Terra in Print: Spring 2010

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Scott Baker had no idea that when he agreed to participate in the making of The Cove, a documentary about a dolphin slaughter in Japan, that the movie would win an Academy Award. Neither did he expect to find as much evidence of traffic inendangered whales when he analyzed DNA from purchases made in Asian meat markets. Science has led the associate director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute down unexpected paths.

Surprise is a constant companion for scientists on the frontier of their fields. In A Feeling for the Organism, her stirring biography of Nobel prize-winning geneticist Barbara McClintock, Evelyn Fox Keller wrote: “The miracle of life is that, despite the best grip we can get on reality, it continuously manages to surprise us. The beauty of science is that, notwithstanding all our tacit assumptions, these surprises can get through.”

Keller reflects on the resistance and hostility that McClintock endured when she developed a theory to explain the appearance of new traits in corn plants. The conventional wisdom in the 1950s was that genes — poorly understood, much like the cosmological concept of “dark energy” today —  were nevertheless stable, fixed in place, immutable. McClintock’s idea that they could move from one chromosome to another during cell division was not understood or welcomed by others in her field.

How far we have come in plant genetics and biotechnology. We have complete genome sequences for rice, corn and a wild species known as Brachypodium (a model species that OSU geneticist Todd Mockler calls the fruit fly of plant genetics). Through the work of OSU scientist Jim Carrington and others, we know that plants and viruses engage in molecular fencing matches through mechanisms that silence genes.

New knowledge is emerging from biotechnology labs at OSU and other institutions at a dizzying pace, and plant breeders, farmers and educators need new tools to make use of it. The Gramene database is a promising example. One of its architects, OSU molecular biologist Pankaj Jaiswal, describes Gramene as a bridge between those who study genes and breeders whose eyes are on the plants we’ll need to avert food shortages in a changing world.

We still have a few things to learn about plants. Why does it take weeks for some species to go from seed to flower while others can take as long as 40 years? How can we benefit from disease resistance traits that plants have evolved through eons of evolution with microbes? No doubt, researchers will find plenty of surprises along the way. What an exciting time to be a scientist.

— Nick Houtman

Teeny Little Steps

Teeny Little Steps

Features, Healthy Economy, Spring 2010

Romping in the backyard at Cozy Corners family childcare home, Avery and Lauryn are boosting their health by doing what kids do naturally – running, jumping and playing.


Biases and Barriers

Biases and Barriers

Departments, Spring 2010, Vitality

Bi-Mart seems an unlikely springboard for social change. Yet tucked away in a corner of a store on the edge of Springfield, pharmacist Kathy Hahn is waging a militant campaign against pain. “I’m kind of an activist,” she says, leaning close to her listener and whispering the word “activist” as if confiding a dark secret. […]


Guarding Human Health

Guarding Human Health

Departments, Spring 2010, Vitality

Veterinarians, as everyone knows, care for dogs, cats and livestock. Less well-known is their role in safeguarding human health. “It’s important to point out the strengths and critical assets that veterinarians bring to public health,” observes Cyril Clarke, Lois Bates Acheson Dean of Veterinary Medicine. Clarke ticks off the key intersections of animal-human health one […]


Partners in Rural Vitality

Partners in Rural Vitality

Departments, Spring 2010, Student Research

Beautiful landscapes may inspire us, but it takes more than scenery to create community vitality. Wallowa County and rural communities across the country struggle with economic development, a future for their youth and the cultural tensions that arise from changing land ownership. For more than a decade, such issues in Wallowa have been addressed by Wallowa […]


Oceanographer to Take Research Helm

Oceanographer to Take Research Helm

Departments, New Terrain, Spring 2010

Richard “Rick” Spinrad, who has overseen national research initiatives from leadership positions in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy, will join OSU in July as vice president for research. Spinrad earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. at OSU in the 1970s and 1980s. He returns to Oregon with a wealth […]


Fending Off a Fruit Menace

Fending Off a Fruit Menace

Departments, New Terrain, Spring 2010

Extension videos teach you how to trap and identify the spotted wing Drosophila It’s a pest not much bigger than the head of a pin. But for Oregon farmers, the tiny fruit fly has the potential to take a giant bite out of yields — and profits. The spotted wing Drosophila has made its way […]


Preview of Coming Attractions

New Terrain, Spring 2010

March 15, 2010: “The Bridge Team’s goal for today was to determine the geographical extent of bridge damage from the Chilean earthquakes. We did this by driving nearly 450 miles south along Route 5 (the Pan American Highway) from Santiago to Temuco, keeping along the outer edge of the zone of strong shaking (about 50 […]


Reserve for Rockfish

Reserve for Rockfish

Healthy Planet, New Terrain, Spring 2010, Student Research

Redfish Rocks is home to a diverse collection of marine species — and to a unique collaboration among fishermen, university scientists and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The jagged reef off the shores of Port Orford, one of two pilot sites in Oregon’s developing marine reserve network, was established by coastal residents who […]


Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Departments, Innovation, Spring 2010

To find the genes that enable a crop — ryegrass or wheat, for example — to resist disease or tolerate drought can mean endless searching, not through one haystack but through many. And success is only the beginning of time-consuming breeding trials. Now scientists, farmers and plant breeders who feed the world have a new […]


Global Ocean

Departments, Footprints, Spring 2010

Sea levels are rising. Coral reefs are under siege. “Dead zones” are proliferating. From the poles to the Equator, Oregon State University marine scientists are tackling these and other problems in their quest to understand how oceans work, how ecosystems are responding and how we can manage them. With one of the largest concentrations of […]


Living on the Fault

Living on the Fault

Departments, Earth, Spring 2010

On a computer generated diagram of seismic profiles from Nepal and Tibet, John Nabelek traces a thin blue line. “That’s the interface between the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates,” he says. The earthquake-prone, mountainous terrain above it is home to an estimated 40 million people. “It is very steep. In earthquakes, landslides come tumbling […]


Gene Stalker

Gene Stalker

Features, Healthy Planet, Multimedia, Spring 2010

Scott Baker, an Oregon State University conservation geneticist and cetacean specialist whose work was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Cove,” has been named one of four 2011 Pew Fellows in Marine Conservation.


Secret Slaughter

Features, Spring 2010

In the seaside village of Taiji, Japan, there’s a jarring juxtaposition: Jolly-looking tour buses shaped like happy dolphins putter up and down the streets by day, while by night fishermen secretly slaughter hundreds of panic-stricken dolphins in a nearby inlet and sell them as meat. This sinister irony permeates the Academy Award-winning movie, The Cove, […]


Paying for Pavement

Paying for Pavement

Healthy Economy, Spring 2010

Praise the gas tax. For every gallon pumped into pickups, SUVs and miserly subcompacts, Oregonians put 24¢ into the state highway fund and another 18.3¢ into the federal. On top of that, two Oregon counties (Washington and Multnomah) and 21 cities add their own levies for local roads. In 2005, about 80 percent of Oregon’s […]


Who Pays More?

Spring 2010

Nothing gets a conversation started like a proposal for a new tax or a user fee. OSU economist B. Starr McMullen discovered that when she gave public presentations about vehicle mileage fees. “This is the one topic I’ve done in my career where everyone has an opinion,” says McMullen, an expert in transportation economics. In […]


Oxytocin, Empathy and Autism: Q&A with Sarina Rodrigues

Healthy People, Spring 2010

Terra: What is the link between empathy and autism? Sarina Rodrigues: In general, people high on the autism scale don’t do particularly well on tasks where they are asked to read other people’s emotions. We call this skill “empathic accuracy.” But that doesn’t mean people with autism can’t empathize. In fact, there’s one theory that […]


Where Chemistry Meets Compassion

Where Chemistry Meets Compassion

Features, Healthy People, Spring 2010

You don’t think of voles as paragons of virtue. Yet one species of these drab mouse-like creatures is loyal to its mate for life, helps around the den, cuddles its young, and generally exhibits what humans would call “family values.” Meet the true-blue prairie vole. Its cousin the meadow vole, however, is a cad. Despite […]


The Saliva Diaries

Spring 2010

You’ve heard of scout camp, church camp, even fat camp. But spit camp? That’s where scientists like Sarina Rodrigues go to study the practical applications of using saliva in the lab. A company called Salimetrics, a spin-off from Pennsylvania State University, offers workshops on using oral fluids as biological specimens for the behavioral, social and […]


Finding a Balance: Q&A with Stewart Trost

Features, Healthy People, Spring 2010

Terra: Sometimes anti-obesity programs are viewed as placing emphasis on children’s weight rather than on their health. Stewart Trost: Yes, that’s true. Some programs have tried sending home BMI (body mass index) report cards to parents. They’ve had a lot of push-back from parents saying, “You’re telling me my child’s fat.” It’s difficult, because on […]


The Mythbuster

The Mythbuster

Departments, Healthy Planet, Spring 2010, Student Research

OSU graduate student Jesse Abrams interviewed ranchers, homeowners, business people and local officials to understand changes unfolding in Wallowa County.


OSU Scholars Archive Ranks Among World’s Best

OSU Scholars Archive Ranks Among World’s Best

Departments, Healthy Economy, New Terrain, Spring 2010

ScholarsArchive@OSU, a digital archive for scholarly writings, rates among the top institutional repositories in the world. Achieving its highest ratings yet in January 2010, OSU came in fourth nationally and 16th internationally on Web-o-Metrics Institutional Repository rankings. Only three U.S. universities — MIT (which designed the repository software), Michigan and Tufts — outranked Oregon State. […]