agriculture and food

OSU applying to feds for permission to conduct industrial hemp research

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Faculty in the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences have submitted an application to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seeking permission to conduct research on industrial hemp.

OSU faculty members believe there is interest within Oregon for industrial hemp production and related research, as well as potential to promote the crop’s agricultural and economic opportunities.

Jay Noller, head of the crop and soil science department in the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU, said the university hopes to secure approval from the DEA and the Oregon Department of Agriculture to begin approved industrial hemp research trials for the 2016 growing season. The research likely would focus on learning more about the crop’s productivity, yield and growing conditions in western Oregon.

“We still need to secure funding for the research once the other hurdles are cleared,” Noller said. OSU expects that the results of peer-reviewed research regarding industrial hemp will be available in three to five years and that research planned over that time frame will require as much as $2.5 million in funding.

The growing and distribution of industrial hemp is regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to Steve Clark, OSU vice president for University Relations and Marketing. That act precludes Oregon State faculty from performing research that involves the possession, use, or distribution of hemp – unless such research is in compliance with already established federal guidelines.

“Thanks to the leaders of the Oregon Congressional delegation, the federal 2014 Farm Bill provided important authority regarding hemp research,” Clark said. “A provision in the bill enables higher education institutions to conduct industrial hemp research if the institution is located in a state in which industrial hemp production is legal.”

Industrial hemp has many uses, proponents say, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, fuel, and health and food products. It is a fast-growing plant that requires few pesticides, and it potentially could lead to replacing some environmentally harmful products.

Clark said the university’s decision to seek state and federal approval to conduct industrial hemp research will not extend to research related to the cultivation or propagation of marijuana.

Media Contact: 

Steve Clark, 541-737-3808, steve.clark@oregonstate.edu


Jay Noller, 54-737-6187, jay.noller@oregonstate.edu

Survey: Oyster industry more sold on ocean acidification impacts than public

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although some people in the general public remain skeptical about the impacts of ocean acidification, a growing number of professionals who make their living off the ocean have become believers.

A newly published survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents from the United States shellfish industry on the West Coast are convinced that acidification is having consequences – a figure more than four times higher than that of public perception, researchers say. About half of the people in the industry report having already experienced some impact from acidification.

Results of the study, led by researchers at Oregon State University, are being published this week in the Journal of Shellfish Research. It was funded by Oregon Sea Grant.

“The shellfish industry recognizes the consequences of ocean acidification for people today, people in this lifetime, and for future generations – to a far greater extent than the U.S. public,” said Rebecca Mabardy, a former OSU graduate student and lead author on the study. “The good news is that more than half of the respondents expressed optimism – at least, guarded optimism – for the industry’s ability to adapt to acidification.”

The mechanisms causing ocean acidification are complex and few in the shellfish industry initially understood the science behind the issue, noted George Waldbusser, an OSU marine ecologist who has worked with Northwest oyster growers on mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. However, he added, many have developed a rather sophisticated understanding of the basic concepts of carbon dioxide impacts on the ocean and understand the risks to their enterprise.

“Many have seen the negative effects of acidified water on the survival of their juvenile oysters – and those who have experienced a direct impact obviously have a higher degree of concern about the issue,” Waldbusser pointed out. “Others are anticipating the effects of acidification and want to know just what will happen, and how long the impacts may last.”

“Because of some of the success we’ve had in helping some hatcheries adapt to changing conditions, there is a degree of optimism that the industry can adapt,” added Waldbusser, who was Mabardy’s mentor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.

Waldbusser’s colleague Burke Hales has worked with the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery and others to create a chemical monitoring and treatment regimen for seawater. Waldbusser’s research has shown there is a fine line in how quickly larval oysters must develop their shell at a stage when they are most vulnerable to the corrosiveness of acidified water.

Shellfish industry leaders were asked who should take the lead in responding to the challenges of acidification and their strong preference was the shellfish industry itself, followed by academic researchers. A majority said that any governmental regulations should be led by federal agencies, followed by the state and then local government.

“As a whole, the industry felt that they should be working closely with the academic community on acidification issues,” Waldbusser said. “In the spirit of full disclosure, there were some people who reported a distrust of academics – though without any specifics – so we clearly have some work to do to establish credibility with that subset of the industry.”

