college of agricultural sciences

OSU to lead $1.2 million food safety center to help farmers, processors

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will administer a new $1.2 million center that aims to help small and midsized farms and food processors in 13 western states prevent foodborne illnesses.

The initiative was announced today by the federal government as part of an effort to help growers and processors of fruits, vegetables and nuts comply with requirements established under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The center, which is not an actual building, is one of four new regional hubs across the country.

"It is critical that we provide relevant training and assistance to farmers, processors and wholesalers, especially to those who may struggle to meet the requirements,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which awarded the $1.2 million.

OSU and its partners will use the funding – a third of which will go to OSU – to develop trainers to teach others how to conduct workshops for small and midsized farms, beginning farmers, small-scale food processors and wholesale produce vendors.

“Small farms and food processors have limited technical and financial means to comply with the FSMA rules, unlike large farming operations and food manufacturers," said Robert McGorrin, the center's lead director and head of OSU's Food Science and Technology Department. “This center will provide a large number of trainers across the region with the technical assistance to help them comply with the new rules.

The center will also leverage existing food safety training programs with Extension, community-based organizations and food hubs and cooperatives, he added.

The trainings can be customized to fit a specific crop whether it's hazelnuts, tree fruits, potatoes or onions, McGorrin noted. "Unlike large-scale commodity crops such as wheat and corn, crops grown at small and medium-scale farms often have their own unique production, harvesting and processing needs,” he said.

OSU and its partners will work with The Produce Safety Alliance and the Food Safety Preventive Control Alliance to develop trainers. The aim is to have at least two dozen lead trainers and about 200 other people as certified trainers, McGorrin said. He added that the trainers could include representatives from regulatory agencies, nongovernmental organizations and commodity group associations.

The center is a partnership with land-grant universities in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Guam as well as American Samoa Community College.

OSU already has a robust educational outreach program for food safety. OSU food microbiologist Mark Daeschel fields calls and emails from Oregonians wanting to make and sell thermally processed acidified foods. He said he evaluated more than 500 products in 2014 to make sure they were processed properly. Also, the OSU Extension Service has published a 24-page guide for processors and regulators called Ensuring Food Safety in Specialty Foods Production, and its faculty helped create the Northwest Specialty Food Network website.

OSU faculty members also teach an annual class for businesses that produce acidified and low-acid foods. The government requires these companies to have a supervisor on site who completed such a course. Additionally, OSU conducts a workshop each year for food processors to help them comply with federal requirements for hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP).

The creation of the center, which was supported by U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader, Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden, comes after a 2011 outbreak of E. coli was caused by deer droppings on an Oregon strawberry farm. Seven people were hospitalized and one person died. That same year, eight people in the Midwest were infected with E. coli after eating hazelnuts, and a multistate Listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupe was traced to a Colorado farm; it sickened 147 people and killed 33.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year in the U.S., foodborne diseases sicken roughly one in six people and kill 3,000.


Robert McGorrin, 541-737-8737, robert.mcgorrin@oregonstate.edu

OSU-led team lands $2.5 million grant to probe how diseases become epidemics

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University scientist is heading a multinational team studying how to anticipate and curb the next disease outbreak before it blows up into a global epidemic.

Funded by a new $2.5 million grant, OSU plant pathologist Christopher Mundt and his team are probing infectious diseases of humans, animals and plants that have a distinctive trait in common:  the capability of the pathogen – whether virus, fungus or bacterium – to transmit itself over long distances. This pattern, he said, characterizes diseases like avian flu, which have produced continental-scale epidemics.

“Our goal is to develop rules of thumb for identifying and controlling diseases that have this long-distance dispersal capability,” said Mundt. “We don’t have the scientific manpower to create detailed models of every potential epidemic. So a generalized set of control strategies would be vital in policy planning during the early stages of an outbreak.”

Mundt, a professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is partnering with scientists from Kansas State University, North Carolina State University and two universities in England on the five-year project, which is being funded by several organizations.

