Thursday, March 23, 2023

Biological Thievery

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Models

Ed Hessler

I recommend this essay written by Veronique Greenwood, a contributing writer for Quanta Magazine. It is consists of some introductory comments and then proceeds to an interview with a researcher who is given enough time and space to provide full answers for lay folks.

To give you an idea of what's ahead here are two paragraphs. I will also list the interview topics. There are links, e.g., to Dr. Moeller's laboratory and some photographs of where she works, lab and field.

The interview includes an observation about what ecology is. At first, Moeller wasn't persuaded but now she agrees.

 "Nature, red in tooth and claw, is rife with organisms that eat their neighbors to get ahead. But in the systems studied by the theoretical ecologist Holly Moeller, an assistant professor of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the consumed become part of the consumer in surprising ways.

"Moeller primarily studies protists, a broad category of unicellular microorganisms like amoebas and paramecia that don't fit within the familiar macroscopic categories of animals, plants and fungi. What most fascinates her is the ability of some protists to co-opt parts of the cells they prey upon. Armed with these still-functioning pieces of their prey, the protists can expand into new habitats and survive where they couldn't before."

Exciting stuff.

Here are the topics covered and Dr. Moeller does a great job uncovering them.

--You’ve become well known in ecology and evolution circles for your work on “acquired metabolism.” Is that a term you came up with?

--Is what humans have with our gut bacteria acquired metabolism?

--What led you into this line of research?

--I love the idea that an organism can start out in life without a chloroplast, and then just pick one up.

--Do these species have to keep stealing chloroplasts because they eventually break down?

--Do they ever inherit chloroplasts from their parent cells? If the cells divide to reproduce, don’t the chloroplasts get passed on as well?

--How is it possible for the ciliates to get energy from someone else’s cellular machinery?

--What evolutionary question is this work helping you answer?

--Does acquired metabolism help organisms get ahead?

--So getting these cell counts and building a mathematical model of what was happening was an important part of this?

--We talked about competitive advantages that can come from acquired metabolism. But are there downsides to taking over someone else’s metabolism?

--I noticed on your Twitter that you’re doing a lot of tree-root counting. What does that have to do with this other work?

--There’s so much talk about the microbiome, but we forget that it must have been really difficult to get all those relationships with microbes going at the beginning.

--I feel like theoretical ecology is exploding lately.

















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