Pipettes & Paintbrushes | Spring 2018

The Sentinel

The Sentinel

Artist: Rachel Bell, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Acrylic paint

As both a biologist and a visual artist, the intersection between the two fields has been a point of focus in Rachel’s artwork for many years. Biological discoveries throughout the past several centuries were inherently shaped by the artistic methods used to depict and communicate these findings. Scientific discoveries of organismic form and function became art through the careful depictions of natural historians. This art was publically engaging and far reaching in its impact on Western aesthetics. Rachel’s body of artistic work is in conversation with the past and current relationship between natural history and art history. While she is a published scientific illustrator and has a large body of traditional naturalist artwork, she greatly enjoys using surrealist and humorous elements to build complex visual narratives about the organisms she is depicting.


Partner: Jacob Barnett, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Canary in the Soil Biome: Using DNA to find invisible “sentinel” microbes that respond to warming soil temperatures.
If you eat food, breathe air, or enjoy the outdoors, you can thank the soil! We may take it for granted, but the brown stuff under our feet is a thriving ecosystem full of life. Most of these organisms are microbes such as bacteria and fungi that are invisible to our eyes. Healthy soil provides important services for agriculture, forestry, and climate buffering - but it is threatened by rising global temperatures. We need to understand how the creatures in the soil respond to warming so that we can keep them healthy enough to provide the services we need. By using cutting-edge molecular techniques, we can identify the invisible life in the soil from its DNA. Just as a canary in a coal mine can serve as a “sentinel” for dangerous changes in an environment, we are hoping to find microbial “canaries” that can alert us to when soil is nearing an unhealthy state.