The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. – Einstein
by artist Alexandra Glavaschi
We at ICB and IOB want to highlight these artists/scientists (social media followers of our journals and or authors of papers) below who agreed to come alongside us this year to help promote the beauty still being created in the midst of all of this year’s turmoil and sadness.
The arts as well as the sciences, have the ability to transport us by helping us to experience the mysterious. We hope you’ll enjoy their works as much as we do and that it transports you too, even if just for a moment.
PhD student of environmental effects on sexual selection, journal Twitter follower
regularly participates in #SundayFishSketch
“I’ve always liked drawing and painting, but it was only during my first year as a zoology undergraduate that I started doing it with some regularity. The inspiration came from these weekly practicals that involved producing diagrams of preserved specimens, from microscopic organisms to life-sized skeletons of mammals. I learned to carefully study small details, proportions and positions of body parts relative to one another before trying to recreate the specimen on paper. Now I don’t have to produce any diagrams for work, but the habit of paying close attention to details has stayed with me and it’s certainly valuable for all sorts of experiments that involve handling small animals.”
Staff researcher at UC Davis studying green and white sturgeon physiology, journal follower and regular participant in #SundayFishSketch
“Animals and art were my childhood essentials. Little did I know that I would be able to bridge the two as an adult, for work and fun! While completing my bachelor’s degree in Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology at UC Davis multiple classes incorporated art in some form, whether it was species identification in ichthyology lab or mapping out habitat restoration projects in wildlife areas. Something clicked, and I realized how beautifully science and art rely on each other. I began to draw and paint with new purpose. My art now ranges from colorful watercolor to black and white scientific illustrations. As a research scientist, I never stop learning, and I am grateful to be able to combine two of my passions. One thing I really enjoy doing is painting or drawing species that are either lesser-known, or species of concern that are experiencing population declines. These creatures deserve the same amount of appreciation as charismatic megafauna and I hope that I can contribute to that idea with my art.”
“I first began sketching during a summer of research studying mantis shrimp. I think that it allowed me to think about the animals I studied in a different way. During the day, I solved experiment-related problems, but when drawing in the evening, I noticed the small details that make unique body anatomy or motions interesting. For me, developing experiments and analyses to answer my questions about the natural world is a creative process, much like making art. I find that taking the time to sketch or paint helps to strengthen my creativity in all my interests, including biology. It feels like I am training my brain to look at a particular organism or process through multiple perspectives. Because of that, it does not matter to me whether my sketches are anything spectacular- they help me keep science exciting!”
Jagged Fang Designs
(social media follower, Paleoillustration company )
“Working with extinct animals means that we cannot convey what these animals looked like when they were alive to the public without some form of art or creative influence. Science communication hinges on being able to deliver a concise, clear message to those outside of the field, and reconstructing prehistoric animals through art – whether that is in 2D, 3D or animation – allows us to instantly capture the imagination of a wider audience than just those with a formal training in palaeontological lingo. Every piece of paleoart also helps to document the progression of our understanding of extinct animals, serving as a snapshot of the knowledge and speculation of the time.”
– Alex from Jagged Fang
Purchase your favorite images from ICB/IOB covers to some of our artists in bio works that were donated to support student scholarships for SICB:
At SICB’s 2020 conference in Austin last January, speakers/ authors held a symposium on
(s10) Melding Modeling and Morphology: integrating approaches to understand the evolution of form and function organized by Lindsay Waldrop and Jonathan Radar – (to be featured in our upcoming issue 5 of ICB)
The purpose of their symposium was to examine the idea of studying the evolution of functional structures using mixed methods of classic biomechanics, together with computational and mathematical modeling, all in a phylogenetic framework. The symposium brought together speakers with backgrounds in both approaches, and promoted ideas by speakers who had worked to develop methods to bring both sides together.
David Polly took part in this symposium and authored
Climatic shifts in recent decades and those projected over the next century pose an existential threat to biodiversity, and many species will exhibit rapid changes in distribution (Peterson et al. 2002, Parmesan and Yohe 2003), declines in demographic rates, or extinction (Holt 1990, Parmesan 2006).
“A contributing factor to these predicted ecological impacts of rising temperatures is the physiological tolerances species have for abiotic conditions.“
Organisms perform best under a range of optimal temperatures, which varies based on body size, physiology, and life history (MacMillan et al. 2012). Fitness is highest when ambient temperatures are between a lower and upper critical threshold. Under projected emission scenarios, temperatures are expected to rise globally, which poses concern for organisms that may be exposed to stressful conditions at or above their critical thresholds.