Among the other findings:

  • Of those respondents who said they have been affected by ocean acidification, 97 percent reported financial damage, while 68 percent cited emotional stress.
  • The level of concern reported by industry was: 36 percent, extremely concerned; 39 percent, very concerned; 20 percent, somewhat concerned; 4 percent, not too concerned; and 1 percent, not at all concerned.
  • Most respondents felt that ocean acidification was happening globally (85 percent), along the U.S. West Coast (86 percent), and in their local estuary (84 percent).

“One thing that came out of this survey is that we learned that not only is the shellfish industry experiencing and acknowledging ocean acidification,” Mabardy said, “they are committed to learning about the issue and its implications for their business. They want to share their insights as they are forced into action.”

“The next step is to continue shifting conversations about ocean acidification from acknowledgement of the problem, toward solution-oriented strategies,” she added.

Since graduating from OSU, Mabardy has worked at Taylor Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Washington and is now beginning a position as the outreach and project coordinator for the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

Media Contact: 

George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964, waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Becky Mabardy, beckymabardy@gmail.com

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George Waldbusser (near) and Burke Hales of OSU work with the oyster industry on acidification monitoring and mitigation. Photo link: https://flic.kr/p/xn83LK









George Waldbusser (left) and Burke Hales.



Industry leaders are concerned about the impact of ocean acidification on oysters.

OSU’s statewide programs meet more needs with legislature’s support

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s three statewide public service programs received a boost from the Oregon legislature with $14 million additional funds to support up to 40 new positions and stimulate new research and extension projects across the state.

The new funding package increases the programs’ base budget to $118 million for the biennium. Of that increased funding, $6 million will go to OSU’s Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station; $4.5 million to the OSU Extension Service; and $3.5 million to OSU’s Oregon Forest Research Laboratory.

“Oregonians everywhere in the state will see benefits from these expanded programs with new OSU faculty focused on important issues in their communities,” said Scott Reed, director of the OSU Extension Service and vice-provost for Outreach and Engagement at OSU.

Examples include:

  •  Urban communities: more local programs focused on healthy living and nutrition education; expanded programs to support small-scale farming and community food systems; and increased research and development in fermentation sciences.
  •  Willamette Valley: increased research and extension on honey-bee and pollinator health; integrated pest management and slug control in commercial crops; specialty seed breeding; and timber harvest management.
  •  Coastal communities: increased research and extension in seafood and shellfish safety; near-shore fishery management; increased support for the dairy industry and commercial cheese-making; and new research focused on managing forest lands that are also habitat for marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in coastal forests.
  •  Eastern Oregon: increased research and extension focused on rangeland ecology to support sage-grouse conservation; juniper harvest and manufacturing; and water and nutrient management in rotation cropping.

Throughout Oregon, there will be increased opportunities for students to participate in research and outreach through experiential learning programs in real-world settings.

“We are deeply grateful for the legislature’s support, which allows us to address more needs in more communities across the state,” said Dan Arp, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The statewide programs will begin the hiring process this summer.

Media Contact: 

Dan Arp, 541-737-2331, dan.arp@oregonstate.edu;

Scott Reed, 541-737-2713, scott.reed@oregonstate.edu;

Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585, thomas.maness@oregonstate.edu

Organic gardens transform OSU landscapes, provide local food source

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new organic fruit and vegetable garden planted next to a residence hall at Oregon State University is part of a shifting philosophy by housing and dining landscapers. The Food Forest, which was first created this spring next to Callahan Hall on the east side of the Corvallis campus, provides food, shade and color, as well as boundless educational opportunities.

Landscape technicians Brian Kreft and Sylvan Pritchett help maintain the garden, along with help from OSU students and staff. The garden was created by University Housing and Dining Services in partnership with the departments of horticulture and crop and soil science, to offer educational and volunteer opportunities for students and to provide organic produce for some of UHDS’ restaurants and retail food operations.

Kreft and Pritchett, who are both accredited by organic certifier Oregon Tilth, are dedicated to shifting UHDS landscaping toward a more educational, natural, chemical-free approach that embraces color, texture, and yes, sometimes weeds.

“We’re designing a landscape that distracts the eyes from any weeds,” Kreft said. “This shifts us away from how we used to look at landscapes. For instance, that watermelon behind us is a great groundcover. It suppresses weeds but allows the fruit trees to grow.”

