All Things Biology

Your quick scoop on bio-related topics in 300 words or less
For many of those who don’t live near open waters, the idea of “glowing waters” may appear foreign for the most part. In fact, it may seem more suitable for a scene in a movie such as Avatar. But for those lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of Pyrocystis fusiformis, the “glowing waters” effect is as real as it gets as the deep ocean crashes onto land, transforming the waves into a brilliant glow in the night.
Pyrocystis fusiformis is a unicellular marine algae with the ability to produce bioluminescence of a blue color in response to ocean movement.  Bioluminescence is used by Pyrocystis fusiformis as means of protection against predators either by startling them or notifying secondary predators of their presence. Though able to live unicellularly, when these planktons are found in a high concentration, their glow becomes more vibrant, creating the breathtaking illusion of “glowing waters.” 
Photo source: www.lostateminor.com

For many of those who don’t live near open waters, the idea of “glowing waters” may appear foreign for the most part. In fact, it may seem more suitable for a scene in a movie such as Avatar. But for those lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of Pyrocystis fusiformis, the “glowing waters” effect is as real as it gets as the deep ocean crashes onto land, transforming the waves into a brilliant glow in the night.

Pyrocystis fusiformis is a unicellular marine algae with the ability to produce bioluminescence of a blue color in response to ocean movement.  Bioluminescence is used by Pyrocystis fusiformis as means of protection against predators either by startling them or notifying secondary predators of their presence. Though able to live unicellularly, when these planktons are found in a high concentration, their glow becomes more vibrant, creating the breathtaking illusion of “glowing waters.”

Photo source: www.lostateminor.com

By the time children leave elementary school, they will likely have already known that water is essential to life – that up to 70% of the human body is composed of water, that there would be no life on Earth without water. So what makes such a simple molecule containing two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom so important?
Water has important properties and characteristics that make it vital to biological entities. Water is a great solvent, meaning it has the ability to dissolve many substances and compounds, such as nutrients in the human body. Being able to form solutions, water serves as the medium for many chemical reactions by allowing them to interact with one another.
Additionally, water serves as a transporting medium for many ions and molecules through solutions, such as through the carrying of oxygen in the blood stream, and through tissues and membranes via osmosis, diffusion, and active transport.
Finally, the properties of water itself make it an appropriate necessity for life – its thermal, cohesive, adhesive, and surface tension properties. Water has a high specific heat. In other words, more energy is required to raise its temperature compared to other solvents; hence, this allows organisms to cope with environmental fluctuations and maintain homeostasis.  As a result of water’s structure and polarity, useful properties arise: cohesion allows water to “stick together,” adhesion allows water to stick to other materials (think of how water droplets “stick” onto windshields on rainy days), and surface tension which allows resistance to external forces (think of a toy boat floating on water).
All of these properties and characteristics contribute to water’s importance and can be applied in various instances in everyday life. Try seeing if you can recognize how many ways water is affecting you right now!
Photo credit: www.koraorganics.com

By the time children leave elementary school, they will likely have already known that water is essential to life – that up to 70% of the human body is composed of water, that there would be no life on Earth without water. So what makes such a simple molecule containing two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom so important?

Water has important properties and characteristics that make it vital to biological entities. Water is a great solvent, meaning it has the ability to dissolve many substances and compounds, such as nutrients in the human body. Being able to form solutions, water serves as the medium for many chemical reactions by allowing them to interact with one another.

Additionally, water serves as a transporting medium for many ions and molecules through solutions, such as through the carrying of oxygen in the blood stream, and through tissues and membranes via osmosis, diffusion, and active transport.

Finally, the properties of water itself make it an appropriate necessity for life – its thermal, cohesive, adhesive, and surface tension properties. Water has a high specific heat. In other words, more energy is required to raise its temperature compared to other solvents; hence, this allows organisms to cope with environmental fluctuations and maintain homeostasis.  As a result of water’s structure and polarity, useful properties arise: cohesion allows water to “stick together,” adhesion allows water to stick to other materials (think of how water droplets “stick” onto windshields on rainy days), and surface tension which allows resistance to external forces (think of a toy boat floating on water).