One species that may be impacted by rising temperatures is the California spotted owl. This nocturnal avian predator occurs in conifer forests along the Sierra Nevada. Especially at the lower elevational limits of their range, spotted owls will likely be exposed to temperatures that approach their upper critical temperature during summer heat waves (Weathers et al. 2001, Barrows 1981). A preliminary look at the thermal conditions to which spotted owls are exposed indicated that some individuals were experiencing maximum temperatures that exceeded the species physiological tolerance (Figure 1).
One reason spotted owls may be more sensitive to rising temperatures than other species may be their morphological adaptations to tolerate cold temperatures in the winter. The feathering on the feet and toes of birds can be a strong indicator for the climate conditions to which species are adapted (Kelso and Kelso 1936). Spotted owls have a similar feather index to owls that occupy higher latitudes and colder climates, and their body feathers and longer and denser than species sympatric in range (Barrows 1981). While their morphology may be advantageous during the winter months, it presents an obstacle for keeping cool when temperatures reach 35-40°C during the summer.
Part of my research focuses on quantifying how spotted owls respond to rising temperatures, specifically during their breeding season. When individuals are exposed to temperatures that approach or exceed their upper critical temperatures, they begin to spend more energy to maintain their internal conditions. Exposure to hot temperature occurs during the resting (or “roosting”) state, and individuals respond by employing behaviors like guttural fluttering, panting, and piloerection (Figure 2). Often, they move to cooler roosting locations in denser forest stands to avoid exposure (Barrows 1981). There is a physiological and behavioral toll for staying cool, and one of my goals is to figure out how much energy spotted owls must spend to survive the heat and successfully reproduce.
Feather morphology is an important indicator for thermal tolerance and contributes to a species’ ability to persist under variable thermal conditions. Just as body feathers can affect the fitness of spotted owls and their ability to reproduce, flight feathers, specifically dorsal velvet, affect an individual’s ability to forage and hunt for prey. Studying spotted owls in their natural habitat has given me the opportunity to watch the birds capture prey—their ability to move through the air so quietly has often surprised me in the field. I was excited to learn more about the evolutionary foundation for silent flight in nocturnal birds, especially as it pertains to the mechanisms behind the adaptation.
Clark et al. (2020) describetwo hypotheses for the evolution of silent flight in owls and other flying carnivores. The stealth hypothesis posits that quiet flying enables predators to sneak up on prey, such that predators that hunt species with acute hearing have adaptations for silent flight. The self-masking hypothesis posits that quieter flight enables predators to better hear their prey. Nocturnal predators that echolocate or track their prey with sound would, thus, evolve structures that facilitate silent flight to reduce sound wave interference.
As it turns out, the answer to the stealth-vs-masking debate is complicated as the two are not mutually exclusive. My favorite aspect about studying spotted owls has been the ability to look at ecology at the level of the individual and follow those patterns to examine how individuals interact with their environment, conspecifics, and other species. The shape and orientation of single feathers manifest in vitally important traits that facilitate an individual’s fitness, contributing to the very specific and important role the species plays in an ecosystem (Figure 3).
Figure 1. Previous metabolic studies on the spotted owl suggest that individual performance is optimized between a lower limit of 18.2 C and an upper limit of 35.2 C. Roosting temperatures recorded in the field show that individuals can be exposed to temperatures that exceed that upper critical threshold.
Figure 2. Spotted owl panting, a behavior that increases evaporative water loss and minimizes heat gain. Birds use this, along with gular fluttering and shade-seeking, to dissipate heat during exposure to stressful temperatures.
Figure 3. Female spotted owl in a broken top fir tree. After the sun sets, she will spend her night foraging for woodrats and flying squirrels to provide food for her rapidly developing fledglings.
Peterson, A. T. (2003). Predicting the Geography of Species’ Invasions via Ecological Niche Modeling. The Quarterly Review of Biology 78:419–433.
Parmesan, C., and G. Yohe (2003). A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421:37–42.
Parmesan, C. (2006). Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 37:637–669.
Holt, R. D. (1990). The microevolutionary consequences of climate change. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 5:311–315.
MacMillan, H. A., C. M. Williams, J. F. Staples, and B. J. Sinclair (2012). Metabolism and energy supply below the critical thermal minimum of a chill-susceptible insect. Journal of Experimental Biology 215:1366–1372.
Weathers, W. W., P. J. Hodum, and J. A. Blakesley (2001). Thermal Ecology and Ecological Energetics of California Spotted Owls. The Condor 103:678–690.
Barrows, C. W. (1981). Roost Selection by Spotted Owls: An Adaptation to Heat Stress. The Condor 83:302–309.
Kelso L, Kelso EH. 1936. The Relation of Feathering of Feet of American Owls to Humidity of Environment and to Life Zones. Auk 53:51–56.
