Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.

Students’ rocket to fly in NASA competition

A team of UC Davis students aims to fly their rocket exactly one mile high April 20 during NASA’s Student Launch Projects competition near Huntsville, Alabama. This is the first NASA Student Launch Projects 2013year the UC Davis SpaceED rocket team has taken part in the national competition.

The aim of the competition is to design, build and launch a rocket that can fly to an altitude of exactly one mile carrying a scientific payload, said team member Dan Berman, a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering. Teams lose points for every foot of altitude above or below the one-mile mark.

Aggie astronaut tapped for fourth shuttle mission

Astronaut and UC Davis alumnus Steve Robinson will make his fourth flight on the Space Shuttle next December, NASA has announced. Robinson has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering from UC Davis.

Robinson last flew on the shuttle in August 2005; here’s our comprehensive feature on his flight. Later that year he visited UC Davis to speak about his experiences and was awarded the University Medal by Chancellor Vanderhoef.  Another UC Davis alumnus, Tracy Caldwell, made her first shuttle flight in August 2007.

Webcasts of Robinson’s and Caldwell’s talks on campus:

Steve Robinson, Dec. 2005: Windows Media or RealOne webcast

Lunar science: a to-do list

Spaceprobes from three countries are currently orbiting the Moon, and there are plans to send robotic rovers back to our nearest neighbor. A recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored by UC Davis geologist Qing-zhu Yin, sets out some things to do when they get there — ways that lunar soils could tell us about the early history of the Earth.

A conversation with Freeman Dyson

Thinker, physicist and author Freeman Dyson spent two weeks at the end of October, 2008 on the UC Davis campus. His visit was sponsored by the Department of Physics as part of their Centennial Speaker Series.

Dyson was born in England and served as a researcher for the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War. In 1947, he moved to the U.S. and was a professor of physics at Cornell University and then at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where he is now professor emeritus. He is the author of several popular books about science and the future, including Disturbing the Universe, Weapons and Hope, Origins of Life, Infinite in All Directions, Imagined Worlds, and The Sun, the Genome and the Internet.