Rodents, radical changes, a requiem for a mustache, and an upcoming road trip

Glorious greetings gentle gerbils!

"Excuse me, you racist. I'm clearly a HEDGEHOG."
“Excuse me, you racist. I’m clearly a HEDGEHOG.”

Has everybody heard the latest buzz that gerbils, not rats, likely were responsible for spreading the black plague around Europe? The paper (published in PNAS) looked at historical death records and tree-ring data and determined that climate shifts played a huge role in driving plague outbreaks. The authors saw big fluctuations in plague cases across Europe, which correlated with shifts in temperatures (according to the sizes of tree rings). Plague is caused by a nasty bacteria named Yersinia pestisYersinia spreads from little rodent-y mammals to big human-y mammals through fleas. Because the rat populations in cities are usually pretty stable, not affected by changes in climate, the authors speculate that some other environmental host in Asia was responsible for the persistent re-intorduction and spread of plague in Europe.

(Schmid et al. PNAS, 2015)
(Schmid et al. PNAS, 2015)

The idea is that colder conditions killed off the Asian varmints (like gerbils) that plague was infecting; the fleas jumped ship and headed towards warmer environs (potentially by hitching a ride on camels along trade routes).

In other words: climate chang can have huge impacts beyond just changing temperatures, epidemiology is ALWAYS more complicated than it first appears, rats might not be so dastardly after all, Gerbils are filthy vermin, and Plague is a nasty pathogen.

But I digress.

Is there a Ph.D. certificate program in digressions?
Is there a Ph.D. certificate program in digressions?

The point of today’s post wasn’t supposed to be a discussion of the Black Plague. I was hoping to provide my gentle readers with an apology and an announcement.

If I give you a nice hyacinth, will you forgive me?
If I give you a nice hyacinth, will you forgive me?

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything since my return from the graduate student retreat on San Juan Island. Life has been pretty hectic over here, and some…changes have been happening.

It’s too soon to announce anything just yet, but some opportunities are cropping up on my radar. My life might get RADICALLY different in the next few months. I’m trying not to get too optimistic, but I’m excited. I’m also a little bit terrified.

I may have skipped directly to step 3.  source:
I may have skipped directly to step 3.

The real world might be looming large in my horizons. After four super-speedy years in academia, I’m not sure if I’m ready to take the leap.

I also shaved my I look employable?
I shaved my mustache…do I look employable?

Regardless of what happens, however, in the near-term, my boss, my lab-mate, and I are about to pack up our posters and road-trip to Whistler, BC for an AMAZING scientific conference. We’ll be attending the Keystone Symposia Joint Meeting on DNA Replication & Recombination and Genomic Instability & DNA Repair.

I LOVE recombination
I LOVE recombination

I had a ton of fun at the last meeting I attended (FASEB’s DNA Dynamics, a.k.a. DNA-Disneyland). This conference will be even bigger, with a ton of super-star speakers doing top-notch science. The fact that the schedule leaves afternoons open to go skiing is another, not so minor, perk.

Luckily I do some of my best thinking on chairlifts
Luckily I do some of my best thinking on chairlifts.

I’ll be blogging along throughout the week’s activities: expect to see reports on both epic chromosome contortions and sick skiing conditions.

HAPPY FRIDAY! What are YOU looking forward to this weekend?

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