In the next issue of ICB, check out s6’s publications of papers from their SICB 2020 Bio-inspiration of silent flight of owls and other flying animals: recent advances and unanswered questions
“Science = art. They are the same thing. Science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. The subjects and methods have different traditions, and the intended audiences are different, but I think the motivations and goals are fundamentally the same.”-
We whole heartedly agree and so we have featured our second array of artists/scientists from our social media followers, and volunteers for not only our journals but the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) as well.
“I’ve always been fascinated and absorbed by the natural world and have spent most of my career in publishing—as an editor, author, and illustrator, creating books for young people. Now, as a science communicator and outreach officer, art and illustration allow me to place science subjects within an ideal environment and fully informative context, to show processes, and to use storytelling (both visual and textual) to expand a topic in ways that reach a broad audience, from young children to adult laypersons.
Whether working in watercolor or pencil or combining these with digital media and textures from real objects, I can choose a medium that connects with and informs the subject matter.
Like cinematography, sci-art allows me to use design and structure, color, contrast/lighting, and sequential images to draw a viewer in and invite an emotional response—to show real things as they are but within a creative design to maximize information and engagement.
As a science artist, I’m honored to work with scientists to not only increase awareness and understanding—especially of my primary focuses, polar science and oceanography—but to inspire wonder, further investigation, and action. “
science illustrator and communicator (journal Twitter follower) Twitter handle: @jenndeut
“As a scientific illustrator, I am a big proponent of both science and art. I have been interested in both from a young age, though initially I treated them as separate. Over time, however, I’ve realized that they aren’t as far apart as they first appear. Both engage my curiosity and desire to look deeper at the world around me. They demand I investigate, ask questions, and document my observations.
In the process of making my artwork I’ve found myself tallying teeth and scale numbers, making countless measurements, and appreciating tiny details I might’ve otherwise overlooked, allowing me to walk away from each piece with a deeper knowledge of my subject than I had before.”
Jennifer Deutscher – science illustrator
scientist and illustrator (o Twitter follower)
Instagram : artsyfishy
& Twitter handle @kirstencarlson
“The most important thing to me about being both scientist and artist is the combination helps me fathom nature in ways that I could not if I were just focused in one profession. Asking questions with the curious mind of a scientist and drawing with the observant eye of an artist takes me into that precious space of being present and open-minded. When I’m on that path, I see and feel connections that lead to exploration and discovery.
Being a sci-artist isn’t so much about finding answers or creating art as it is about the journey of connecting with the beauty and wonder of our world.”
Biologist, (IOB / ICB & SICB blogger , Twitter contributor and social media volunteer )
Twitter handle : @NoahwithFish
“I got into art as a biologist. When I had just started as a grad student, I wanted to decorate my empty house, but I was on a budget. Art is expensive, but as part of my research, I had cool cleared and stained images of fish, so I started printing those out as decorations. My biological art started as just a way to decorate my walls, but as I started editing my images more, adding new effects, and starting to tell stories through my pieces, it became more than that. Now, I use my art as a means of getting average people interested in science, but also to promote my research through flashy cover images.
Furthermore, in the process of creating some of my pieces, I have made new discoveries by carefully paying attention to detail, which led to publications! Science and art really go hand in hand.”
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to contribute to next year’s Art in Bio posts.
When talking last week with author Professor Kenneth Catania, I was shocked to hear his recently published work,Great Adaptations, was his first full length book. The ease and relatability with which he wrote about his intricate investigations is rare in scientific works.
“In preparation, I did a lot of reading about writing like Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” and Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. I was surprised by how the writer’s struggle, even when writing fiction, parallels the scientist’s struggle. You have to obsess enough about something to get to a special place. There’s a threshold you have to get to. You can’t just take a swing at writing, and the same can be said for science. You have to focus and put in the time. If you do that, there’s a big payoff for both writing and science.”
And Catania does indeed take us to that special place where we too can discover with him what’s behind several incredible adaptations of various species (including the shrew, the star nosed mole, the jeweled wasp, tentacled snakes and electric eels) as well as how those adaptations benefit them.
He took time out to tell us a bit more about his book and thoughts about his work below.
I was glad to read your movie references such as The Sting, Princess Bride and The Matrix in your book to give readers a frame of reference.
When scientists can tend to have difficulty making science relatable to the public, do you strategically use references like this to make your material more palatable and well understood, and why do you feel this is vital to do as a scientist /writer?
“This wasn’t really a strategy as much as writing naturally. I just made sure not to take it out later. When I thought about these connections, if it was the way I’d talk about it with a friend, I left it. I wanted it to be casual and not super formal. I will add that I felt like this was a bit of a risk in doing this as other colleagues might be saying “come on, be serious” but I don’t take myself too seriously so I thought this would be fun. But I should also say, I did a LOT of revising.”