As people and pathogens move freely around a warming world, pandemic diseases increasingly threaten public health and global economies, according to the National Science Foundation, one of the project’s funding agencies. The World Health Organization calls infectious-disease epidemics “contemporary health catastrophes.”

For 15 years Mundt and his OSU colleagues have been studying stripe rust, a fast-spreading fungal disease that damages wheat, in experiments on commercial farms in central Oregon’s Jefferson County.

The new study will incorporate findings from this ongoing work. Mundt and his team will also analyze data from two real-life 2001 epidemics: foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, caused by a virus; and sudden oak death, which started in California and spread to southern Oregon. That disease is transmitted by a water mold called Phytophthora ramorum.

The researchers will also study historical outbreaks of animal and human viral diseases spread by insects, such as West Nile, Rift Valley fever and Japanese encephalitis. Finally, they will use modeling and field experiments to test strategies for controlling epidemics, including vaccination, drug therapy, quarantines, and eradicating of host organisms around centers of infection.

Pathogens that can disperse over long distances are dubbed “fat-tailed” organisms, said Mundt – a reference to the shape of their spread pattern on a graph. A fat-tailed curve, he explained, looks like a hill with a long tapering slope off to the right. The taper represents the rapid movement of the disease “front” through space over time.

In contrast, the curve of a slower disease, like measles, looks more like a hill without the tapering slope. The downhill plunge represents the disease’s decline with distance at a constant, linear rate.

It’s been assumed, Mundt said, that most epidemics follow the same linear pattern as measles. “But that wasn’t what I was seeing in my stripe-rust experiments.” Instead, the outbreaks accelerated as they pushed out from the epicenter, and the larger the initial infection site, the faster the acceleration rate.

Mundt and his OSU team have also experimented with control techniques to curb the spread of stripe rust, including ring culling – eradicating the host organism (in this case, the wheat) in a ring around the infection to halt its spread.

“There’s been a lot of interest in how big that ring should be,” Mundt said. “Our field studies and modeling are both suggesting that what matters more is how quickly you get on it. That’s because of that accelerating disease front.”

The foot-and-mouth epidemic in Britain was halted by ring culling, he said, but it was a drastic and controversial measure, resulting in the slaughter of some 4 million head of livestock. Foresters in southern Oregon also used ring culling to slow the spread of sudden oak death, cutting and burning trees and shrubs around centers of infection.

“If what we’re seeing is correct,” Mundt said, “it tells us we will need to put more effort into initial surveillance and containment of these fat-tailed organisms, so we can perhaps avoid drastic measures later.”

The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Services Research Council.

Story By: 

Christopher C. Mundt, 541-737-5256, mundtc@science.oregonstate.edu

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Chris Mundt, a plant pathologist at Oregon State University, shows off a diseased leaf of wheat at a field day at OSU's Hyslop Farm. Photo by Tiffany Woods

Chris Mundt

Researchers plan to conduct first analysis of the complete beaver genome

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Filbert, a four-year-old beaver born and raised at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, will be the first of his species to have his complete genome sequenced.

Researchers at Oregon State University, whose mascot is the beaver, are planning to analyze a complete set of Filbert’s DNA in order to improve their understanding of how the continent’s largest rodent fills its role as an ecosystem engineer.

Filbert’s genetic material will be retrieved from a blood sample that was taken during a routine annual physical in August. While determining the actual structure of the DNA will take only a few days, researchers will spend months analyzing the chemical building blocks, known as base pairs, which comprise all genes and other parts of the genome.

By understanding what genes are present and how they function, scientists will gain insight into beaver populations, disease and where the animal sits on the tree of life. The oldest evidence of beaver in North America is a pair of teeth, estimated to be 7 million years old, found in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.

“Sequencing all of the beaver’s DNA will improve our understanding of the entire beaver species, including their amazing engineering and dietary feats and their contributions to stream and forest ecosystems,” said Brett Tyler, director of Oregon State’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, which will conduct the study.

