Author: Abbey Bigler

Headshot of Abbey Bigler

Abbey is a science writer who enjoys making important biological science and public health information accessible to everyone.

Posts by Abbey Bigler

Vibrant Science Backgrounds for Your Video Calls

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Whether you’re teaching remotely, attending classes virtually, or just participating in online meetings, video calls have likely become part of your daily life. Eye-catching backgrounds can be a great way to add some fun to these calls and help protect your privacy. NIGMS has a collection of biology-themed backgrounds for use with video-call software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

All of these backgrounds are scientific images from the NIGMS Image and Video Gallery, which contains even more options for you to download and use.

A mosaic of round blue shapes and fuzzy green, purple, orange, and pink shapes. Cells lining a mouse’s airway. Download
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Learn Directly From Scientists Through Available Webinar Series

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Looking for more virtual learning opportunities? NIGMS recently recorded a series of 14 webinars where experts shared their knowledge on topics from infectious disease modeling to pursuing a career in biomedical science. With the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, we’re highlighting a webinar that’s particularly relevant for our Biomedical Beat readers who are educators. You can check out the whole series on the NIGMS YouTube channel.

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Explore Our STEM Education Resources for the New School Year

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If you’re looking for ways to engage students in science this school year, NIGMS offers a range of free resources that can help. All of our STEM materials are online and print-friendly, making them easy to use for remote teaching.

Pathways Link to external web site, developed in collaboration with Scholastic, is aligned with STEM and ELA education standards for grades 6 through 12. Materials include:

  • Student magazines with corresponding teaching guides
  • Related lessons with interactives
  • Videos
  • Vocabulary lists
Cover of Pathways student magazine showing a microscopy image of a fruit fly’s head with bright blue eyes and the featured questions: What is this? And what does it have to do with how you sleep? Cover of Pathways student magazine, third issue.

Available lessons examine basic science careers, regeneration, and circadian rhythms.

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Cool Images: Animal Development in Progress

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Wildlife photos can be truly stunning, and cute cat pictures are a cornerstone of the internet. But zooming in on the early lives of fish, insects, and worms can have equally wonderful results. Using powerful microscopes, researchers are revealing the complexity and beauty of animal development.

A spiral of orange and red cells. Credit: James E. Hayden, The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA.

This image captures the spiral-shaped ovary of an anglerfish in cross section. Once matured, these eggs will be released in a gelatinous, floating mass. For some species of anglerfish, this egg mass can be up to 3 feet long and include nearly 200,000 eggs.

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NIGMS Centers Build Relationships with Blackfeet Students and Collaborate on Inflammation Research

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A sign that says “Welcome to the Blackfeet Nation” next to a sculpture of two American Indians on horseback under a blue sky. Credit: Murray Foubister. CC BY-SA 2.0 Link to external web site.

As part of its commitment to cultivate a diverse and inclusive scientific workforce, NIGMS continues to nurture relationships between teaching institutions and American Indian communities nationwide to ignite student interest in biomedical science and encourage research careers. This post highlights one such collaboration between NIGMS-supported centers at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman and the Blackfeet Nation, a tribe of nearly 18,000 members that’s one of the largest in the United States.

A headshot of Dr. Neha John-Henderson. Neha John-Henderson, Ph.D., Montana State University. Credit: Kelly Gotham.

Neha John-Henderson, Ph.D. Link to external web site, an MSU assistant professor of psychology, first met Blackfeet Community College (BCC) students through Agnieszka Rynda-Apple, Ph.D., an MSU assistant professor of microbiology and immunology who already had a working relationship with the Blackfeet community. For about a year, Drs. John-Henderson and Rynda-Apple visited BCC interns and faculty supervisor Betty Henderson-Matthews monthly to help them interpret data collected for a student-developed project. While completing this project on the link between stress and health on the Blackfeet reservation, the researchers developed relationships with the students and faculty. They listened closely to the students’ stories, experiences, and career aspirations.