2. The use of the QR codes within your book really made for a very interactive experience.
Where did you get the idea for this and can you tell us a bit about how you were able to finagle the Jeweled wasp into working the obstacle course?
“I had not heard of anyone doing this before I did it, though there may be someone. One reason I did it was I’m often describing things that are incredible. I’ve included movies for a long time with my papers. Being able to see what I’m talking about is an extra layer.
Another reason I wanted to include them is almost a believability issue. In this current world of people not sticking to the facts, I didn’t just want to tell people about amazing things (like an eel leaping out of the water, or a wasp dragging a roach into a skull) I wanted you to be able to see it for yourself.
A link to one of the QR code destinations from The Art of Making a Zombie chapter
Getting the wasp to do the obstacle course was part of my class. There’s a whole other level of keeping students engaged—making science fun for them. A number of the species I studied, I brought to my class. For the skull free will test, that’s one of my favorite movies I made. I reasoned the wasp has evolved to be an expert at finding any available hole to use as a “crypt” for the cockroach— and it used a hole that already exists somewhere in the environment. Once you know that about the wasp, you can put the hole anywhere—at least that’s what I was hoping.
All I did was make only one hole in the arena, the eye socket of the skull. As for the wasp adding the treasure to pile on top of the roach, the wasp has evolved and adapted to use whatever objects it can find to cover the hole. I reasoned then that if there was only what I gave it to use, it would only use the treasure. It actually worked better than I could have hoped, and the students loved it as part of my yearly Halloween lecture.”
3. You mentioned that at the onset of your studies there were not courses on animal behavior or biodiversity as much. Has this changed in academia and if so, what event or understanding was pivotal to this change over time?
“When I was talking about this, I was referring to my understanding at the University of Maryland at that time, so it was not necessarily a broad sampling, but more just my own perspective. At that time, the major I was in was called Zoology, but I felt like I was in a cell biology major. In the late 80’s at that time, there was a transition going on. In order to stay relevant and keep up with the times, there seems to have been a move toward the more technical courses in molecular biology and genetics. I’m not complaining because everything I learned was very relevant, it was more an observation. And sure enough, they changed the major from Zoology to Biology soon after I left. My own research falls at the intersection between behavior with neurosciences. It’s an area often called Neuroethology.
These days I think there’s a great opportunity to apply the new technologies to areas where they haven’t been applied. For example, taking well established techniques and aiming them in a new direction, perhaps at a new species.”
4. Your mentioning of your father having been psychology was intriguing. I’m curious as to what led you in the direction of the natural world instead?
“My dad actually worked with B.F. Skinner and so his work was very data driven. My father worked a lot with behavior analysis- consequences of behavior, cues in the environment, and what results follow a given behavior. It’s a very applied and useful approach to behavior. Skinner studied the consequences of behavior in a very analytical way. This approach rubbed off on me, when I look at scientific problems I’m always trying to design the right experiment for getting good data, and not being overly theoretical.
In my own experience, most of my guesses or starting hunches about a problem are wrong. Sometimes, the question isn’t even the right question when you start to see the results from experiments. An experiment is a humbling thing, it lets you know just how bad we are at guessing about the world. So I am always a bit suspicious of overly theoretical ideas”.
5. With this book being about enigma’s that you’ve studied, what other enigmas are you delving into since the publication of this book?
“I’m still working on the zombie cockroach story and working on a paper about it as well as a Scientific American article accepted about it. I never know exactly what will be the next question for me. There’s so much more to do with the eels or jewel wasps as well. I sort of have to feel things out and decide which irons in the fire will turn into something interesting. Then I will focus on that one problem until I can get some answers.”
6. In the recent Netflix doc A Life on Our Planet , David Attenborough says we must right the world’s biodiversity, re wild the world…
Do you agree and how do you feel we could make steps to do this(*climate change issues) ?
7. In our blog posts this year, Entomologist Adrian Smith had a presentation for Creative Mornings where he focused on fostering a sense of wonder. You too write about wonder in your book and I’m curious what strategies you implore to keep your sense of wonder in an increasingly fast paced and stressful world?
“For me there’s one simple strategy for keeping my sense of wonder. Take a close look at something in the biological world. It’s better than science fiction (though I love that too!)”
In the epilogue, Catania quotes Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s book Advice for the Young Investigators.
“It’s hard to imagine, but even in the late 1800s scientists worried that the most important problems are already solved.”
Catania refutes this stating, “It was wrong then, it’s wrong today and it will be wrong tomorrow.
His debut book, Great Adaptations, certainly is a testament to the fact that there are still so many stones left unturned, as well as innumerable enigmas and mysteries left to solve in the natural world. I look forward to reading more from this author and going along with him on the journey of solving more.