All of these properties and characteristics contribute to water’s importance and can be applied in various instances in everyday life. Try seeing if you can recognize how many ways water is affecting you right now!

Photo credit: www.koraorganics.com

While many people may find 50°C (roughly 120°F) to be quite past their comfort zone, many thermophiles thrive between 45 and 122°C, with the toleration for the higher end (< 75°C) being hyperthermophiles. Thermophiles are organisms that can withstand – and sometimes even require – high temperatures to survive, hence their meaning “heat-loving.”
 Thermophiles are both prokaryotic and eukaryotic, though the microorganisms growing in the most extreme environments are archaea. Hot springs and deep-sea thermal vents can be found throughout the world, but a number of the studied thermophiles are concentrated in Yellowstone National Park, USA.
 What makes thermophiles so interesting is their ability to survive under high temperatures without denaturing their proteins. Thermophiles have special enzymes called extremozymes that are more tightly bound than enzymes at normal temperatures. Additionally, thermophile enzymes tend to have less glycine. Since glycine is the smallest and simplest amino acid, it typically allows proteins to be more flexible. Having less glycine in their structures would allow extremozymes to be more rigid and more resistant against extreme temperatures.
 Since extremozymes are able to function under extreme conditions, these enzymes have become well incorporated in biotechnological applications, such as PCR.
 Photo credit: harrell-enb150.blogspot.com

While many people may find 50°C (roughly 120°F) to be quite past their comfort zone, many thermophiles thrive between 45 and 122°C, with the toleration for the higher end (< 75°C) being hyperthermophiles. Thermophiles are organisms that can withstand – and sometimes even require – high temperatures to survive, hence their meaning “heat-loving.”

 Thermophiles are both prokaryotic and eukaryotic, though the microorganisms growing in the most extreme environments are archaea. Hot springs and deep-sea thermal vents can be found throughout the world, but a number of the studied thermophiles are concentrated in Yellowstone National Park, USA.

 What makes thermophiles so interesting is their ability to survive under high temperatures without denaturing their proteins. Thermophiles have special enzymes called extremozymes that are more tightly bound than enzymes at normal temperatures. Additionally, thermophile enzymes tend to have less glycine. Since glycine is the smallest and simplest amino acid, it typically allows proteins to be more flexible. Having less glycine in their structures would allow extremozymes to be more rigid and more resistant against extreme temperatures.

 Since extremozymes are able to function under extreme conditions, these enzymes have become well incorporated in biotechnological applications, such as PCR.

 Photo credit: harrell-enb150.blogspot.com

Wetlands are home to a number of distinct organisms, making it the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Common features of wetlands include shallow waters that cover an area of land for much of the year and hydric soil capable of supporting aquatic plants.

Characteristics of wetlands vary and are determined by factors such as salinity of the water, soil composition, and organisms residing in the wetland. They are categorized under the following groups: marshes, characterized by a slow flow of water near poor drainage areas and dominated by grasses; swamps, often found near poor drainage areas and dominated by trees; bogs, distinguished by spongy soil and dominated by bog mosses; and fens, characterized by peaty soil and dominated by grassy plants.

Though some may view wetlands as aesthetically unpleasing, it is vital to understand their importance in an ecosystem. Like a giant sponge, wetlands help keep water levels consistent by soaking up water after a storm and releasing water when levels are low. Wetlands are also able to cycle running sediments and nutrients for other ecosystems. Being nutrient-rich and offering shelter, wetlands are home to not only permanent residents but also many migratory birds.

Wetlands have been especially helpful in water purification, possessing biofilters, hydrophytes, and other organisms that are able to remove toxic substances – such as pesticides and other products of human activities – that would have otherwise run off into other ecosystems and caused greater damage. Marshlands, in particular, help in erosion control by slowing the strong flow of water with the aid of emergents, plants whose roots are deep in the mud and whose stalks remain high above the water.

