

A view of South America from space.

Researchers from the University of Washington have shown how Magellanic penguins fare during the winter months when they spend months at sea feeding. They have discovered that oceanographic features are more likely to negatively impact the body conditions of Magellanic penguin females, but not males, when the penguins return to their nesting grounds in spring.


October 8, 2018

Awards to UW affiliate professor recognize career of conservation and research on penguins

two people standing on a stage

Pablo García Borboroglu, president of the Global Penguin Society and a UW affiliate associate professor of biology, has won the Whitley Gold Award and the National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, as well as accolades from the Argentine National Congress, for his research and advocacy for penguin conservation.


October 1, 2018

High CO2 levels cause plants to thicken their leaves, which could worsen climate change effects, researchers say

A tree canopy in a tropical rainforest.

When levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves. Now two University of Washington scientists have shown that this reaction by plants will actually worsen climate change by making the global “carbon sink” contributed by plants was less productive.


September 24, 2018

Burst of morning gene activity tells plants when to flower

Arabidopsis thaliana plants flowering outside under natural light.

For angiosperms — or flowering plants — one of the most important decisions facing them each year is when to flower. It is no trivial undertaking. To flower, they must cease vegetative growth and commit to making those energetically expensive reproductive structures that will bring about the next generation. Knowledge of this process at the…


September 19, 2018

DNA testing of illegal ivory seized by law enforcement links multiple ivory shipments to same dealers

African elephants examining a bone from another elephant

The international trade in elephant ivory has been illegal since 1989, yet African elephant numbers continue to decline. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature cited ivory poaching as a primary reason for a staggering loss of about 111,000 elephants between 2005 and 2015 — leaving their total numbers at an estimated 415,000….


September 7, 2018

New Life Sciences Building is a nexus for modern-age teaching and research at the University of Washington

building

The University of Washington today opened the doors to a new Life Sciences Building that will transform learning, teaching and research for generations.

The $171 million Life Sciences complex includes seven floors and 207,000 square feet that encourages and makes possible team-oriented science. Designed by Perkins+Will and built by Skanska, the building encompasses a 187,000-square-foot research and teaching facility and a 20,000-square-foot research greenhouse with UW plant collections.


June 27, 2018

To tell the sex of a Galápagos penguin, measure its beak, researchers say

A Galapagos penguin.

In a paper published April 5 in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists at the University of Washington announced that, for a Galápagos penguin, beak size is nearly a perfect indicator of whether a bird is male or female.


June 15, 2018

Study: Undergrad research experiences make a noticeable difference

Photo by Katherine Turner. The Block W statue at the North entrance to the UW Seattle campus.

A new analysis suggests the value of structured research programs for undergraduates extends to society as a whole by encouraging participants to seek advanced degrees in scientific and technological fields.


May 17, 2018

Washington Research Foundation grant brings on four new biology faculty just in time for new Life Sciences Building

RainbowW

With the grand opening of the new $171 million Life Sciences Building just months away, it’s time to fill the building with faculty. That was the idea behind a $3 million Washington Research Foundation (WRF) grant to hire four biology professors. It’s called a cluster hire and will help maintain the University of Washington’s leading reputation in primary research and life sciences.


May 15, 2018

Forest loss in one part of US can harm trees on the opposite coast

forest with dead trees

If an entire forest dies, new research shows, it has ricocheting effects in the atmosphere that can affect vegetation on the other side of the country.


May 7, 2018

Stomata — the plant pores that give us life — arise thanks to a gene called MUTE, scientists report

A microscopy image of the surface of a plant.

New research in plants shows that a gene called MUTE is required for the formation of stomata — the tiny pores that are critical for gas exchange, including releasing the oxygen gas that we breathe.


April 10, 2018

UW’s Samuel Wasser receives prestigious Albert Schweitzer Medal

head shot

A University of Washington professor has been awarded the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Medal for his work for developing noninvasive tools for monitoring human impacts on wildlife. Samuel K. Wasser was honored in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening. The award was presented by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell.


March 28, 2018

Decade of fossil collecting in Africa gives new perspective on Triassic period, emergence of dinosaurs

an artist rendering of teleocrater, an early dinosaur relative

A University of Washington-led project spanning countries, years and institutions has attempted to reconstruct what the southern end of the world looked like during the Triassic period, 252 to 199 million years ago.