In reading the book,in particular The Enigma of the Star chapter, it seemed that Catania’s findings about just why the star nosed mole had their star, revolved more around neorcortex and implications to do with brain mapping.
(guest blogger Jasmin Graham, writes to anyone old or young in your lives who may be interested in shark science)
Dear Future Shark Scientist,
Firstly, I’d like to introduce myself: my name is Jasmin Graham and I am a shark scientist. If you’re reading this you’ve probably thought about studying sharks at some point in your life. Maybe it’s a passion you’ve deferred to pursue other interests, perhaps you’re a young person still trying to figure out what you want out of life. Maybe you have been thinking about pursuing shark science for years, or perhaps it crossed your mind just recently. You might even be reading this letter because someone you care about loves sharks and you want to support and encourage them to follow their dreams. No matter why you’re here, I hope you find the information in this letter helpful. Let’s dive in.
I’d like to start off by discussing what shark science is and what it is not. Shark science is a field of study that focuses on understanding sharks and the role they play in ecosystems. It is a highly interdisciplinary field and uses techniques from many disciplines including: biology, ecology, engineering, evolution, oceanography, geography, chemistry, physics and much more. There are many paths to shark science and whether you’re 6 or 60, you can get involved in shark science. You’re never too old or too young to get interested in sharks.
Shark science is for everyone, just for one type of person. Maybe you get terribly sea sick or you can’t swim, that’s okay, there are ways to study sharks in the lab without ever getting on a boat or stepping foot in the water. Maybe you struggle with math, that’s alright, so did I! Not only is math a challenge you can overcome, but there are many resources scientists use that can help us navigate around our weaknesses. Maybe you haven’t gotten good grades in school, that’s okay too!
Science is about asking questions and figuring out ways to solve them. Some people are bad test takers, but excellent researchers. Don’t be disheartened if your grades aren’t stellar. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of doing science. You don’t have to be perfect to be a shark scientist; you don’t have to have a specific personality or set of skills.
“The beauty of shark science is that it is multi-faceted and there is something everyone can bring to the table.”
So how do you get involved in shark science? If you or a loved one is currently in K-12 and is interested in shark science here are my recommendations for you, gain as much knowledge as you can by watching documentaries, searching online, reading books, taking classes, volunteering at or visiting aquariums or even attending camps and afterschool programs. You can start learning about sharks right now! If you’re in high school and starting to think about next steps, you may want to consider doing an internship at a zoo, aquarium or marine lab to get experience working with sharks or other marine animals. You can also look at jobs at a zoo or aquarium after graduation.
I would recommend you consider colleges that have degrees that interest you, whether you’re fresh out of school or looking for a career change. Sharks live in the ocean, so getting a school near the coast would be ideal, but that isn’t feasible for everyone. You can get involved in shark science and attend college far away from the ocean. Remember shark science is interdisciplinary so there are many things you can study. For instance, maybe you’re interested in chemistry. It might be good to find a college with a strong chemistry program.
During college you can do internships and participate in research to learn how to apply your chemistry knowledge to marine systems and sharks. If you are in college I highly recommend taking as many relevant courses as you can find at your institution. I also recommend getting to know your professors really well and participating in internships and undergraduate research as early as possible. Once you graduate you can start looking for jobs in the field. You might consider pursuing a graduate degree also. Graduate school is where people go to get specialized training in the field. There are many graduate programs out there. If you are interested in finding a graduate program I recommend finding faculty who study sharks at different institutions and contacting them to share your research interests and see if they are taking graduate students. Whether you pursue a Master’s, PhD, both or none of the above, you can have a successful career in shark science. It’s all about what you want and at what level you want to do science. If you want to be in charge of the lab, research program or department, you might want to get a PhD.
However, if you are content to work under someone and conduct your research in a lab led by someone else, you are probably fine with Master’s degree. If you are someone who just wants to help out with others’ projects or you want to work in policy, communication or some area of shark science that isn’t research focused, you might not need to go to graduate school at all. These decisions don’t have to be made right now and they aren’t set in stone. You can always change your mind, and you can always go back to school, change jobs, change your research focus or even change institutions.
As I said before, there are many paths to shark science and all of them can be equally fulfilling.
Wherever you are in life, you can always hop onto the path of shark science.
If you love sharks and studying them is something that interests you, I hope this inspires you and gives you a sense of direction. Being a shark scientist has made a hugely positive impact on my life, so if you are considering it, I hope you take the plunge!
In January of 2020 at SICB’s annual conference, Yuxiang Liu and Sabrina Burmeister headed up Symposium S11: Integrative comparative cognition: can neurobiology and neurogenomics inform comparative analyses of cognitive phenotype?
