Aug 24, 2017

Axios Science

Alison Snyder

Welcome back. Please send me your comments about Axios Science and our coverage in the stream at alison@axios.com, or hit reply to this email.

On Monday, one of the most massive thunderstorms I've seen in awhile eclipsed my eclipse experience in Charleston. But even the partial totality I glimpsed was worth the trip.

Here's what is happening as the world keeps spinning...

1. Craig Venter: DNA is going digital

In many ways, there was the world before humans had their genome sequence in hand — and the world after. Craig Venter was the mastermind of the private effort to map the genome in the late 1990s. Since then, he's tried to deliver on the promises that came with it, launching companies and ruffling feathers along the way:

I spoke with him this week in D.C. about genomes being edited and remotely synthesized, and what it might mean for pandemic response, Mars colonization, and life in the broadest sense.

Read the interview here.

2. Axios stories to spark your brain
3. Hadza's seasonal diet shows how gut bacteria changes

Axios' Erin Ross writes about a new study on gut microbes that came out today...

The Hadza are a group of hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania. As the seasons change, so does their diet — from plant-heavy in the wet season to meat-heavy in the dry season. A study published in Science found that shift in diet changes the types and abundance of microbes in their gut.

What they found: The Hadza had more diverse gut microbes than the non-hunter-gatherers studied. Several species of bacteria that were common in the Hadza were non-existent in other groups. The seasonal shifts in bacteria species is supported by past research that shows vegetarians tend to have different gut microbes than people who eat meat.

Why it matters: Although microbiome research is still in its infancy, some results suggest diverse gut ecosystems, like the Hadza's, can be protective against illnesses. And, researchers are interested in whether diets can be supplemented with microbes in order to fight infection.

Read more here.

4. What we're reading elsewhere
  • Clean plate: Ag behemoth Cargill buys in to the lab-grown meat business with an investment in Memphis Meats, per the WSJ. Earlier this year, the major beef supplier divested of all cattle-feeding operations in order to put capital into endeavors like this.
  • Landslide: Nature's Jane Palmer writes on efforts to understand how slow moving landslides turn fast and dangerous. Last week's mudslide in Sierra Leone that killed more than 460 people is a reminder in why this science matters.
  • Bioluminescence: It's actually one of the ocean's most common features, William Broad writes in a beautiful NYT interactive. Cool stat: "During 240 research dives in the Pacific, they recorded every occurrence and kind of glowing sea creature — more than 500 types living down as deep as two miles...Most of the creatures — a stunning 76 percent — made their own light, vastly outnumbering the ranks of the unlit, such as dolphins."
5. Something wondrous

Dispatch from Erin in Sisters, Oregon...

Two wildfires are threatening homes here and covering the region with snowlike ash. Although they can be terrifying and destructive, fires are a necessary part of forest ecology. The remaining stands of ghost-white, barren trees form my favorite landscape.

These snag forests are among the rarest ecosystems in the West, both beautiful and ephemeral. Despite their outwardly dead appearance, they're teaming with life. Not long after the embers go out, rodents return to the region, bringing birds of prey and predators like pine martens and foxes. The open landscapes attract elk and deer. After a few years, stands of huckleberry, blueberry, and currant cover the ground. Snag forests can be more diverse and complex than the unburned woods that preceded them.

Over the last century, snag forests have become increasingly rare. For many years, the conventional wisdom held that fires were bad, harmed wildlife, robbed money from timber industries, and risked homes. The resulting fire management practices have left the West with what some call a fire deficit.

Alison Snyder