Murder in the Muck: Scientists Search for Clues to a Killer in the Eel River

In a long, rectangular laboratory with windows facing a dim October sky, Keith Bouma-Gregson casually shows me his collection of murder suspects.

“This was sent to me by a woman,” he says, extending a mason jar of toxic pond scum. The jar is filled with a dark-green thicket of algae, which is emitting tiny streams of bubbles into the sloshing liquid. The contents are nearly identical to the mats filling a foot-long fish tank in the refrigerator behind Bouma-Gregson, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley.

Scientists Coax Secrets From Living Soil Crusts

Biological soil crusts (BSCs), as the name might suggest, are rather unprepossessing entities, typically presenting themselves as dark, mottled patches on desert soils.

From a microbiological perspective, however, they are fascinating:  living, symbiotic communities of cyanobacteria, mosses, and algae that can survive – indeed, thrive — where most other things wither and die.

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