This group of speakers/authors dealt with the long standing question in biology of what are the mechanisms that shape the evolution of cognition? Comparative psychologists have traditionally focused on a narrow range of animals. Today, they study a broad range of species, greatly enriching our understanding of the diversity of cognitive processes. This diversity has highlighted the fundamental challenge of comparing cognitive processes across animals. The goal of the symposium was to bring together speakers studying a range of species to gain a broadly integrative perspective on cognition while at the same time considering the potentially important role of neurobiology and genomics in addressing the difficult problem of comparing cognition across species.
(pic of Levi Storks out on a research excursion)
One of the papers to come out of this symposia is :
Peeking inside the lizard brain: Neuron numbers in Anolis and its implications for cognitive performance and vertebrate brain evolution
“Here we present estimates of neuron numbers and density in two species of lizard, Anolis cristatellus and A. evermanni, representing the first such data from squamate species, and explore its implications for differences in cognitive performance and vertebrate brain evolution. “
In regards to his recommendations (a scientist’s “playlist”)
With all the many hardships of this year, we wanted to take time to focus on the beauty that is still being created. We also recognize that with the increasing recognition of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) rather than only STEM, it’s important to highlight some of the scientists/ biologists who not only follow our journals via our social media accounts or subscribe to The Journal Of Integrative and Comparative Biology and our sibling journal The Journal of Integrative Organismal Biology, but also a few of our journal volunteers(Assistant Editors and social media outreach associates).
Our Art in Bio blog series this fall will be in several installments that include a piece of artwork along with the artist’s thoughts on how their art influences biology and vice versa.
By Devaleena Pradhan
Assistant Editor for ICB & Professor of Integrative Physiology at Idaho State
How art has influenced my science. Becoming a biologist was never the plan. I had always been so sure about pursuing either architecture or interior designing. When I had to choose between art and science in 11th grade, my dad recommended I choose science because I could always continue my art classes as usual. I saw some value to that reasoning because I thought of ways that biology would also keep me connected to art: I vividly remembered seeing a diagrams of the human brain in 5th grade, when my mom was studying to be a special needs teacher and then in 10th grade I saw the diagrams of neurons by Santiago Ramón y Cajal – I was captivated by the intricacies and wondered why. Why are some neurons simple and others so complex? As I continued high school, I would complete chemistry and biology drawing assignments for several of my classmates – I preferred to draw than to memorize copious paragraphs. When I immigrated to Canada, I learned that architecture could only be pursued as a graduate program, so I continued my undergraduate in biology. Little did I know that I would dive into workings of neuronal architecture; a simple looking neuron is actually quite complex in physiology and that the nervous system can coordinate through the endocrine system to produce phenotype in an organism. I was hooked – I learned how form and function are not the same. As I progressed through graduate school, specializing in neurochemistry and animal behavior, I devoted very little time to hands-on art; however, both my graduate mentors saw my interest in art and science as a whole. They provided me opportunities to hand draw some diagrams and publish them in my own review papers. Today, as I interact with curious children and teens during my science outreach activities, there is a little bit of STEAM everywhere I go.
by Sean O. – an artist/ aspiring biology teacher (IOB follower)
For years, I studied biology by day and drew art by night. Then one day I asked myself: why do I need to keep them separate? The answer, of course, is that I don’t! For me, art has always been a way to celebrate and share the things that make me happy. And, as it turns out, my happiest moments are the ones when I’m sharing my love of biodiversity with others. That’s why the pairing of art and biology is the most natural thing in the world to me. Through art, I get to bring new eyes to all the underappreciated organisms I love: yeti crabs, giant kelp, extinct radiodonts, and more. It’s a bait and switch, but fun and educational! You followed me on Twitter for my colorful art, and now you learn about ecosystem niches instead! The best part is the reception I get. I think people connect innately with art, and that makes it a fantastic vector for science communication.
Art doesn’t just make science pretty—art makes science relatable.
The more people who are excited, passionate, and literate about science, the better! And I see art as an indispensable tool to make that change.
I have always been drawn to the arts and the sciences, and animals are a place where those two subjects intersect. Animals are both mysterious and predictable, something that I find comforting. In learning more about them through biology we learn more about ourselves and the world around us. I strongly believe that existing flora & fauna should be appreciated and protected, and with my work I hope to inspire awe and respect for creatures who may otherwise remain invisible to most.
by Anna Mehlhorn – ICB follower , Biology and Studio Art Double Major, currently working with molecular biologist and illustrator, Dr. David Goodsell, to represent Covid-19 dangers using art. (previous student of Dr. Adam Summers, IOB Editor in Chief )
Art and biology seem like two contrasting disciplines. When I mention my studio art and biology double major, I get questioning looks. Art and biology? Why both? We are all familiar with the right-brained versus left-brained hypothesis. To me, however, art and biology overlap, and I am interested in the blend of both disciplines that I think is essential to scientific communication.
