Magnetotactic Bacteria

We are Alexa Boesel and Fred Cohan from Wesleyan University, and here is our next story for Invisible Life. A few years ago, an exciting discovery was made in Badwater Basin, Death Valley. Under microscopes, Lefèvre and Bazylinski found bacterial cells that seemed to be swimming. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the cells … Read more

Gut Microbiomes of Herbivores and Carnivores

Consider two of the most iconic mammals of Death Valley: the Kit Fox and the Desert Bighorn Sheep. In constant struggle to survive with extreme temperatures and limited water sources, sheep and fox alike must maximize their digestion capacity. When either a Kit Fox or Desert Bighorn Sheep finds food, it passes through its mouth, … Read more

Rock Snot

Each year, almost 3 million people from around the world make the journey to northwestern Montana’s Glacier National Park. One of Glacier’s most popular destination points is Iceberg Lake, whose icy waters have enticed hundreds to jump in (many miles from medical care!). For visitors who take the plunge, global warming seems far away, yet … Read more

Speedy Speciation in Bacteria

Microbiologists have identified over a hundred phyla of bacteria, groups that are astonishingly disparate in their cell architecture, physiology, biochemistry, and most importantly, their ecology. Our lab has been interested for decades in the first step toward this ecological diversification. This is speciation, where one lineage splits into two “ecotypes” that can coexist indefinitely as … Read more

Invisible Life: An Introduction

Last week we contemplated the resilience of microbes, inhabiting every earthly environment including the saltpan of Death Valley. These tiny organisms, unseen and underappreciated for millennia, are just now becoming understood by biologists. But why should you care? How do these unicellular creatures affect the world in any appreciable way? First, consider your own body. … Read more

The Microbes that Never Sleep

by Thomas Kim, Wesleyan ‘16 New York City public transportation moves millions of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut commuters to work every day. If you have ever been on the subway during rush hour, you know how cramped and crowded a subway car can be. Just imagine sardines in a can and that’s what New … Read more

“Can Anything Live Out There?”

This is the most common question Death Valley rangers are asked. Looking across the vast saltpan, with craters and crystalized formations completely devoid of any obvious life, Death Valley looks extraterrestrial. Yet, just underneath the salt, the soil teems with communities of microbes. Microbes are single-celled organisms that are invisible to the unaided eye. They consist primarily of the … Read more

Climate Change and Dengue: How Global Warming Can Affect Your Health

Hannah Steinberg, Wesleyan ‘16  Climate change has and will have numerous effects on human health. Increased temperature and UV radiation will increase the rate of skin cancer. Rising temperatures, increased atmospheric CO2, and increased ozone concentrations at ground level will intensify the severity of allergies and asthma attacks. Flooding will result in drinking water being contaminated with toxins and … Read more

Rapid Ecological Diversification in Bacillus

In our last posting, we addressed the controversy over the speed of ecological diversification in bacteria. Some say that ecological diversification is almost a daily process, that every bacterium out there is unique in its ecology; others say diversification is extremely slow, so that we can discover whole swaths of closely related organisms that are ecologically interchangeable. In … Read more

Are There Species in the Bacterial World?

It is our pleasure to inaugurate the Cohan Lab’s Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress sites on microbial ecology! Our goal is to discuss and raise interest in new research in microbial ecology, including our own. Our lab in Wesleyan University’s Biology Department focuses on the origins of bacterial diversity, particularly the origins of bacterial species. Our … Read more