OSU already has organic food gardens on the edge of campus, but the Food Forest is the first such space in central campus, and was intentionally placed so students would become interested in what was growing along their path.

Jaime Herrera, executive chef for UHDS, said food service on campus has been greatly expanding its focus on local, organic and seasonal food offerings, and working with Kreft and Pritchett has expanded that further with the chance to go into the garden and actually pick what they’re serving.

“From the cook’s perspective, the garden is an inspiring space where you can take a quick break from the kitchen,” Herrera said. “It sparks your imagination and revives you. It allows you to expand your offerings by seeing what’s available.”

A new restaurant called “Five Four One,” under construction in nearby McNary Hall, will depend partially on the Food Forest and a new garden to be created on the east side of McNary, for its produce. Under the direction of chef Dale Lawson, the restaurant, which opens in September, will offer mostly locally sourced foods based on what’s available during the year, and will be inspired in part by what they find in the garden.

“One of the most exciting parts about Five Four One is the educational component,” Lawson said. “Students will be able to broaden their horizons and try new things. Beets might not be number one on their list of choices but we can provide them in an interesting way that makes them want to try it.”

Ideally, Kreft and Pritchett say, there would be an organic garden next to each residence hall on campus. While it isn’t practical for the campus to produce all of its food needs, having even a small portion grown right on the doorstep creates endless educational opportunities, and enhances campus beauty in new ways.

“The vision is that everyone has access to this space,” Pritchett said. “The Food Forest is open to everyone and that’s the intention. We want people to be excited about the landscape.”


Media Contact: 

Brian Kreft, 541-737-2032

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OSU researchers discover the unicorn – seaweed that tastes like bacon!

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon.

Dulse (Palmaria sp.) grows in the wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It is harvested and usually sold for up to $90 a pound in dried form as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement. But researcher Chris Langdon and colleagues at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have created and patented a new strain of dulse – one he has been growing for the past 15 years.

This strain, which looks like translucent red lettuce, is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants – and it contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight, Langdon said.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon pointed out. “We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature. There always has been an interest in growing dulse for human consumption, but we originally focused on using dulse as a food for abalone.”

The technology of growing abalone and dulse has been successfully implemented on a commercial scale by the Big Island Abalone Corporation in Hawaii.

Langdon’s change in perspective about dulse was triggered by a visit by Chuck Toombs, a faculty member in OSU’s College of Business, who stopped by Langdon’s office because he was looking for potential projects for his business students. He saw the dulse growing in bubbling containers outside of Langdon’s office and the proverbial light went on.

“Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” Toombs said. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Toombs began working with OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, where a product development team created a smorgasbord of new foods with dulse as the main ingredient. Among the most promising were a dulse-based rice cracker and salad dressing.

The research team received a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to explore dulse as a “specialty crop” – the first time a seaweed had made the list, according to Food Innovation Center director Michael Morrissey.

That allowed the team to bring Jason Ball onto the project. The research chef previously had worked with the University of Copenhagen’s Nordic Food Lab, helping chefs there better use local ingredients.

“The Food Innovation Center team was working on creating products from dulse, whereas Jason brings a ‘culinary research’ chef’s perspective,” said Gil Sylvia, director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “The point that he and other chefs make is that fresh, high-quality seaweed is hard to get. ‘You bring us the seaweed,’ they say, ‘and we’ll do the creative stuff.’”

Several Portland-area chefs are now testing dulse as a fresh product and many believe it has significant potential in both its raw form and as a food ingredient.

Sylvia, who is a seafood economist, said that although dulse has great potential, no one has yet done a full analysis on whether a commercial operation would be economically feasible. “That fact that it grows rapidly, has high nutritional value, and can be used dried or fresh certainly makes it a strong candidate,” he said.

There are no commercial operations that grow dulse for human consumption in the United States, according to Langdon, who said it has been used as a food in northern Europe for centuries. The dulse sold in U.S. health food and nutrition stores is harvested, and is a different strain from the OSU-patented variety.

“In Europe, they add the powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food,” Langdon said. “There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

The vegan market alone could comprise a niche.

Langdon, a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU and long-time leader of the Molluscan Broodstock Program, has two large tanks in which he can grow about 20-30 pounds of dulse a week. He has plans to up the production to 100 pounds a week. For now, they are using the dulse for research at the Food Innovation Center on dulse recipes and products.

