Tag Archives: evolutionary biology

Fantastic Fungi Futures: a multi-night ArtSci Salon event in late November/early December 2019 in Toronto

In fact, I have two items about fungi and I’m starting with the essay first.

Giving thanks for fungi

These foods are all dependent on microorganisms for their distinctive flavor. Credit: margouillat photo/Shutterstock.com

Antonis Rokas, professor at Venderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee, US), has written a November 25, 2019 essay for The Conversation (h/t phys.org Nov.26.19) featuring fungi and food, Note: Links have been removed),

I am an evolutionary biologist studying fungi, a group of microbes whose domestication has given us many tasty products. I’ve long been fascinated by two questions: What are the genetic changes that led to their domestication? And how on Earth did our ancestors figure out how to domesticate them?

The hybrids in your lager

As far as domestication is concerned, it is hard to top the honing of brewer’s yeast. The cornerstone of the baking, brewing and wine-making industries, brewer’s yeast has the remarkable ability to turn the sugars of plant fruits and grains into alcohol. How did brewer’s yeast evolve this flexibility?

By discovering new yeast species and sequencing their genomes, scientists know that some yeasts used in brewing are hybrids; that is, they’re descendants of ancient mating unions of individuals from two different yeast species. Hybrids tend to resemble both parental species – think of wholpins (whale-dolphin) or ligers (lion-tiger).

… What is still unknown is whether hybridization is the norm or the exception in the yeasts that humans have used for making fermented beverages for millennia.

To address this question, a team led by graduate student Quinn Langdon at the University of Wisconsin and another team led by postdoctoral fellow Brigida Gallone at the Universities of Ghent and Leuven in Belgium examined the genomes of hundreds of yeasts involved in brewing and wine making. Their bottom line? Hybrids rule.

For example, a quarter of yeasts collected from industrial environments, including beer and wine manufacturers, are hybrids.

The mutants in your cheese

Comparing the genomes of domesticated fungi to their wild relatives helps scientists understand the genetic changes that gave rise to some favorite foods and drinks. But how did our ancestors actually domesticate these wild fungi? None of us was there to witness how it all started. To solve this mystery, scientists are experimenting with wild fungi to see if they can evolve into organisms resembling those that we use to make our food today.

Benjamin Wolfe, a microbiologist at Tufts University, and his team addressed this question by taking wild Penicillium mold and growing the samples for one month in his lab on a substance that included cheese. That may sound like a short period for people, but it is one that spans many generations for fungi.

The wild fungi are very closely related to fungal strains used by the cheese industry in the making of Camembert cheese, but look very different from them. For example, wild strains are green and smell, well, moldy compared to the white and odorless industrial strains.

For Wolfe, the big question was whether he could experimentally recreate, and to what degree, the process of domestication. What did the wild strains look and smell like after a month of growth on cheese? Remarkably, what he and his team found was that, at the end of the experiment, the wild strains looked much more similar to known industrial strains than to their wild ancestor. For example, they were white in color and smelled much less moldy.

… how did the wild strain turn into a domesticated version? Did it mutate? By sequencing the genomes of both the wild ancestors and the domesticated descendants, and measuring the activity of the genes while growing on cheese, Wolfe’s team figured out that these changes did not happen through mutations in the organisms’ genomes. Rather, they most likely occurred through chemical alterations that modify the activity of specific genes but don’t actually change the genetic code. Such so-called epigenetic modifications can occur much faster than mutations.

Fantastic Fungi Futures (FFF) Nov. 29, Dec. 1, and Dec. 4, 2019 events in Toronto, Canada

The ArtSci Salon emailed me a November 23, 2019 announcement about a special series being presented in partnership with the Mycological Society of Toronto (MST) on the topic of fungi,

Fantastic Fungi Futures a discussion, a mini exhibition, a special screening, and a workshop revolving around Fungi and their versatile nature.

NOV 29 [2019], 6:00-8:00 PM Fantastic Fungi Futures (FFF): a roundtable discussion and popup exhibition.