February 7, 2018

Fruit bat’s echolocation may work like sophisticated surveillance sonar

blue bat head shape

High-speed recordings of Egyptian fruit bats in flight show that instead of using a primitive form of echolocation, these animals actually use a technique recently developed by humans for surveillance and navigation.


January 25, 2018

If you swat mosquitoes, they may learn to avoid your scent

A tethered, flying Aedes aegypti mosquito.

In a published Jan. 25 in Current Biology, University of Washington researchers report that mosquitoes can learn to associate a particular odor with an unpleasant mechanical shock akin to being swatted. As a result, they’ll avoid that scent the next time.


January 22, 2018

Lab-made hormone may reveal secret lives of plants

Chemical structure of a plant hormone

By developing a synthetic version of the plant hormone auxin and an engineered receptor to recognize it, University of Washington biology professor Keiko Torii and her colleagues are poised to uncover plants’ inner workings, raising the possibility of a new way to ripen fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes.


January 17, 2018

Scale-eating fish adopt clever parasitic methods to survive

scan

A small group of fishes — possibly the world’s cleverest carnivorous grazers — feeds on the scales of other fish in the tropics. A team led by biologists at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories is trying to understand these scale-feeding fish and how this odd diet influences their body evolution and behavior.


December 3, 2017

Kim Nasmyth — a UW postdoctoral alumnus — wins Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for discoveries in cell biology, genetics

Kim Nasmyth

Kim Nasmyth, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Oxford and former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, is one of five recipients of the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Nasmyth and other prize recipients were honored by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation at a ceremony December 3 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.


November 7, 2017

With climate change, Mount Rainier floral communities could ‘reassemble’ with new species relationships, interactions

Wildflowers growing on a mountain.

An unseasonably warm, dry summer on Mount Rainier in 2015 caused subalpine wildflowers to change their bloom times and form ‘reassembled’ communities, with unknown consequences for species interactions among wildflowers, pollinators and other animals.


September 25, 2017

Group project? Taking turns, working with friends may improve grades

A University of Washington study has found that social dynamics affect student performance on group projects. The more comfortable students are in the group, the better they perform.

  It has become an almost essential element of academic life, from college lecture halls to elementary classrooms: the group assignment. Dreaded by some, loved by others, group projects typically aim to build teamwork and accountability while students learn about a topic. But depending on the assignment and the structure of the groups, a project…


August 24, 2017

Scientists to create digital encyclopedia of 3-D vertebrate specimens

snake scan

A $2.5 million National Science Foundation grant will daylight thousands of specimens from their museum shelves by CT scanning 20,000 vertebrates and making these data-rich, 3-D images available online to researchers, educators, students and the public. The University of Washington is a partner institution contributing most of the fish and bat scans.


August 10, 2017

Public has rare opportunity to view work on T. rex skull

A dinosaur fossil

Starting Aug. 12, the public can watch fossil preparation of the University of Washington Burke Museum’s Tyrannosaurus rex skull “live.”


June 29, 2017

Study shows high pregnancy failure in southern resident killer whales; links to nutritional stress and low salmon abundance

A killer whale leaping from the water.

A multi-year survey of the nutritional, physiological and reproductive health of endangered southern resident killer whales suggests that up to two-thirds of pregnancies failed in this population from 2007 to 2014. The study links this orca population’s low reproductive success to stress brought on by low or variable abundance of their most nutrient-rich prey, Chinook salmon.


June 6, 2017

Hiding in plain sight: new species of flying squirrel discovered

The newly-described Humboldt’s flying squirrel is the third-known species of flying squirrel in North America.

A new study published May 30 in the Journal of Mammalogy describes a newly discovered third species of flying squirrel in North America — now known as Humboldt’s flying squirrel, or Glaucomys oregonensis. It inhabits the Pacific Coast region of North America, from southern British Columbia to the mountains of southern California.


March 14, 2017

In times of plenty, penguin parents keep feeding their grown offspring

A juvenile Galapagos penguin being fed by an adult.