However, Toombs’ MBA students are preparing a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods and exploring the potential for a new aquaculture industry.

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Langdon said. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

The background of how Langdon and his colleagues developed dulse is outlined in the latest version of Oregon’s Agricultural Progress at : http://bit.ly/1fo9Doy

Media Contact: 

Chris Langdon, 541-867-0231, chris.langdon@oregonstate.edu;  Chuck Toombs, 541-737-4087, Charles.Toombs@oregonstate.edu;

Michael Morrisey, 503-872-6656, Michael.Morrissey@oregonstate.edu;  Gil Sylvia, 541-867-0284, gil.sylvia@oregonstate.edu

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Dulse in its seaweed form


Dulse prepared in a dish


Chris Langdon near a vat of growing dulse

Tracking potato famine pathogen to its home may aid $6 billion global fight

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The cause of potato late blight and the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s has been tracked to a pretty, alpine valley in central Mexico, which is ringed by mountains and now known to be the ancestral home of one of the most costly and deadly plant diseases in human history.

Research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by researchers from Oregon State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and five other institutions, concludes that Phytophthora infestans originated in this valley and co-evolved with potatoes over hundreds or maybe a few thousand years, and later spread repeatedly to much of the world.

Knowing the origin of the pathogen does more than just fill in a few facts in agricultural history, the scientists say. It provides new avenues to discover resistance genes, and helps explain the mechanisms of repeated emergence of this disease, which to this day is still the most costly potato pathogen in the world.

Potato late blight continues to be a major threat to global food security and at least $6 billion a year is spent to combat it, mostly due to the cost of fungicides and substantial yield losses. But P. infestans is now one of the few plant pathogens in the world with a well-characterized center of origin.

“This is immensely important,” said Niklaus Grunwald, who is a courtesy professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, a researcher with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and lead author on the study.

“This is just a textbook example of a center of origin for a pathogen, and it’s a real treat,” Grunwald said. “I can’t think of another system so well understood. This should allow us to make significant headway in finding additional genes that provide resistance to P. infestans.”

Finding ways to genetically resist the potato late blight, scientists say, could help reduce the use of fungicides, and the expense and environmental concerns associated with them.

There had been competing theories about where P. infestans may have evolved, with the leading candidates being the Toluca Valley near Mexico City, or areas in South America where the potato itself actually evolved thousands of years ago.

Gene sequencing technology used by this research group helped pin down the Toluca Valley as the ancestral hot spot. The P. infestans pathogen co-evolved there hundreds of years ago with plants that were distant cousins of modern potatoes, which produced tubers but were more often thought of as a weed than a vegetable crop.

Today, the newly-confirmed home of this pathogen awaits researchers almost as a huge, natural laboratory, Grunwald said. Since different potato varieties, plants and pathogens have been co-evolving there for hundreds of years, it offers some of the best hope to discover genes that provide some type of resistance.

Along with other staple foods such as corn, rice and wheat, the potato forms a substantial portion of the modern human diet. A recent United Nations report indicated that every person on Earth eats, on average, more than 70 pounds of potatoes a year. Potatoes contain a range of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and – for hungry populations – needed calories.

It’s believed that the potato was first domesticated more than 7,000 years ago in parts of what are now Peru and Bolivia, and it was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the late 1500s. A cheap and plentiful crop that can grow in many locations, the ability to increase food production with the potato eventually aided a European population boom in the 1800s.

But what the New World provided, it also took away - in the form of a potato late blight attack that originated from Mexico, caused multiple crop failures and led, among other things, to the Irish potato famine that began in 1845. Before it was over, 1 million people had died and another 1 million emigrated, many to the U.S.

That famine was exacerbated by lack of potato diversity, as some of the varieties most vulnerable to P. infestans were also the varieties most widely cultivated.

Collaborators on the research were from the University of Florida, the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, the University of the Andes in Colombia, Cornell University, and the International Potato Center in Beijing. It was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Scottish government.

Media Contact: 

Niklaus Grunwald, 541-738-4049

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Toluca Valley

Toluca Valley

Potato relative

Potato relative

Infected potato plant

Infected plant

OSU scientists part of national APLU report outlining research challenges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The national Association of Public and Land-grant Universities released a report today outlining six “grand challenges” facing the United States over the next decade in the areas of sustainability water, climate change, agriculture, energy and education.