Brent Kronmiller, a faculty research assistant in the center and member of the research team, noted that sequencing the beaver will help scientists address deep questions about the animal. “What are their closest relatives?” he said. “What is the population structure of Northwest beavers? How are they able to digest wood?”

Beavers are distinctive for their orange teeth that enable them to relentlessly chew on trees and for their dam-building activities that shape habitats across the continent. Scientists have estimated that as many as 200 million beavers ranged across North America before European settlement. By the mid-19th century, the animals had been removed from many areas. Some populations have rebounded, and it’s estimated that North America is now home to 10 to 15 million beavers.

The Beaver Genome Project also aims to make Oregon State the first Pac-12 Conference university to sequence its school mascot.

The project is the subject of a crowdfunding campaign managed by the OSU Foundation. To contribute toward the $30,000 goal, see create.osufoundation.org/seqthebeav. The campaign is scheduled to run from September 16 to October 30.

More than 120 Oregon State researchers are affiliated with the center, which performs genome sequencing and analysis for studies of human health, plant biology, microbiology and other purposes. On a daily basis, the center can sequence as many as 200 billion genetic building blocks known as base pairs.

Story By: 

Jeannine Cropley, 541-737-3678

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A beaver on exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. ©Oregon Zoo/Photo by Deidre Lantz

Oregon State research reaches record, exceeds $308 million

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University research funding reached $308.9 million, its highest level ever, in the fiscal year that ended on June 30. A near doubling of revenues from licensing patented technologies and an 8.5 percent increase in competitive federal funding fueled OSU research on a range of projects including advanced ocean-going research vessels, the health impacts of pollution and sustainable materials for high-speed computing.

“This is a phenomenal achievement. I've seen how OSU research is solving global problems and providing innovations that mean economic growth for Oregon and the nation,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU’s vice president for research who undertook her duties on August 31. “OSU’s research performance in the last year is amazing, given that federal funds are so restricted right now.”

The overall economic and societal impact of OSU’s research enterprise exceeds $670 million, based on an analysis of OSU’s research contributions to the state and global economy that followed a recent economic study of OSU’s fiscal impact conducted by ECONorthwest.

Technology licensing almost doubled in the last year alone, from just under $6 million in 2014 to more than $10 million this year. Leading investments from business and industry were patented Oregon State innovations in agriculture, advanced materials and nuclear technologies.

OSU researchers exceeded the previous record of $288 million, which the university achieved in 2010. Although federal agencies provided the bulk of funding, most of the growth in OSU research revenues over the past five years stems from nonprofit organizations and industry.

Since 2010, total private-sector funding from sponsored contracts, research cooperatives and other sources has risen 60 percent — from $25 million to more than $40 million in 2015. Oregon State conducts research with multinationals such as HP, Nike and Boeing as well as with local firms such as Benchmade Knife of Oregon City, Sheldon Manufacturing of Cornelius and NuScale Power of Corvallis.

By contrast, federal research grants in 2015 were only 0.2 percent higher than those received in 2010, a year in which American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds gave university research a one-time shot in the arm across the country. According to the National Science Foundation, federal agency obligations for research have dropped from a high of $36 billion in 2009 to $29 billion in 2013, the last year for which cumulative figures are available. The Department of Health and Human Services accounted for more than half of that spending.

“We’ve worked hard to diversify our research portfolio,” said Ron Adams, who retired as interim vice president for research at the end of August. “But it’s remarkable that our researchers have succeeded in competing for an increase in federal funding. This speaks to the success of our strategic initiatives and our focus on clusters of excellence.”

Economic impact stems in part from new businesses launched this year through the Oregon State University Advantage program. Among them are:

  •  OnBoard Dynamics, a Bend company designing a natural-gas powered vehicle engine that can be fueled from home
  •  Valliscor, a Corvallis company that manufactures ultra-pure chemicals
  • eChemion, a Corvallis company that develops and markets technology to extend battery life

Altogether, 15 new companies have received mentoring assistance from Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator program, part of the state-funded Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN. Six new companies are working with the Advantage program this fall.