Join us for a roundtable discussion. what are the potentials of fungi? Our guests will share their research, as well as professional and artistic practice dealing with the taxonomy and the toxicology, the health benefits and the potentials for sustainability, as well as the artistic and architectural virtues of fungi and mushrooms. The Exhibition will feature photos and objects created by local and Canadian artists who have been working with mushrooms and fungi.

This discussion is in anticipation of the special screening of Fantastic Fungi at the HotDocs Cinema on Dec 1 [2019] our guests:James Scott,Occupational & Environmental Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, UofT; Marshall Tyler, Director of Research, Field Trip, Toronto; Rotem Petranker, PhD student, Social Psychology, York University; Nourin Aman, PhD student, fungal biology and Systematics lab, Punjab University; Sydney Gram, PhD student, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology student researcher (UofT/ROM); [and] Tosca Teran, Interdisciplinary artist.

DEC. 1 [2019], 6:15 pm join us to the screening of Fantastic Fungi, at the HotDocs Cinemaget your tickets herehttps://boxoffice.hotdocs.ca/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=104145~fff311b7-cdad-4e14-9ae4-a9905e1b9cb0 afterward, some of us will be heading to the Pauper’s Pub, just across from the HotDocs Cinema

DEC. 4 [2019], 7:00-10:00PM Multi-species entanglements:Sculpting with Mycelium, @InterAccess, 950 Dupont St., Unit 1 

This workshop is a continuation of ArtSci Salon’s Fantastic Fungi Futures event and the HotDocs screening of Fantastic Fungi.this workshop is open to public to attend, however, pre-registration is required. $5.00 to form a mycelium bowl to take home.

During this workshop Tosca Teran introduces the amazing potential of Mycelium for collaboration at the intersection of art and science. Participants learn how to transform their kitchens and closets in to safe, mini-Mycelium biolabs and have the option to leave the workshop with a live Mycelium planter/bowl form, as well as a wide array of possibilities of how they might work with this sustainable bio-material. 

Bios

Nourin Aman is a PhD student at fungal biology and Systematics lab at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan. She is currently a visiting PhD student at the Mycology lab, Royal Ontario Museum. Her research revolves around comparison between macrofungal biodiversity of some reserve forests of Punjab, Pakistan.Her interest is basically to enlist all possible macrofungi of reserve forests under study and describe new species as well from area as our part of world still has many species to be discovered and named. She will be discussing factors which are affecting the fungal biodiversity in these reserve forests.

Sydney Gram is an Ecology & Evolutionary Biology student researcher (UofT/ROM)

Rotem Petranker- Bsc in psychology from the University of Toronto and a MA in social psychology from York University. Rotem is currently a PhD student in York’s clinical psychology program. His main research interest is affect regulation, and the way it interacts with sustained attention, mind wandering, and creativity. Rotem is a founding member oft the Psychedelic Studies Research Program at the University of Toronto, has published work on microdosing, and presented original research findings on psychedelic research in several conferences. He feels strongly that the principles of Open Science are necessary in order to do good research, and is currently in the process of starting the first lab study of microdosing in Canada.

James Scott– PhD, is a ARMCCM Professor and Head Division of Occupational & Environmental Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of TorontoUAMH Fungal Biobank: http://www.uamh.caUniversity Profile: http://www.dlsph.utoronto.ca/faculty-profile/scott-james-a/Research Laboratory: http://individual.utoronto.ca/jscottCommercial Laboratory: http://www.sporometrics.com

Marshall Tyler– Director of Research, Field Trip. Marshall is a scientist with a deep interest in psychoactive molecules. His passion lies in guiding research to arrive at a deeper understanding of consciousness with the ultimate goal of enhancing wellbeing. At Field Trip, he is helping to develop a lab in Jamaica to explore the chemical and biological complexities of psychoactive fungi.