The APLU project was co-chaired by W. Daniel Edge, head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. The report is available online at: http://bit.ly/1ksH2ud

The “Science, Education, and Outreach Roadmap for Natural Resources” is the first comprehensive, nationwide report on research, education and outreach needs for natural resources the country’s university community has ever attempted, Edge said.

“The report identifies critical natural resources issues that interdisciplinary research programs need to focus on over the next 5-10 years in order to address emerging challenges,” Edge noted. “We hope that policy-makers and federal agencies will adopt recommendations in the roadmap when developing near-term research priorities and strategies.”

The six grand challenges addressed in the report are: 

  • Sustainability: The need to conserve and manage natural landscapes and maintain environmental quality while optimizing renewable resource productivity to meet increasing human demands for natural resources, particularly with respect to increasing water, food, and energy demands.
  • Water: The need to restore, protect and conserve watersheds for biodiversity, water resources, pollution reduction and water security.
  • Climate Change: The need to understand the impacts of climate change on our environment, including such aspects as disease transmission, air quality, water supply, ecosystems, fire, species survival, and pest risk. Further, a comprehensive strategy is needed for managing natural resources to adapt to climate change.
  • Agriculture: The need to develop a sustainable, profitable, and environmentally responsible agriculture industry.
  • Energy: The need to identify new and alternative renewable energy sources and improve the efficiency of existing renewable resource-based energy to meet increasing energy demands while reducing the ecological footprint of energy production and consumption.
  • Education: The need to maintain and strengthen natural resources education at our schools at all levels in order to have the informed citizenry, civic leaders, and practicing professionals needed to sustain the natural resources of the United States.


Three other OSU researchers were co-authors on the report, including Hal Salwasser, a professor and former dean of the College of Forestry; JunJie Wu, the Emery N. Castle Endowed Chair in Resource and Rural Economics; and George Boehlert, former director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Wu played a key role in the climate change chapter in identifying the need to better understand the tradeoffs between investing now in climate change adaptation measures versus the long-term risk of not adopting new policies.

Edge and Boehlert contributed to the energy chapter, which focuses primarily on renewable energy.

“The natural resources issues with traditional sources of energy already are well-understood,” Boehlert said, “with the possible exception of fracking. As the country moves more into renewable energy areas, there are many more uncertainties with respect to natural resources that need to be understood and addressed. There are no energy sources that do not have some environmental issues.”

Salwasser was an author on the sustainability chapter that identifies many issues associated with natural resource use, including rangelands, forestry, fisheries and wildlife and biodiversity. The authors contend the challenge is to use these resources in a sustainable manner meeting both human and ecosystem needs.

The project was sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Oregon State University, which partnered with APLU and authors from numerous institutions.


Media Contact: 

Dan Edge, 541-737-2810; Daniel.edge@oregonstate.edu

Study finds only trace levels of radiation from Fukushima in albacore

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Albacore tuna caught off the Oregon shore after the Fukushima Daiichi power station in Japan was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake had slightly elevated levels of radioactivity but the increase has been minute, according to a newly published study.

In fact, you would have to consume more than 700,000 pounds of the fish with the highest radioactive level – just to match the amount of radiation the average person is annually exposed to in everyday life through cosmic rays, the air, the ground, X-rays and other sources, the authors say.

Results of the study are being published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk,” said Delvan Neville, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “But these trace levels are too small to be a realistic concern.

“A year of eating albacore with these cesium traces is about the same dose of radiation as you get from spending 23 seconds in a stuffy basement from radon gas, or sleeping next to your spouse for 40 nights from the natural potassium-40 in their body,” he added. “It’s just not much at all.”

In their study, the researchers examined a total of 26 Pacific albacore caught off the coast between 2008 and 2012 to give them a comparison between pre-Fuskushima and post-Fukushima radiation levels. They discovered that levels of specific radioactive isotopes did increase, but at the most extreme level, they only tripled – a measurement that is only 0.1 percent of the radiocesium level set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for concern and intervention.

The researchers tested samples of the albacore from their loins, carcass and guts and found varying levels – all barely detectable. The findings are still important, however, since this is one of the first studies to look at different parts of the fish.

