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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

Neutralizing Crazy Ants

Neutralizing Crazy Ants

Over the past 15 years or so, tawny crazy ants from South America have been popping up across the southeastern U.S. like paratroopers dropping in from an invading army. Where they take hold, they're like an ecological wrecking ball and they cause headaches for homeowners. Podcast host Marc Airhart joined biologist Edward LeBrun in the Texas Hill Country to test a new weapon in the battle against the destructive tawny crazy ant.

Alumni and Friends to be Inducted into Hall of Honor

Alumni and Friends to be Inducted into Hall of Honor

Three College of Natural Sciences alumni and friends were selected for induction into the college's 2022 Hall of Honor. David Booth, Richard Hinojosa and James Truchard received the distinction for their outstanding career accomplishments and lasting commitment to the college. They join four additional inductees from previous years who were unable to receive their honors in person due to the pandemic.

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Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Eukaryotic cells. Credit: iStock.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin report in Nature Microbiology the first discovery of viruses infecting a group of microbes that may include the ancestors of all complex life. The discovery offers tantalizing clues about the origins of complex life and suggests new directions for exploring the hypothesis that viruses were essential to the evolution of humans and other complex life forms.

Attackers Can Syphon Crypto Keys with Newly Discovered Attack

Attackers Can Syphon Crypto Keys with Newly Discovered Attack

Photo by alerkiv on Unsplash.

A team of researchers including Ph.D. student Yingchen Wang and professor Hovav Shacham from The University of Texas at Austin has found that a common feature of modern computer processors can make even carefully written encryption software reveal its secrets when probed by an attacker. The new attack technique, dubbed Hertzbleed, upends decades of guidance for how to write encryption software and may lead to widespread patching as developers come to terms with its implications.

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus). Credit: Marcos Guerra.

Frog-eating bats trained by researchers to associate a phone ringtone with a tasty treat were able to remember what they learned for up to four years in the wild, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean

Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean

Map of the Caribbean region. Generated using ArcGIS Pro online.

With the retreat of sprawling empires after the Second World War, one might think the colonial mindset of taking from smaller countries to support large nations would likewise be relegated to the past. But a new paper in The American Naturalist by an international collaboration of researchers shows how the legacy of colonialism remains deeply entrenched within scientific practice across the Caribbean archipelago.

How Electric Fish Were Able to Evolve Electric Organs

How Electric Fish Were Able to Evolve Electric Organs

UT Austin researchers confirmed that the genetic control region they discovered only controls the expression of a sodium channel gene in muscle and no other tissues. In this image, a green fluorescent protein lights up only in trunk muscle in a developing zebrafish embryo. Image credit: Mary Swartz/Johann Eberhart/University of Texas at Austin.

Electric organs help electric fish, such as the electric eel, do all sorts of amazing things: They send and receive signals that are akin to bird songs, helping them to recognize other electric fish by species, sex and even individual. A new study in Science Advances explains how small genetic changes enabled electric fish to evolve electric organs. The finding might also help scientists pinpoint the genetic mutations behind some human diseases.

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.