It was an irresistible story: bees that flew into the night, behaving like disoriented zombies after being infected with a fly parasite. Biology Professor John Hafernik and colleagues wondered if the bees' bizarre deaths and abandoned hives were related to the decades-long collapse of bee colonies around the world. After publishing the details of the strange scenario in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers soon discovered that everyone from Time magazine to NPR was entranced by the plight of the honeybees.
"Our study got picked up on zombie discussion boards and zombie blogs," Hafernik says with a chuckle when asked about the intense media interest. "And for the most part it was all very respectful."
It's been a flurry of activity for the scientists ever since. To learn more about how and when the parasitized bees abandon their hives, Hafernik and graduate student Chris Quock (above) are outfitting infected bees with tiny radio frequency trackers (inset photo) -- each no bigger than the head of a pin -- to keep track of bee traffic at a specially constructed hive on campus. They are also observing hives on the roof of the San Francisco Chronicle's downtown building, watching for any signs of infection in the bees kept by the newspaper's food and wine staff.
The researchers are preparing to launch http://zombeewatch.org, a citizen science website that will provide a national and perhaps global look at where honeybees are threatened by the parasite. The site asks people to collect bees that appear disoriented underneath lights and watch for the parasites that burst out of the bee bodies. Users can then upload the image of their bees to the website via smartphone to confirm whether they've found signs of a "zom-bee."
As a Texas A&M undergrad, John Hafernik (above) landed a summer job surveying insects in the Big Bend Country of West Texas and experienced one of the most exciting moments in his scientific career. "One day when I was collecting in the Chisos Mountains, I came across a small dark butterfly that I couldn't identify," recalls Professor Hafernik. "I took it to Avery Freeman, the expert on that group of butterflies. My heart skipped a beat when he told me it was a new species. He later formally published a description of it and, to my surprise, named it Piruna haferniki."
A research team led by Assistant Professor of Biology Vance Vredenburg has discovered that the noisy Pacific chorus frog is a potent carrier of chytridiomycosis, a deadly amphibian disease that has wiped out more than 200 frog species across the globe.
Equipped with sticky toe-pads, Pacific chorus frogs are adept at climbing and can survive longer periods out of water compared to other species. Their abundance along the west coast of North America and their mobility make them dangerously effective at spreading the disease.
After publishing their findings in the journal PLoS ONE, Vredenburg and his team hope further research will lead to the development of treatments to help endangered amphibian species survive the global epidemic.
When the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival returns to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in August, city residents who feel inconvenienced by the three-day increase in traffic and noise may feel a little better after reading Professor Patrick Tierney's latest study.
Tierney, chair of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism, surveyed 2011 festival concertgoers to determine how the event affected the local tourism and job market. He found it brought more than $67 million to the local economy. "I don't think that the general public appreciates how much of an impact a short-term event can have on the city," Tierney says. "It's good to see now how the whole community benefits."
Among his findings: About $60.6 million was spent in San Francisco, while $6.6 million was spent in other parts of the Bay Area; 683 short-term, full-time-equivalent jobs were created in San Francisco and another 73 in the greater Bay Area; and event organizers have donated $4.3 million of ticket sales to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department over the four-year lifespan of the festival.
A music-based curriculum designed by SF State researchers is helping children understand one of the most important topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum -- fractions.
"If students don't understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling," says Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education. She collaborated with music teacher Endre Balogh (B.A., '06) to create Academic Music, a hands-on curriculum which uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions.
After a six-week trial run at Palo Alto's Hoover Elementary School, students in the music-based program scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test compared with students who received the school's regular math instruction. The findings were published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics.
"Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them," says Courey, who looks forward to publishing the curriculum materials for teachers. "It's fun, it doesn't cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom."
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