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From the College of Natural Sciences

Marc Airhart is the Communications Coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. A long time member of the National Association of Science Writers, he has written for national publications including Scientific American, Mercury, The Earth Scientist, Environmental Engineer & Scientist, and StarDate Magazine. He also spent 11 years as a writer and producer for the Earth & Sky radio series. Contact me

When Good RNA Turns Bad

When Good RNA Turns Bad

RNAs are molecules that carry genetic information and control and regulate virtually all processes in our cells. Though RNA is vital, certain kinds can clump together in a way that is correlated with neurological disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington's disease. Biophysicist Dave Thirumalai, Collie-Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, and his team now have developed a computer model that helps explain how this occurs.

Live Cell Imaging Reveals New Clues About Processes Linked to Birth Defects

Live Cell Imaging Reveals New Clues About Processes Linked to Birth Defects

John Wallingford, professor of molecular biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, and his team used a process called live cell imaging to make observations about how a developing embryo transforms from its early ball shape into a more elongated shape with a distinct head and rear. Disruptions to this process in human embryos can lead to birth defects.

Fixing Racial Bias in AI

Fixing Racial Bias in AI

In 2020, a deep learning generative model designed to turn low-resolution images into high-quality photos was posted online. When a user uploaded a low-resolution image of President Obama, though, it returned an image that is now referred to as 'White Obama.' The Face Depixelizer model, based on an algorithm called PULSE, was reconstructing images with predominantly white features, setting off a heated debate across social media.

A More Nuanced Approach is Needed to Manage Coral Reef Ecosystems

A More Nuanced Approach is Needed to Manage Coral Reef Ecosystems

Rangiroa, French Polynesia. Credit: Jordan M. Casey.

For many years, conservationists have tended to focus on one key parameter when assessing coral reef health: the biomass of coral reef fishes. But according to a new study of more than 500 coral reefs around the world, what constitutes healthy or "functional" goes far beyond this single metric. Reporting in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, an international team identified five key functions that fish provide to a reef. Together, they paint a clearer picture of reef health.

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Edward LeBrun, a research scientist with the Texas Invasive Species Research Program at The University of Texas at Austin’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory, collects tawny crazy ants at a field site in central Texas. Credit: Thomas Swafford/University of Texas at Austin.

When tawny crazy ants move into a new area, the invasive species is like an ecological wrecking ball — driving out native insects and small animals and causing major headaches for homeowners. But scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have good news, as they have demonstrated how to use a naturally occurring fungus to crush local populations of crazy ants. They describe their work this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

New Phononic Crystal Might Enable Better Mobile Communications

New Phononic Crystal Might Enable Better Mobile Communications

Using a microwave microscope, UT Austin researchers visualized elastic waves as they travel right to left, following a Z-shaped boundary in a phononic crystal, without losing energy. The image is approximately 0.1 millimeters high. Credit: Keji Lai/University of Texas at Austin.

Experts have taken a step towards the use of special materials called phononic crystals in cell phones and other mobile devices, an advance that is important to make more devices compatible with emerging 5G communications and other new technologies.

New Vaccine Advances Could Help Against More Viral Illnesses

New Vaccine Advances Could Help Against More Viral Illnesses

Ching-Lin Hsieh and Jason McLellan are among the UT Austin scientists who have engineered a protein of the human metapneumovirus for use in vaccines. Credit: Vivian Abagiu

Some of the same researchers at The University of Texas at Austin who created a key to all coronavirus vaccines used in the U.S. have made a similar advance against the human metapneumovirus (hMPV), one of a handful of remaining respiratory viruses for which there is currently no vaccine.

A Physicist’s Search for Beauty (Audio)

A Physicist’s Search for Beauty (Audio)

Here in part 2 of our continuing remembrance of Steven Weinberg, we're diving a little deeper into what we know because of him. Weinberg was one of the world's greatest theoretical physicists, and his passing last year was deeply felt not only by us here at The University of Texas at Austin, but by a broad community of scientists and science-loving people. Weinberg summed up the goal of his life's work as: "to know why things are the way they are." To him, that meant distilling the rules of physics down to their simplest, most beautiful essence.

Gene Editing Gets Safer Thanks to Redesigned Protein

Gene Editing Gets Safer Thanks to Redesigned Protein

UT Austin researchers were surprised to discover that when Cas9 encounters a mismatch in a certain part of the DNA (red and green), instead of giving up and moving on, it has a finger-like structure (cyan) that swoops in and holds on to the DNA, making it act as if it were the correct sequence. Credit: Jack Bravo/University of Texas at Austin.

One of the grand challenges with using CRISPR-based gene editing on humans is that the molecular machinery sometimes makes changes to the wrong section of a host's genome, creating the possibility that an attempt to repair a genetic mutation in one spot in the genome could accidentally create a dangerous new mutation in another.

A New Way to Disarm Antibiotic Resistance in Deadly Bacteria

A New Way to Disarm Antibiotic Resistance in Deadly Bacteria

An antibiotic resistant bacterium (Klebsiella pneumoniae) is treated solely with the last-resort antibiotic imipenem (left); and with a combination of imipenem and a DsbA inhibitor, causing it to rupture and die (right). Image credit: Nikol Kadeřábková.

Scientists think they may have uncovered a whole new approach to fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which, if successful, would help address a health crisis responsible for more deaths every year than either AIDS or malaria.