UC Merced Connect: Work links microbes to behavior

October 16, 2012 

Professor Mónica Medina started out as the only marine biologist in a National Science Foundation workshop last year, but she ended up with a group of new partners and an opinion piece in the prestigious journal Science.

Through discussions with colleagues from many other disciplines, including behavioral biologists and ecologists, she and others realized they had found something new together.

"We had fun, and we realized there's an almost unexplored niche in science research -- the connection between microbes and behaviors," Medina said.

Along with the article's four other authors, she analyzed how much -- or little -- research has been done on the connection between the way animals behave and how the microbes that inhabit them affect such behaviors.

They were glad to find out that Science magazine was interested in the topic and agreed to publish it as a "Perspectives" piece.

"There are too few studies in this area," said Medina, who's with the School of Natural Sciences. "Microbiology and animal behavior research are two disciplines that have evolved separately. However, host-microbe interactions provide a new unexplored angle to look for ways to explain those behaviors."

"Given that microorganisms represent one of the most prevalent forms of life on this planet, this creative kind of thinking can dramatically change our understanding of the biological world," said UC Merced Vice Chancellor for Research Sam Traina.

Until fairly recently, people thought of microbes associated with animals almost exclusively as harmful and pathogenic to their hosts.

But all animals house microbes that are beneficial, such as the ones that live in intestines and help digest food. Some even seek them out, as humans do when we add supplements such as probiotics to our diets.

Author's lecture will explore Mayan mystery

UC Merced's Vital and Alice Pellissier Distinguished Speaker Series presents Colgate University Professor Anthony F. Aveni on "The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012."

Learn more about astronomy, history, anthropology and the Mayan calendar at a free public lecture at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre, 301 W. Main St., Merced. The doors open at 5:30 p.m.

People are encouraged to reserve seats by Friday by calling (209) 228-7787 or e-mailing specialevents@ucmerced.edu.

Aveni is a distinguished professor at Colgate University and a world- renowned expert in astronomy, anthropology and Native American studies.

Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the nation's top 10 professors, and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education voted him the National Professor of the Year -- the country's highest award for teaching.

Aveni is considered one of the founders of cultural astronomy, in particular for his research into the astronomical history of the Aztec and Maya Indians of ancient Mexico.

He has conducted similar research in North America, Peru, Israel, Italy and Greece, studying history, hieroglyphic writing, calendars and architecture.

Aveni has written 16 books, including "Conversing With the Planets," an examination of how ancient cultures discovered harmony between their beliefs and their studies of the sky: "Skywatching in Three Great Ancient Cultures" and "The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012."

Aveni has spoken or written on astronomy- related subjects for the Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, PBS-Nova, "The Larry King Show," NBC's "Today" show, the New York Times, Newsweek and USA Today.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, e-mail communications@ucmerced.edu.

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