As a young artist and scientist, I often represent environmental interactions in a colorful, abstract manner. One of my early studio concentrations juxtaposed animals and plants on a macroscopic and microscopic level. I have always been a proponent of STEAM (STEM plus art) over STEM, since art deserves a spot in the sciences.
At William & Mary, I am refining my artistic skills while studying biology and conducting marine biology research. I discovered my artistic niche this summer while taking a fish biomechanics research course at Friday Harbor Labs in the lab of Dr. Adam Summers. San Juan Island is a nature artist’s dream, with its rich wildlife diversity and rocky shorelines. During my two week quarantine period, I hiked the shoreline daily, sketchbook in hand, to spend all day drawing (and taking breaks to uncover sculpins and crabs in the tidepools)!
My first course assignment at Friday Harbor was to study and memorize the scientific names of each fish we caught off the coast – approximately 65 species! I began sketching one fish at a time until, to my surprise, I completed all 65 drawings.
The encouragement I received from the teaching staff at Friday Harbor inspired me to incorporate digital illustration into my final research presentation. Using Photoshop, I designed figures for my presentation, like the gait change diagram of the Spotted Ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei) which I will be including on my SICB poster. I am excited to continue representing my research through illustration. The digital drawing examples I included, like the Spotted Ratfish, relate to research I have been involved with over the past two years. I depicted the brittle star life cycle (Ophiopholis aculeata) for Dr. John Allen’s invertebrate ecology lab.
I think creativity is a critical component to successful scientific outreach, especially among young audiences.
I appreciate when professors assign artistic projects in my biology courses and when I learn about artistic social media initiatives like #SundayFishSketch. While at William & Mary, I have helped to paint murals on the windows of the science center at school to decrease the rate of bird collisions. I am currently working with molecular biologist and illustrator, Dr. David Goodsell, to represent Covid-19 dangers using art. Although art is just one approach to creative outreach, it is through art that I feel I can best communicate my love for biology. Both of these disciplines help me to view the world in a unique way, and they are similar in how they require a fascination with life and its environment.
If you are a biologist, or scientist who is also an artist, we’d love to have a submission of your art work and small write up about the intersection of the two via email@example.com as we are hosting a virtual art show for the journals via ourSICB virtual symposia (sicb.org) and will be planning a few art in bio installments for 2021 on our blog as well.
“Teeth have long been a subject of integrative inquiry, but the breadth of studies on teeth is increasing at an exceptional rate. Our understanding of the genomic basis of tooth differentiation is rapidly increasing as non-traditional vertebrate model systems become tractable to genetic dissection…“
In light of her interest in this subject as well, we asked Professor Tanya Smith if she’d talk with us about her book The Tales Teeth Tell.
Here’s what she had to say about her work and its importance followed by our book chat.
The Tales Teeth Tell was inspired, in part, by an undergraduate course I taught for several years at Harvard University on teeth and human evolutionary biology. My aim in the book was to engage and excite people who may not have a background in this subject – nor a love of teeth – but who are curious about human development, evolution, and ancient behavior.
Given how politicized science can be, and how insular academic writing often is, I believe that it’s part of my professional responsibility to explain why science is interesting and important.
Many of us have to work to be accessible writers in order to help readers understand how we evaluate information and draw logical conclusions. This helps people think critically, which is of particular relevance now as we see how misinformation can corrode social trust in science.
For example, my partner is a nutritionist, and dietary recommendations seem to constantly shift – giving me ample opportunities to playfully critique “food science.” But this changing landscape is often due to advances in our understanding of human biology, more rigorous study designs, and new analytical tools. If we can bring a spirit of transparency to the scientific process, and possibly even cast researchers as “advanced students” rather than “static experts,” things might be safer in the world.
Unfortunately, I don’t perceive institutional incentives for American academics to engage in extensive science communication, particularly for women in the middle of their careers who work in competitive fields. There is a lot of pressure on early career academics to publish in big name “high-impact” journals, build large lab groups, and bring in large research grants.
In Australian universities, we are encouraged to contribute to public discourse and media outlets like The Conversation, which publishes a daily digest of short public interest articles written by academics. I’ve contributed three pieces that have been read over 33,000 times; thus the reach is much greater than through traditional publishing mechanisms or even in a classroom.
What in particular led you to anthropology and biology? Was there a defining moment that lead you in this direction?
I was initially lit up by an introductory biological anthropology course I took during my first semester at SUNY Geneseo. The field encompasses so many of my personal interests in natural history, skeletal biology, and human uniqueness. While majoring in biology, I took every biological anthropology course offered and participated in two field seasons in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming — where we recovered Eocene mammalian fossils, including tiny primate teeth.