“The loins, or muscle, is what people eat and the bioaccumulation was about the same there as in the carcass,” said Jason Phillips, a research associate in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

The researchers next began looking at the radionuclide levels in different aged fish and found they were somewhat higher in 4-year-old albacore than in the younger fish. This suggests that the 3-year-old albacore may have only made one trans-Pacific migration, whereas the 4-year-old fish may have migrated through the Fukushima plume twice.

The majority of the 3-year-old fish had no traces of Fukushima at all.

Although it is possible that additional exposures to the plume could further increase radiation levels in the albacore, it would still be at a low level, the researchers pointed out. Additionally, as albacore mature at around age 5, they stop migrating long distances and move south to subtropical waters in the Central and West Pacific – and do not return to the West Coast of the United States.

“The presence of these radioactive isotopes is actually helping us in an odd way – giving us information that will allow us to estimate how albacore tuna migrate between our West Coast and Japan,” Neville said.

Little is known about the migration patterns of young albacore before they enter the U.S. fishery at about three years of age, Phillips said.

“That’s kind of surprising, considering what a valuable food source they are,” Phillips said. “Fukushima provides the only known source for a specific isotope that shows up in the albacore, so it gives us an unexpected fingerprint that allows us to learn more about the migration.”

Other authors were Richard Brodeur of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and Kathryn Higley, of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. The study was supported by Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with continued support from Oregon Sea Grant.

Media Contact: 

Delvan Neville,541-602-8005, dnevill@gmail.com; Jason Phillips, 541-231-5021, ajasonphillips@gmail.com

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Jason Phillips

Efforts to curb climate change require greater emphasis on livestock

CORVALLIS, Ore. – While climate change negotiators struggle to agree on ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, they have paid inadequate attention to other greenhouse gases associated with livestock, according to an analysis by an international research team.

A reduction in non-CO2 greenhouse gases will be required to abate climate change, the researchers said. Cutting releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two gases that pound-for-pound trap more heat than does CO2, should be considered alongside the challenge of reducing fossil fuel use.

The researchers’ analysis, “Ruminants, Climate Change, and Climate Policy,” is being published today as an opinion commentary in Nature Climate Change, a professional journal.

William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and co-authors from Scotland, Austria, Australia and the United States, reached their conclusions on the basis of a synthesis of scientific knowledge on greenhouse gases, climate change and food and environmental issues. They drew from a variety of sources including the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and recent peer-reviewed publications.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said Ripple. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.”

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas, and a recent report estimated that in the United States methane releases from all sources could be much higher than previously thought. Among the largest human-related sources of methane are ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo) and fossil fuel extraction and combustion.

One of the most effective ways to cut methane, the researchers wrote, is to reduce global populations of ruminant livestock, especially cattle. Ruminants are estimated to comprise the largest single human-related source of methane. By reflecting the latest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of a life-cycle or a “farm to fork” analysis, the researchers observed that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep production are 19 to 48 times higher (on the basis of pounds of food produced) than they are from producing protein-rich plant foods such as beans, grains, or soy products.

Unlike non-ruminant animals such as pigs and poultry, ruminants produce copious amounts of methane in their digestive systems. Although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the international community could achieve a more rapid reduction in the causes of global warming by lowering methane emissions through a reduction in the number of ruminants, the authors said, than by cutting CO2 alone.

The authors also observed that, on a global basis, ruminant livestock production is having a growing impact on the environment:

  • Globally, the number of ruminant livestock has increased by 50 percent in the last 50 years, and there are now about 3.6 billion ruminant livestock on the planet.
  • About a quarter of the Earth’s land area is dedicated to grazing, mostly for cattle, sheep and goats.
  • A third of all arable land is used to grow feed crops for livestock.

In addition to reducing direct methane emissions from ruminants, cutting ruminant numbers would deliver a significant reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of feed crops for livestock, they added.

“Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”

Among agricultural approaches to climate change, reducing demand for meat from ruminants offers greater greenhouse gas reduction potential than do other steps such as increasing livestock feeding efficiency or crop yields per acre. Nevertheless, they wrote, policies to achieve both types of reductions “have the best chance of providing rapid and lasting climate benefits.”

Such steps could have other benefits as well, said co-author Pete Smith of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. "Cutting the number of ruminant livestock could have additional benefits for food security, human health and environmental conservation involving water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity,” he explained. 

Agricultural researchers are also studying methane reduction through improved animal genetics and methods to inhibit production of the gas during digestion.

