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May 7, 2020
Town Hall Seattle and University of Washington present
UW Engage Science (livestream)
Bark Beetles, Iron Bacteria, and DNA Thumb Drives

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Thursday, May 7, 2020, 6:00PM

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Digital Stage

Town Hall and UW Engage Science present local graduate students discussing their cutting-edge research. Tune in for a look at the forefront of research in our region, and meet the students who are leading the latest wave of scientific discovery.

Climate change is reshaping our forests by altering the typical patterns of natural disturbances, like fire and insect outbreaks. Across western North America—including right here in the Pacific Northwest—outbreaks of native bark beetles such as the mountain pine beetle have killed trees over millions of acres of forest in the last 20 years. These outbreaks are becoming more frequent and severe as climate conditions grow warmer and drier, creating concerns about how to maintain forests and the benefits they provide. Jenna Morris explores how modifying forest structure can influence response to mountain pine beetle outbreaks, and aims to inform decisions for improving forest management in order to promote greater resilience to future disturbances.

Jenna Morris is an ecologist studying the ways forests respond to disturbances like fire and insect outbreaks. Her current research explores how management activities and bark beetle outbreaks interact to shape forests across western North America, with implications for improving our ability to maintain resilient forest structure and function in a changing climate.

Iron is essential for the growth of marine microbes—tiny organisms that are invisible to the naked eye but make up more than 98% of the total mass of living organisms in the ocean. Because iron is very scarce in the ocean, marine bacteria produce molecules called “siderophores” that strongly bind to iron from surrounding seawater to efficiently take up iron. Since different bacteria selectively produce specific siderophores, the composition of siderophores detected in seawater can tell us which microbes live in it. Jiwoon Park unpacks the significance of this microbial community in the ocean, highlighting the effects of its composition on ocean productivity, seafood production, and eventually the global carbon footprint. Park shares insight from her work, with an emphasis on detecting siderophores in seawater samples from the North Pacific Ocean to understand how siderophores may be affecting the microbial ecosystem.

Jiwoon Park is a PhD student in chemical oceanography. She studies organic molecules that are produced by marine microbes to efficiently take up metals (e.g. iron, cobalt) for growth, to understand how the production or consumption of organic molecules may affect metal availability and eventually the microbial population in the North Pacific Ocean.

Society produces vast amounts of data, from cute cat videos on YouTube to telescope imagery peering at distant galaxies. But storing this information isn’t free, and takes up an unsustainable amount of both space and energy. Melissa Queen contends that data storage could take inspiration from the information storage system of life: DNA. She outlines how the DNA in each tiny cell in our body stores a modest 1.5 gigabytes of data (less than a 2 hour HD movie), but since the DNA is so small you would be able to fit every movie ever made into a test tube the size of a thumb-drive. Queen invites us to consider new possibilities for repurposing DNA to store society’s most important data.

Melissa Queen is a graduate student in Computer Science and Engineering, where she looks at the intersection of biology and computer science to try to develop new and efficient ways to store and process data. She loves thinking about the wonders of biology and trying to puzzle apart the different ways we could repurpose the molecules of life to create the sci-fi computers of the future.

Presented by Town Hall Seattle and the University of Washington.

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