Additional economic impact stems from the employment of students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty. According to the OSU Research Office, about a quarter of OSU undergraduates participate in research projects, many with stipends paid by grant funds. In addition, grants support a total of 843 graduate research positions and 165 post-doctoral researchers.

The College of Agricultural Sciences received the largest share of research grants at Oregon State with $49.4 million last year, followed by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at $39 million and the College of Engineering at $37 million. The College of Science saw a 170 percent increase in research funding to $26.7 million, its largest total ever and the biggest rise among OSU colleges. Among the largest grants received in FY15 were:

  •  $8 million from the NSF to the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (College of Science) for new high-speed information technologies
  •  $4 million from the Department of Energy to reduce barriers to the deployment of ocean energy systems (College of Engineering)
  •  $4 million from US Agency for International Development to the AquaFish Innovation Lab (College of Agricultural Sciences) for global food security
  •  $3.5 million from the USDA for experiential learning to reduce obesity (College of Public Health and Human Sciences)
  •  $2.3 million from the NSF for the ocean observing initiative (College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)
  •  $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education for school readiness in early childhood (OSU Cascades)


Editor’s Note: FY15 research totals for OSU colleges and OSU-Cascades are posted online.

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/story/osu%E2%80%99s-college-agricultural-sciences-receives-494-million-research-grants 

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/features/funding/

College of Education: http://education.oregonstate.edu/research-and-outreach 

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy15-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/research/college-forestry-receives-near-record-grant-awards-fy-2015

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2015-research-summary

College of Pharmacy: http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/grant_information

College of Public Health and Human Sciences: http://health.oregonstate.edu/research 

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2015/08/record-year-for-research-funding/

College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/research-highlights

OSU-Cascades: http://osucascades.edu/research-and-scholarship 

Story By: 

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, 541-737-0664; Rich Holdren on OSU research trends, 541-737-8390; Brian Wall on business spinoffs and commercialization, 541-737-9058

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Surface chemistry research

Masters students at OSU worked to improve the performance of thin-film transistors used in liquid crystal displays. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

OOI mooring

The Oregon shelf surface mooring is lowered to the water using the R/V Oceanus ship's crane. (photo courtesy of Oregon State University). Wave Energy

The Ocean Sentinel, a wave energy testing device, rides gentle swells near Newport, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University) Hernandez3-2

An undergraduate student at the Autonomous Juarez University of Tabasco, Mexico, is working with cage culture of cichlids in an educational partnership with the AquaFish collaborative Support Program. (Photo: Tiffany Woods)

OSU’s new barley varieties appeal to brewers, bakers and bovines

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A versatile new barley variety just released by Oregon State University could lend subtle malt flavors to Northwest craft brews and also give consumers more choice in fiber-rich barley foods.

A second new OSU variety looks like a good choice for high-quality forage production in areas where water is increasingly scarce, said Patrick Hayes, head of OSU’s barley breeding program. 

The first new variety, Buck, is a high-yielding winter barley that performs well in a variety of Pacific Northwest conditions, said Hayes, a professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.  Buck (so named because the kernel is “naked,” lacking an adhering seed hull) stems from a 2003 cross between a hulled feed barley developed at OSU (Strider) and a naked barley from Virginia (Doyce).

In 13 trials conducted at dryland, irrigated and high-rainfall test sites, Buck had an average yield of 5,791 pounds per acre and an average test weight of 60.3 pounds per bushel, making 96 bushels to the acre. Buck is comparable in maturity measures to the feed variety Alba. It is highly resistant to barley stripe rust and stem rust and moderately resistant to scald. It’s also resistant to leaf rust in the limited number of test sites where this disease occurs. 