Tosca Teran, aka Nanotopia, is an Multi-disciplinary artist. Her work has been featured at SOFA New York, Culture Canada, and The Toronto Design Exchange. Tosca has been awarded artist residencies with The Ayatana Research Program in Ottawa and The Icelandic Visual Artists Association through Sím, Reykjavik Iceland and Nes artist residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In 2019 she was one of the first Bio-Artists in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto in partnership with the Ontario Science Centre as part of the Alien Agencies Collective. A recipient of the 2019 BigCi Environmental Award at Wollemi National Park within the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Greater Blue Mountains. Tosca started collaborating artistically with Algae, Physarum polycephalum, and Mycelium in 2016, translating biodata from non-human organisms into music.@MothAntler @nanopodstudio www.toscateran.com www.nanotopia.net8 

A trailer has been provided for the movie mentioned in the announcement (from the Fantastic Fungi screening webpage on the Mycological Society of Toronto website),

You can find the ArtSci Salon here and the Mycological Society of Toronto (MST) here.

Chameleons (male panther chameleons in particular)—colour revelation

Caption: These are male panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) photographed in Madagascar. Credit: © Michel Milinkovitch

Caption: These are male panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) photographed in Madagascar.
Credit: © Michel Milinkovitch

Researchers at Switzerland’s University of Geneva/Université de Genève (UNIGE) have revealed the mechanisms (note the plural) by which chameleons change their colour. From a March 10, 2015 news item on phys.org,

Many chameleons have the remarkable ability to exhibit complex and rapid color changes during social interactions. A collaboration of scientists within the Sections of Biology and Physics of the Faculty of Science from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, unveils the mechanisms that regulate this phenomenon.

In a study published in Nature Communications [March 10, 2015], the team led by professors Michel Milinkovitch and Dirk van der Marel demonstrates that the changes take place via the active tuning of a lattice of nanocrystals present in a superficial layer of dermal cells called iridophores. The researchers also reveal the existence of a deeper population of iridophores with larger and less ordered crystals that reflect the infrared light. The organisation of iridophores into two superimposed layers constitutes an evolutionary novelty and it allows the chameleons to rapidly shift between efficient camouflage and spectacular display, while providing passive thermal protection.

Male chameleons are popular for their ability to change colorful adornments depending on their behaviour. If the mechanisms responsible for a transformation towards a darker skin are known, those that regulate the transition from a lively color to another vivid hue remained mysterious. Some species, such as the panther chameleon, are able to carry out such a change within one or two minutes to court a female or face a competing male.

A March 10, 2015 University of Geneva press release on EurekAlert (French language version is here on the university website), which originated the news item, explains the chameleon’s ability as being due to its ability to display structural colour,

Besides brown, red and yellow pigments, chameleons and other reptiles display so-called structural colors. «These colors are generated without pigments, via a physical phenomenon of optical interference. They result from interactions between certain wavelengths and nanoscopic structures, such as tiny crystals present in the skin of the reptiles», says Michel Milinkovitch, professor at the Department of Genetics and Evolution at UNIGE. These nanocrystals are arranged in layers that alternate with cytoplasm, within cells called iridophores. The structure thus formed allows a selective reflection of certain wavelengths, which contributes to the vivid colors of numerous reptiles.

To determine how the transition from one flashy color to another one is carried out in the panther chameleon, the researchers of two laboratories at UNIGE worked hand in hand, combining their expertise in both quantum physics and in evolutionary biology. «We discovered that the animal changes its colors via the active tuning of a lattice of nanocrystals. When the chameleon is calm, the latter are organised into a dense network and reflect the blue wavelengths. In contrast, when excited, it loosens its lattice of nanocrystals, which allows the reflection of other colors, such as yellows or reds», explain the physicist Jérémie Teyssier and the biologist Suzanne Saenko, co-first authors of the article. This constitutes a unique example of an auto-organised intracellular optical system controlled by the chameleon.

The press release goes on to note that the iridophores have another function,

The scientists also demonstrated the existence of a second deeper layer of iridophores. «These cells, which contain larger and less ordered crystals, reflect a substantial proportion of the infrared wavelengths», states Michel Milinkovitch. This forms an excellent protection against the thermal effects of high exposure to sun radiations in low-latitude regions.

The organisation of iridophores in two superimposed layers constitutes an evolutionary novelty: it allows the chameleons to rapidly shift between efficient camouflage and spectacular display, while providing passive thermal protection.

