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  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Walk on the Wild Side! A Tale of Wine & Sex in the Vineyard

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 19, 2016

(Photo: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images)

My latest for

Some of the finest things on Earth—among them beer, bread, and wine—depend on yeast. But after more than 5000 years of reliance on its powers, and endless modern research into yeast genetics, we knew almost nothing until recently about its natural history. The many strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the fungus we call yeast, were considered entirely domesticated, the cats and dogs of fermentation.

That began to change a few years ago, when researchers in Italy discovered that yeast has a wilder side. It summers on ripening fruit, which is how we first discovered its magical ability to turn humble grapes into wine. But it overwinters, the researchers reported, in the guts of social wasps, as the wasps are hibernating through the winter, sealed within the trunks of oak trees.

With a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the natural history of yeast has just become even richer. If Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the common yeast we buy at the supermarket, is the household pet of brewing, Saccharomyces paradoxus is its wild cousin, Read the rest of this entry »

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Beer & Bread: It’s a Family Thing, Even for the Yeast

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 29, 2015


I’m not much interested in the biotechnology implications here. But making beer and bread are among my family’s favorite pastimes, and it’s fascinating that the yeast doing the real work also recognize family bonds.  They’re single-celled microorganisms, but they nonetheless help out kin and exclude outsiders (much more ruthlessly than we could imagine doing).

But, you know, we all say: “Screw gluten free.”

Here’s the press release from the University of Cambridge:

Baker’s yeast cells living together in communities help feed each other, but leave incomers from the same species to die from starvation, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.

Posted in Food & Drink | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Got a Favorite Beer? Thank a Fruitfly For That

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 11, 2014

beerWhen I am not thinking about wildlife, I am often thinking about beer. So it’s nice (and also sort of icky) to see these two interests come together in a study showing that  fruitflies give beer its flavor.  Interesting that the study comes from Belgium, home of some of the more aromatic beers.  (Do beer flavors vary regionally depending on the Drosophila species?)  Also not in the least surprising that the researcher got the idea for this work as a graduate student.

I suppose the fruitfly-beer connection shouldn’t seem all that novel because I have often used a small dish of beer to attract and kill fruitflies around the kitchen.  But the idea that the fruitflies have contributed to the taste of beer suggests I need to think about them more kindly.  To butcher  A.E. Housman a bit, “Malt does more than Darwin can/to justify the ways of Drosophila to man.”

I’m going to shut up now and go to the press release:

Meet the bartender

Meet the bartender

The familiar smell of beer is due in part to aroma compounds produced by common brewer’s yeast. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Cell Reports have discovered why the yeast make that smell: the scent attracts fruit flies, which repay the yeast by dispersing their cells in the environment.

Yeast lacking a single aroma gene fail to produce their characteristic odor, and they don’t attract fruit flies either.

“Two seemingly unrelated species, yeasts and flies, have developed an intricate symbiosis based on smell,” said Kevin Verstrepen of KU Leuven and VIB in Belgium. “The flies can feed on the yeasts, and the yeasts benefit from the movement of the flies.”

Verstrepen first got an idea that this might be going on about 15 years ago as a graduate student studying how

Read the rest of this entry »

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