Buck has a soft kernel texture (42.6 SKCS units, a measure of grain hardness), modest grain Beta glucan (4.0 percent) and a grain protein content of 10.6 percent. Slightly more than half an ounce of steamed grain or 1.5 ounces of bread made with 40-percent Buck barley flour would provide the recommended FDA daily fiber allowance.

Buck could also make a novel malt for special beer styles, Hayes said. Most beer is made from barley with hulls, but a naked barley like Buck can have much higher malt extract – a key malting characteristic – than a hulled variety, he said. In three malting-quality tests, Buck had an average malt extract of 86 percent and an enzymatic profile comparable to varieties that meet the specifications of craft maltsters and brewers.  

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, about three-fourths of the U.S. barley crop – 177 million bushels in 2014 – went into beer. The explosion of craft brewing over the past decade has spiked demand for locally sourced barley and hops, Hayes said, and today’s boutique brewers like the subtle flavor notes lent by malt from different barley varieties.

“These brewers like to present a palette of flavors for discriminating consumers,” he said. “Imagine an all-barley Hefeweizen.”

The second new variety, BSR-27, is a spring-habit hooded barley stemming from the cross of two stripe rust-resistant varieties released by OSU in the early 2000s: Tango, for livestock feed, and Sara, for forage.

Results of 2014 trials on four test sites (two each in the Willamette Valley and the Sacramento Valley) show that BSR-27 produced high yields of both seed and forage. BSR-27 had a higher relative feed value (101) than the Haybet, Lavina and Stockford varieties, but lower than the Hays variety (108). BSR-27 is resistant to stripe rust, leaf rust and scald, and tolerant of mildew.

Development of BSR-27 and Buck was funded by OSU’s Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, the Oregon Wheat Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Corvallis Feed and Seed, OreGro Seeds and Tri-State Seed supported field trials of BSR-27.

The variety release documents for Buck and BSR-27 are available online at http://barleyworld.org/osu-varieties. OSU invites expressions of interest in licensing these varieties through the Office of Commercialization and Corporate Development. Please contact Denis Sather at 541-737-8806 (denis.d.sather@oregonstate.edu).

Story By: 

Patrick M. Hayes, 541-737-5878, patrick.m.hayes@oregonstate.edu


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Oregon State University barley breeder Patrick Hayes

Pat Hayes

4-H kids to display their sewing skills in fashion show at Oregon State Fair

SALEM, Ore. – More than 40 youth from 4-H sewing clubs around the state will show off their fashion creations on the main stage of the Oregon State Fair on Aug. 30.

Participants in the event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., earned the right to the spotlight after taking home top honors at county competitions this summer.

Kyra Forester, a 17-year-old graduate of West Albany High School, will be one of those on the stage, making it her third year at the state fair. At the Benton County Fashion Review this summer, she went home with the champion award for her ready-to-wear outfit and was judge’s choice for the black wool, fully-lined jacket she spent 40 hours making.

Forester joined a 4-H sewing club nine years ago. After college she wants to work for the 4-H youth development program, which is run by Oregon State University's Extension Service.

“I fell in love with 4-H way back when I started in sewing,” she said. “It made me the person I am. I’ve become a leader. I know how to work with people of varying groups and backgrounds. I have a general knowledge of how life works because of 4-H.”

Jake Nordyke is another 4-H'er who will take the stage in Salem. He has been in a 4-H sewing club for three years. At the Benton County contest this year, he won judge’s choice for his meticulously matched, button-up plaid shirt, which qualified him for the state fair.

“I chose something hard,” said the 14-year-old. “I didn’t have enough fabric on the placket (button opening). I made a mistake on the first one and had to make another. That takes a lot of patience. And you have to know measurements and fractions.”

Joining Jake at the state fair will be Callie Horning, 13, who likes the challenge of sewing and competing. At the Benton County Fair, she won a reserve champion award in ready to wear and judge’s choice for her dress with zipper, darts and difficult-to-sew striped jersey fabric.

“Oh, there were lots of hard parts,” she said. “I had to redo things, but things are not always going to go the way you want. In the end, it was worth it.”