It is without doubt that marshlands not only serve as a home to many organisms, but they also affect our lives through water purification and prevention of erosion.
Photo credit: water.epa.gov

Wetlands are home to a number of distinct organisms, making it the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Common features of wetlands include shallow waters that cover an area of land for much of the year and hydric soil capable of supporting aquatic plants.

Characteristics of wetlands vary and are determined by factors such as salinity of the water, soil composition, and organisms residing in the wetland. They are categorized under the following groups: marshes, characterized by a slow flow of water near poor drainage areas and dominated by grasses; swamps, often found near poor drainage areas and dominated by trees; bogs, distinguished by spongy soil and dominated by bog mosses; and fens, characterized by peaty soil and dominated by grassy plants.

Though some may view wetlands as aesthetically unpleasing, it is vital to understand their importance in an ecosystem. Like a giant sponge, wetlands help keep water levels consistent by soaking up water after a storm and releasing water when levels are low. Wetlands are also able to cycle running sediments and nutrients for other ecosystems. Being nutrient-rich and offering shelter, wetlands are home to not only permanent residents but also many migratory birds.

Wetlands have been especially helpful in water purification, possessing biofilters, hydrophytes, and other organisms that are able to remove toxic substances – such as pesticides and other products of human activities – that would have otherwise run off into other ecosystems and caused greater damage. Marshlands, in particular, help in erosion control by slowing the strong flow of water with the aid of emergents, plants whose roots are deep in the mud and whose stalks remain high above the water.

It is without doubt that marshlands not only serve as a home to many organisms, but they also affect our lives through water purification and prevention of erosion.

Photo credit: water.epa.gov



Lichens can easily be mistaken for plants, as they have been in the past. However, even though they appear to be a single organism, lichens are composed of two or more symbiotic partners living together. One partner is a fungus, the mycobiont, and the other partner is cyanobacteria and/or green algae, the phycobiont. The basis of this mutualistic symbiosis relies on the algae’s and/or cyanobacteria’s ability to harness sunlight to provide nutrients and fix carbon through photosynthesis (cyanobacteria are also able to fix nitrogen) and the fungus’s ability to provide shelter.

Oftentimes found on rocks and tree barks, lichens amazingly can also endure extreme environments, such as artic tundra and hot deserts. Physiologiclly, they are diverse as well and can be found in four shapes – crustose (crust-like), foliose (leaf-like), fruticose (shrub-like), and squamulose (scale-like).

Why should lichens be studied? Despite being able to survive in harsh conditions, lichens are rather vulnerable to environmental disturbances, since they lack roots and must retrieve their minerals from the surrounding air. Studying them may be useful for areas such as ozone depletion and air pollution.
Photo credit: www.barcelonaphotoblog.com

Lichens can easily be mistaken for plants, as they have been in the past. However, even though they appear to be a single organism, lichens are composed of two or more symbiotic partners living together. One partner is a fungus, the mycobiont, and the other partner is cyanobacteria and/or green algae, the phycobiont. The basis of this mutualistic symbiosis relies on the algae’s and/or cyanobacteria’s ability to harness sunlight to provide nutrients and fix carbon through photosynthesis (cyanobacteria are also able to fix nitrogen) and the fungus’s ability to provide shelter.

Oftentimes found on rocks and tree barks, lichens amazingly can also endure extreme environments, such as artic tundra and hot deserts. Physiologiclly, they are diverse as well and can be found in four shapes – crustose (crust-like), foliose (leaf-like), fruticose (shrub-like), and squamulose (scale-like).

Why should lichens be studied? Despite being able to survive in harsh conditions, lichens are rather vulnerable to environmental disturbances, since they lack roots and must retrieve their minerals from the surrounding air. Studying them may be useful for areas such as ozone depletion and air pollution.

Photo credit: www.barcelonaphotoblog.com