In their future research, the scientists will explore the mechanisms that explain the development of an ordered nanocrystals lattice within iridophores, as well as the molecular and cellular mechanisms that allow chameleons to control the geometry of this lattice.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Photonic crystals cause active colour change in chameleons by Jérémie Teyssier, Suzanne V. Saenko, Dirk van der Marel, & Michel C. Milinkovitch. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6368 doi:10.1038/ncomms7368 Published 10 March 2015

This article is open access.

Science and dance in Vancouver

The performances (Nov. 25 – 27, 2010) of a dance/science project, Experiments: Logic and Emotion Collide (World Premiere) will take place at the Scotia Bank Dance Centre 677 Davie Street @ Granville St in Vancouver (Canada).

As part of their publicity campaign, the producers (SFU [Simon Fraser University] Centre for Dialogue, in association with LINK Dance Foundation) gave a series of three talks on art and science  prior to the performances later this week. I attended the Art, Science and Creativity: Common Threads and Unique Expressions panel discussion (Nov. 9, 2010) which featured the choreographer, Gail Lotenberg, sculptor and evolutionary biologist, Lee Gass, spoken word artist, Nadia Chaney, and poet, Sonnet L’Abbé and moderator, Mark Winston, evolutionary biologist and Academic Director for the Centre for Dialogue.

From the Centre for Dialogue page about the dance/science project,

SFU Centre for Dialogue, in association with LINK Dance Foundation, is pleased to present a series of Dialogues on Art and Science. Explore the similarities and differences between both disciplines as they employ creativity, experimentation, logic and intuition to understand the world around us.

These Dialogues precede the World Premiere of LINK Dance Foundation’s new work Experiments: Logic and Emotion Collide. Over the past three years, LINK Artistic Director Gail Lotenberg has been working with dancers and ecologists to create an ensemble piece interweaving movement, sound, video and lighting, appealing to both halves of the brain.

In trying better understand the underpinnings for Experiments, I located a posting by Lotenberg where she describes the impetus for the piece (excerpted from Lotenberg’s Oct. 29, 2010 posting),

Mark [Winston] is the Academic Director of the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue. He had been impressed with my first work created through this collaboration with scientists (in the field of Behavioural Ecology) and he wanted to help spearhead a new piece, even larger in scale and more ambitious in content. I was gamed. So he asked, “what would you want to create a piece about?” I said, “Experimental Design in Science.” He was surprised, to say the least. What I said next, however, hooked him. “Experimental Design,” I told him, “is as much a reflection of the personality and personal beliefs of a scientist, as it is a reflection of the natural world under investigation. And the elegance of a good design is as beautiful as dance.” He totally agreed and totally jumped in, feet first.

Mark was visibly thrilled that I understood this aspect of experimental design that it is a mirror for personality and a pursuit of elegance in how to ask a refined question. I guess he knew that it was the consequence of having fallen in love with a scientist and seeing first hand the passion, the wit, and the artistry that my husband brings into the process of designing a good experiment. I love how the personality of a scientist is so evident in their experiments–a witty mind creates a trap, a romantic mind seeks evidence of deep connectivity between things, a social activist looks for the influence of community on individual actions in animal behaviour. I was charmed by the spirit of scientists, like when you first begin to see the personality of a child emerging from a newborn.

I was also charmed by how scientists use language. As terse as poetry! Melodic like music. They speak in a way about their research, that gave me a sense of accompaniment for dance. Precise, razor-sharp, impassioned.

These are some of the starting points for this project and they are beginning to become visible in the outcomes of our creative process. Months of experimentation and finally I find myself deeply satisfied to witness what was only in my imagination finding real expression in movement, music, etc. The impulse to translate their poetry; to capture their personalities inside their experiments; interpreting the elegance of a clean set of results with an elegant phrase of dance. I think I am finding the answer to why I undertook the massive endeavour …

I had the idea that Behavioural Ecologists and Choreographers sharing a key aspect in our work–that we both interpret movement and actions as meaningful information, enough to build a career around. A cool idea but until it is presented in some way, it remains only that … an idea. To be brave is to speak that idea out loud through this production.

Interesting insight into how the arts and science are connected, eh?

Tickets for the performances can be purchased here.