Confidence-building is a big part of the 4-H fashion show experience, said Betty Collins, the coordinator for the show in Benton County and a 4-H leader for 11 years.

“Sewing and then modeling a garment seems so far out of the box to them,” Collins said, “but when they accomplish it, they think, ‘Oh, I can do that, so I can do anything.’ It’s a great lesson for life.”

During the show in Corvallis, 42 kids answered questions and strode across the stage for judges Megan Collins and Olivia Echols, both graduates of OSU's apparel design program and now employees at Nike. While participants modeled, others read descriptions the students wrote about their garments entered in two categories: sewn or otherwise constructed outfits, and ready-to-wear ensembles put together for less than $25. 

Hannah Hicks, 10, who modeled her pajama pants decorated with monkeys, developed persistence as she moved through her 4-H project.

“I learned that you have to sew in a straight line or else you have to take it all out,” she said. “I had to do that a few times.”

Sewing clubs are just one aspect of the 4-H program, which reached more than 94,000 youths in Oregon via a network of 10,410 volunteers in the 2013-14 school year, said its statewide leader, Pamela Rose. Activities focus on areas like healthy living, civic engagement and science. Clubs teach students everything from how to train horses to how to make robots out of Legos.



Story By: 

Pamela Rose, 541-737-4628

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4-H Fashion Review

Hannah Hicks won a blue ribbon in OSU Extension’s 4-H fashion show in Benton County for the pajama pants she made in her 4-H sewing club. (Photo by Stephen Ward.)

4-H Fashion Review

Jake Nordyke will compete in the 2015 Oregon State Fair 4-H Fashion Review in the plaid shirt he made in his 4-H sewing club. (Photo by Stephen Ward.)

Common chemicals may act together to increase cancer risk, study finds

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Common environmental chemicals assumed to be safe at low doses may act separately or together to disrupt human tissues in ways that eventually lead to cancer, according to a task force of nearly 200 scientists from 28 countries, including one from Oregon State University.

In a nearly three-year investigation of the state of knowledge about environmentally influenced cancers, the scientists studied low-dose effects of 85 common chemicals not considered to be carcinogenic to humans.

The researchers reviewed the actions of these chemicals against a long list of mechanisms that are important for cancer development. Drawing on hundreds of laboratory studies, large databases of cancer information, and models that predict cancer development, they compared the chemicals’ biological activity patterns to 11 known cancer “hallmarks” – distinctive patterns of cellular and genetic disruption associated with early development of tumors.

The chemicals included bisphenol A (BPA), used in plastic food and beverage containers; rotenone, a broad-spectrum insecticide; paraquat, an agricultural herbicide; and triclosan, an antibacterial agent used in soaps and cosmetics.

In their survey, the researchers learned that 50 of the 85 chemicals had been shown to disrupt functioning of cells in ways that correlated with known early patterns of cancer, even at the low, presumably benign levels at which most people are exposed.

For 13 of them, the researchers found evidence of a dose-response threshold – a level of exposure at which a chemical is considered toxic by regulators. For 22, there was no toxicity information at all.

“Our findings also suggest these molecules may be acting in synergy to increase cancer activity,” said William Bisson, an assistant professor and cancer researcher at OSU and a team leader on the study. For example, EDTA, a metal-ion-binding compound used in manufacturing and medicine, interferes with the body’s repair of damaged genes.

“EDTA doesn’t cause genetic mutations itself,” said Bisson, “but if you’re exposed to it along with some substance that is mutagenic, it enhances the effect because it disrupts DNA repair, a key layer of cancer defense.”

Bisson said the main purpose of this study was to highlight gaps in knowledge of environmentally influenced cancers and to set forth a research agenda for the next few years. He added that more research is still necessary to assess early exposure and to understand early stages of cancer development.