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Phosphorus: Glowing, Flammable, and Essential to Our Cells

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Of the 118 known elements, scientists believe that 25 are essential for human biology. Four of these (hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon) make up a whopping 96 percent of our bodies. The other 21 elements, though needed in smaller quantities, perform fascinating and vital functions. Phosphorus is one such element. It has diverse uses outside of biology. For example, it can fuel festive Fourth of July fireworks! Inside our bodies, it’s crucial for a wide range of cell functions.

A graphic showing phosphorus’s abbreviation, atomic number, and atomic weight connected by lines to illustrations of DNA helixes, a match, and a glowing white pyramid. Phosphorus plays a vital role in life as part of DNA’s backbone. Red phosphorus helps ignite matches, and white phosphorus glows in the presence of oxygen. Credit: Compound Interest.
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Link to external web site. Click to enlarge
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Exploring Nature’s Treasure Trove of Helpful Compounds

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An oblong shell with white-and-brown markings. A cone snail shell. Credit: Kerry Matz, University of Utah.

Over the years, scientists have discovered many compounds in nature that have led to the development of medications. For instance, the molecular structure for aspirin came from willow tree bark, and penicillin was found in a type of mold. And uses of natural products aren’t limited to medicine cabinet staples and antibiotics. A cancer drug was originally found in the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and a medication for chronic pain relief was first isolated from cone snail venom. Today, NIGMS supports scientists in the earliest stages of investigating natural products made by plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals. The results could inform future research and bring advances to the field of medicine.

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Fish Shed Light on Fatherhood in the Animal Kingdom

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Two small gray adult monkeys, one of which has two baby monkeys on its back, on a tree branch. A family of common marmosets. Credit: Francesco Veronesi. CC BY-SA 2.0 Link to external web site.

Fatherhood takes many forms across the animal kingdom. For instance, mammalian fathers are often uninvolved, with only about 10 percent helping to raise their offspring. However, that small percentage of males often makes valuable contributions to their offspring’s upbringing. For instance, cotton-top tamarin and common marmoset dads have the responsibility of carrying babies—which are typically born as sets of twins—almost constantly from birth until independence.

In other groups of animals, fathers are much more likely to share responsibilities with mothers or even act as sole caregivers. Male and female birds contribute equally to raising chicks in most cases. But in rheas and emus—both large, flightless birds—fathers incubate eggs and take care of hatchlings on their own.

And most fish don’t care for their young, but out of the species that do, between one-third and one-half rely on fathers parenting alone. Perhaps the most well-known example is the seahorse, where the male becomes pregnant, carrying his mate’s fertilized eggs in a pouch on his belly until they hatch. Alison M. Bell, Ph.D. Link to external web site, professor of evolution, ecology, and behavior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is investigating paternal care in another fish species where fathers raise offspring solo: the three-spined stickleback. Her work not only helps us understand the value of paternal care for sticklebacks, but also contributes to growing evidence across many species that fatherhood changes males on a physiological level.

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Scientist Interview: Studying the Biochemistry of Insects with Michael Kanost

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Insects vastly outnumber people on our planet. Some are pests, but many are key parts of their ecosystems, and some may even hold secrets for developing new materials that researchers could use in the medical field. Michael Kanost, Ph.D. Link to external web site, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, has been researching the biochemistry of insects for more than 30 years. His lab studies the tobacco hornworm, a mosquito that carries malaria, and the red flour beetle to better understand insect exoskeletons and immune systems.

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Helium: An Abundant History and a Shortage Threatening Scientific Tools

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Most of us know helium as the gas that makes balloons float, but the second element on the periodic table does much more than that. Helium pressurizes the fuel tanks in rockets, helps test space suits for leaks, and is important in producing components of electronic devices. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that take images of our internal organs can’t function without helium. And neither can nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers that researchers use to determine the structures of proteins—information that’s important in the development of medications and other uses.

A square showing helium’s abbreviation, atomic number, and atomic weight connected by lines to illustrations of a scuba diver, a car, and a person in an MRI machine. Helium’s many uses include helping deep sea divers breathe underwater, airbags in cars to inflate, and magnets in MRI scanners to work properly. Credit: Compound Interest.
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Link to external web site. Click to enlarge
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