During my senior year at Geneseo I began to read about how scholars were using biological rhythms in teeth to explore ancient human development, and using electron microscopy, I started my own search for these lines in the fossil teeth we found in Wyoming. I write more about a transformative “Ah-Ha moment” in The Tales Teeth Tell that eventually led me to experimentally document the timing of growth lines during my PhD research at Stony Brook University.
Photo by Jeffrey Camden
You state that teeth are examples of how as omnivores we’ve hedged our bets evolutionarily. In your opinion, with the plant based diet aficionados growing in numbers, do you feel our teeth and their history thereof, provide evidence we were meant to be vegetarians?
We are primates, a broad radiation of mammals found throughout much of the world, and primates eat many things—including plants, insects, mammals, and even other primates occasionally. Our closest living relatives, the great apes, are mostly vegetarian, but it’s clear that ancient hominins were scavengers, and ultimately, hunters.
Some anthropologists suggest that consuming highly dense protein sources, such as meat or seafood, has been integral in our brain evolution. We first find evidence for stone tool use associated with butchery ~3 millions of years ago, which became commonplace about the time our teeth started to reduce in size ~2 million years ago.
In The Tales Teeth Tell I refer to the “oral Swiss army knife” in our mouths, reflecting omnivorous hominin diets as well as our deeper history as primates. We have broad front teeth that allow for incision, as exemplified by those of frugivorous primates, and thick-enameled teeth that are good for breaking up hard objects rather like specialized seed-eaters. Our back teeth — premolars and molars — are moderately crested, but not as extremely crested as primates that only shear leaves or crunch insects.
So, we’ve “hedged our bets” evolutionarily as omnivores that ate what we needed to survive in different seasons and disparate environments. Of course, all this changed once humans began to cultivate the land, domesticate animals, and settle down — a good topic for a future blog!
Tell us a bit about this quote: “Teeth illuminate our human history like no other part of our anatomy”
It is amazing to me that several months before we even begin to breathe or chew, cellular blueprints are assembled to construct the hardest substance in the body. Each day of our early lives is then recorded by faithful 24-hour cellular clocks ticking away in utero and immortalizing their rhythmic microscopic secretions of enamel and dentine. Because teeth start mineralizing early, we have a permanent developmental record of when you’re born, a birth certificate in your mouth.
This is an even more precise permanent record than what our bones record since our teeth do not remodel in response to adulthood wear and tear like bone. Many of my colleagues like to compare tiny lines in teeth to the rings in tree trunks, although teeth are even more sensitive and durable.
On an even broader level, teeth hold meaningful clues to nearly everything you can think of: growth rates, age, disease, evolutionary relationships, life history, diet, migration, climate, nursing behaviour, and social status — humans have even used teeth as a form of artistic expression for thousands of years. And they are great sources of ancient proteins and ancient DNA!
You wrote about how engineers are using studies of limpets(snails) teeth in order to make better artificial materials. Are there other areas(fields) where you feel the study of teeth is contributing to other types of research?
Teeth have helped inform how we understand the evolution of human development. Since tooth crowns are made up of more than 95% mineral when they finish forming, these durable “rocks” are the most common body part to be recovered from ancient mammals. The human fossil record contains numerous teeth from over 30 hominin species extending back 7 million years; allowing access to our ancestors’ early lives in astounding detail. This includes hominins such as the australopithecines that ultimately gave rise to humans over millions of years of evolutionary twists and turns.
It turns out that modern humans are quite unusual: our species downshifted its growth, forming teeth more slowly over a longer childhood than our ancestors and evolutionary cousins, including Neanderthals. This may have given us more time to grow our brains or learn complex behaviors before having our own kids. Teeth can also help us to understand the end of the lifecycle. Some scholars have concluded that “old age” only became common very late in our evolutionary history, as there are more fossil human adults with heavily worn teeth than Neanderthal or australopithecine adults.
Since writing your book, have you happened upon anything you wish you could’ve included ?
We can now explore which season prehistoric individuals were born in, when illnesses were most common, and even when mothers stopped nursing their children. And all of this can be learned from a single fossilized tooth!
First molar tooth from a 250,000-year-old Neanderthal child. Yellow dotted lines indicate the beginning and end of nursing, a red dotted line corresponds to an illness, and blue dotted lines indicate lead exposures. Tanya Smith and Daniel Green.
Amazingly we also found lead in the teeth of 250,000 year old Neanderthal children. This may have been due to their groups moving into caves with natural lead deposits, drinking contaminated water, or burning combustible materials tainted with lead.
Being able to paint an intimate and detailed portrait of the first few years of a young Neanderthals’ life is an exciting example of the phenomenal secrets one can coax from their precious teeth.