The study is part of the Halifax Project, sponsored by the Canadian nonprofit organization Getting to Know Cancer. The organization’s mission is to advance scientific knowledge about cancer linked to environmental exposures. The team’s findings are published in a series of papers in a special issue of the journal Carcinogenesis.

Bisson is an expert on computational chemical genomics – the modeling of biochemical molecular interactions in cancer processes – in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. For this study, he worked on the teams that investigated how cancers overpower the host’s immune system, trigger chronic inflammatory processes, and interact with the adjacent microenvironment.

He also led the project’s cross-validation effort, which combed the cancer literature for evidence that a chemical’s activity within one hallmark might promote carcinogenic activity in others.

Traditional risk assessment, Bisson said, has historically focused on a quest for single chemicals and single modes of action – approaches that may underestimate cancer risk. This study takes a different tack, examining the interplay over time of independent molecular processes triggered by low-dose exposures to chemicals.

“Cancer is a disease of diseases,” said Bisson. “It follows multi-step development patterns, and in most cases it has a long latency period. It has to be tackled from an angle that considers the complexity of these patterns.

“A better understanding of what’s driving things to the point where they get uncontrollable will be key for the development of effective strategies for prevention and early detection.”

Story By: 

William Bisson, office 541-737-5735, mobile 541-207-5395

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William Bisson, OSU cancer researcher and expert on computational chemical genomics, shows a simulation of a protein. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.


OSU study: Mercury scrubbers at Oregon power plant lower other pollution too

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Air pollution controls installed at an Oregon coal-fired power plant to curb mercury emissions are unexpectedly reducing another class of harmful emissions as well, an Oregon State University study has found.

Portland General Electric added emission control systems at its generating plant in Boardman, Oregon, in 2011 to capture and remove mercury from the exhaust. Before-and-after measurements by a team of OSU scientists found that concentrations of two major groups of air pollutants went down by 40 and 72 percent, respectively, after the plant was upgraded.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology this morning.

The Boardman plant, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River about 165 miles east of Portland, has historically been a major regional source of air pollution, said Staci Simonich, environmental chemist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and leader of the study team.

“PGE put control measures in to reduce mercury emissions, and as a side benefit, these other pollutants were also reduced,” she said.

The pollutants in question are from a family of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter. PAHs are a health concern because some are toxic, and some trigger cell mutations that lead to cancer and other ailments.

Simonich and her team tracked concentrations of airborne PAHs during 2010 and 2011 at Cabbage Hill, Oregon (elevation 3,130 feet), about 60 miles east of the Boardman plant, and also at the 9,065-foot summit of Mount Bachelor 200 miles to the southwest.

They sampled approximately weekly from March through October of 2010, and again from March through September of 2011. They analyzed the samples for three major groups of PAHs: the parent chemicals and two “derivatives”— groups of PAH chemicals resulting from the decomposition of the parent PAHs.

The 2011 measurements at Cabbage Hill showed significantly reduced concentrations of the parent PAHs and also of one of the derivative groups, called oxy-PAHs (OPAHs). The other derivative group, called nitro-PAHs (NPAHs), did not show significant reduction. The NPAHs were more likely to have come from diesel exhaust associated with Interstate Highway 84, Simonich said.

Some of the individual PAH chemicals were reduced so much after the upgrade that the researchers couldn’t tell from the data whether the plant was running or not, she added.

“The upgrades reduced the PAH emissions to the point where we could hardly distinguish between air we sampled along the Gorge and at the top of Mount Bachelor.”

While Oregon’s mountaintops typically have less air pollution than lower-lying areas, Simonich’s previous work has shown that they are not pristine.

She and her student Scott Lafontaine stumbled upon the Boardman findings while studying PAHs that originate in Asia and ride high-level air currents across the Pacific Ocean. They were measuring how much of each PAH type was coming from Asia, and how much from within the Northwest or elsewhere.

“We wanted to see if there was the same level of trans-Pacific transport at lower elevations—where people actually live—as we’ve previously found at Mount Bachelor,” Simonich said.