International climate negotiations such as the UNFCCC have not given “adequate attention” to greenhouse gas reductions from ruminants, they added. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, does not target ruminant emissions from developing countries, which are among the fastest-growing ruminant producers.

In addition to Smith and Haberl, co-authors include Stephen A. Montzka of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Clive McAlpine of the University of Queensland in Australia and Douglas Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C.



Media Contact: 

Bill Ripple, 541-737-3056

OSU study: Packaging insecticides in tiny capsules may make them more toxic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Encasing insecticides in microscopic plastic capsules—a common formulation for many pest sprays on the market—may make them more toxic than the active ingredient alone, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

Environmental toxicologist Stacey Harper and her team found that a common agricultural insecticide in its “capsule suspension” formulation—with molecules of the active ingredient encapsulated in tiny, inert plastic pellets—was more toxic than the same amount of active ingredient delivered straight up in water.

Their study appeared in this month’s edition of the journal Environment International.

Harper, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering, and her doctoral student Alicea Meredith studied a commercial pyrethroid-type insecticide with an encapsulated active ingredient, lambda-cyhalothrin. The product is a broad-spectrum insecticide approved for use in many field and row crops. Its label warns that it is toxic to fish and other water-dwelling organisms.

The capsules encasing the product’s active ingredient range from micron-sized (a red blood cell is about 8 microns in diameter; a human hair is 40-75 microns thick), to nanometer-sized, a thousand times smaller.

“We set out to see whether the size of the capsule made any difference in toxicity or environmental fate,” Harper said. She hypothesized that the tinier capsules would be more toxic than the bigger ones, because they would be able to penetrate cells more readily.

The researchers spun the off-the-shelf product in a centrifuge and sorted its capsules into two size classes. There was a wide range of sizes; most capsules were in the neighborhood of micron-sized, but some were nanometer-sized.

They exposed the embryos of zebrafish to six successively stronger doses of the pesticide’s active ingredient. One group got it in micron-sized capsules, and another group got the same dose in nanometer-sized capsules. As a control, a third group of embryos got the same dose of active ingredient, but it was not encapsulated.

In all cases, the lowest dose administered (20 micrograms of active ingredient per liter of water) was higher than any likely to be used in a commercial spray. “We started with a dose we knew to be toxic because we wanted to compare the toxicity of these two capsule sizes,” Harper said.

Zebrafish, a fast-growing species common in home aquariums, are useful for toxicology testing, Harper said, because their bodies are transparent as they grow, enabling researchers to spot developmental anomalies from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Over five days the embryos showed the effects of pesticide poisoning, including physical malformations, tremoring, paralysis and death. But the pesticide in the smaller capsules was no more toxic than the pesticide in the larger ones, Harper said—the higher doses were more toxic across the board, regardless of capsule size.

“What was more surprising,” she said, “was that the active ingredient alone was significantly less toxic than either of the encapsulated formulations. We didn’t set out to test this, but it’s what we found.”

Chemical manufacturers have offered encapsulated formulations of pesticides for more than 50 years, Harper said, because encapsulation is thought to improve the product’s dispersal and durability. “Our findings indicate that these formulations may be affecting where a chemical spreads through an environment and how it interacts with biological systems,” she said.  

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires pesticide manufacturers to test a product’s active ingredient for toxicity, it doesn’t require testing of commercial formulations of the product, which are usually trade secrets. This means toxicity screening may underestimate—or perhaps overestimate—the actual environmental hazard of a chemical when it’s used in real-life situations, said Harper.

“The testing assumes that the encapsulation makes no difference in the toxicity,” she said, “but in this case, at least, it does. So it’s important to figure out how the carrier of a chemical product affects its toxicity in order to determine whether our current risk assessments offer enough protection against products that incorporate this encapsulation technology.”

Harper, also an environmental engineer, studies the environmental effects of human-made nanoparticles—microscopic bits of matter engineered to have commercially useful properties. Nanoparticles are widely used in pharmaceuticals, pesticides and personal care products, but little is known about their long-term environmental or health effects.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and by OSU’s Agricultural Research Foundation.

Media Contact: 

Stacey Harper, 541-737-2791, stacey.harper@oregonstate.edu

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Zebrafish are used to test toxicity of environmental chemicals. Photo by Stephen Ward


Stacey Harper. Photo by Frank Miller

Stacey Harper, OSU environmental toxicologist