A research team led by University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma reports that fully grown Galapagos penguins who have fledged — or left the nest — continue to beg their parents for food. And sometimes, probably when the bounty of the sea is plentiful, parents oblige and feed their adult offspring.


February 16, 2017

Immune cell serves as an essential communications link for migrating cells

Two cells under a microscope

Scientists at the University of Washington have discovered that a common type of cell in the vertebrate immune system plays a unique role in communication between other cells. It turns out that these cells, called macrophages, can transmit messages between non-immune cells.


January 30, 2017

Artists in the lab: Talk will highlight a creative partnership between art and science

a work of art

Jennifer Nemhauser leads a research laboratory of scientists, all immersed in the complex world of plant hormones. But last year, the University of Washington professor of biology boosted her lab’s roster with some unexpected talent. Claire Cowie — an artist, UW alumna and lecturer — spent three months in 2016 as a part-time artist-in-residence in Nemhauser’s lab….


January 24, 2017

Prized fossil find — the oldest, most complete iguanian in the Americas — illuminates the lives of lizards in the Age of Dinosaurs

A drawing of lizards eating wasps.

Paleontologists picking through a bounty of fossils from Montana have discovered something unexpected — a new species of lizard from the late dinosaur era, whose closest relatives roamed in faraway Asia.


Predator or not? Invasive snails hide even when they don’t know

invasive snail feeding on an oyster

The specific cues that trigger an animal’s natural defense vary depending on the species and its history in the ecosystem, a new University of Washington study finds.


January 17, 2017

When it comes to mating, fruit flies can make rational choices

Fruit flies

In a paper published Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Communications, researchers report that fruit flies — perhaps the most widely studied insect in history — show signs of rational decision-making when choosing a mate.


December 20, 2016

Researchers model how ‘publication bias’ does — and doesn’t — affect the ‘canonization’ of facts in science

a bacterium

In an article published Dec. 20 in the journal eLife, researchers present a mathematical model that explores whether “publication bias” — the tendency of journals to publish mostly positive experimental results — influences how scientists canonize facts. Their results offer a warning that sharing positive results comes with the risk that a false claim could be canonized as fact. But their findings also offer hope by suggesting that simple changes to publication practices can minimize the risk of false canonization.


December 8, 2016

New study traces the marsupial origins in N. America, finds mammals during Age of Dinosaurs packed a powerful bite

an extinct mammal

A new study by paleontologists at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture and the University of Washington describes an early marsupial relative called Didelphodon vorax that lived alongside dinosaurs and had, pound-for-pound, the strongest bite force of any mammal ever recorded.


Frequently asked questions: odontoma in a gorgonopsian

Sketch of an extinct animal.

Answers to frequently asked questions about a 255-year-old tumor in a ‘pre-mammal.’


Fossilized evidence of a tumor in a 255-million-year-old mammal forerunner

A tumor next to a tooth.

University of Washington paleontologists have discovered a benign tumor made up of miniature, tooth-like structures embedded in the jaw of an extinct ‘mammal-like’ gorgonopsian. Known as a compound odontoma, this type of tumor is common to mammals today. But this animal lived 255 million years ago, before mammals even existed.


November 28, 2016

Our closest worm kin regrow body parts, raising hopes of regeneration in humans

Five days after being cut. A rudimentary head, including the mouth and proboscis, has formed.

A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that regenerating body parts might one day be possible.


November 16, 2016

Large forest die-offs can have effects that ricochet to distant ecosystems

dead conifers on slope

Major forest die-offs due to drought, heat and beetle infestations or deforestation could have consequences far beyond the local landscape. Wiping out an entire forest can have significant effects on global climate patterns and alter vegetation on the other side of the world.


November 8, 2016

Clues in poached ivory yield ages and locations of origin

Elephant tusks

More than 90 percent of ivory in large, seized shipments came from elephants that died less than three years before, according to a new study from a team of scientists at the University of Utah, the University of Washington and partner institutions. They combined a new approach to radiocarbon dating of ivory samples with genetic analysis tools developed by UW biology professor Sam Wasser.


November 2, 2016

Tricking moths into revealing the computational underpinnings of sensory integration

moth

A research team led by University of Washington biology professor Tom Daniel has teased out how hawkmoths integrate signals from two sensory systems: vision and touch.


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.



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