When the researchers analyzed the Cabbage Hill data for 2010, they found high levels of the chemicals they were studying, but the pollutants did not have an Asian signature. Then in 2011, they found that the Cabbage Hill concentrations of the parent PAHs and OPAHs were much lower than they’d been in 2010.

“We looked at the data and said, ‘Wow! 2010 is different from 2011, and why should that be?’” Simonich said. “We had trouble understanding it from a trans-Pacific standpoint. So we started thinking about regional sources, and that’s what led us to look at emissions from Boardman.”

They got in touch with officials at PGE and learned about the April 2011 upgrade. Their review of PGE’s emission records revealed correlations with their own measurements. They concluded that the reductions in PAH concentrations at the Cabbage Hill site were caused by the 2011 upgrade.

The upgrade may also aid her research, Simonich said. “When you have a major point source of pollution nearby, it’s hard to pick out the signal of the Asian source coming from farther away. Now that these emissions are reduced, we may be able to pick up that signal much better.”

More important, she said, the air is cleaner.

“Boardman used to be a major source of PAH pollution in the Columbia River Gorge, and now it’s not,” she said. “That’s a good thing for PGE and a good thing for the people living in the Gorge.”

The study was funded by the OSU Superfund Research Program, a multidisciplinary center administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation collaborated on the research.

Story By: 

Staci Simonich, 541-737-0497

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Staci Simonich

Staci Simonich is an environmental chemist studying air pollution at the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. Here she holds a sampler used for air quality research. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Portland General Electric's coal-fired generating plant near Boardman, Oregon. Photo by Rachel Beck.

OSU Master Food Preservers answer questions statewide

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s food preservation and safety hotline returns for its 35th year beginning July 13.

With a renewed interest occurring within food preserving, the statewide hotline is as important as ever, according to Nellie Oehler, who helped create the OSU Extension Service’s Master Food Preserver program. The program trains volunteers to answer questions on the help line, as well as at events like farmers markets and county fairs.

For many of the people who sign up for the eight-week course, food safety is one of the major reasons for their commitment to the 48 hours of class time and 40 to 70 hours of volunteering, said Oehler, coordinator for the program in Lane County. In 2014, more than 250 people were certified or recertified as Master Food Preservers and they gave back more than 25,000 hours.

“It’s so important because there’s so much misinformation on the web,” she said. “For canning recipes, it has to be research-based or it can be lethal.”

Volunteer Michelle Martin’s recalls of learning about a youngster who died from causes related to food poisoning.

“If I can help, I’m all for it,” said Martin, who lives in Lebanon and took the course in spring in Linn County.

Correct information is all the more relevant today because at least a generation has grown up without anyone in the family to pass down their experience and knowledge, Oehler said.

“The biggest learning curve was throwing away what you know – or think you know – and using tested recipes,” said Ruby Moon, who came to the once-a-week class in Linn County from Siletz. “In the Master Food Preserver classes you learn precisely what to do. This has changed the way I can.”

The hotline (800-354-7319) runs through Oct. 16 and again during the Thanksgiving holiday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. When the hotline is closed, callers can leave a message. Additionally, many Extension offices offer free pressure gauge testing.

Moon, Martin and other Master Food Preservers in 20 of Oregon’s 36 counties share their knowledge at events, while those trained in Douglas and Lane counties staff the hotline that gets thousands of questions a year -- 3,040 in 2014.

“You name it, we’ve been asked it,” said Roseburg volunteer Rayma Davis, who is serving as hotline coordinator for the second year. “There was one lady who called in and wanted to know if she stacked 10 pounds of books on top of her pot, would that give her 10 pounds of pressure in her canner. We explained that wasn’t the way it worked.”

Davis and other hotline volunteers refer to thick binders of recipes and research-based information vetted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The answers aren’t always obvious.

“It’s about critical thinking,” Davis said. “Someone might ask what’s the time required to can pickled fish. Well, you can’t can pickled fish. A new volunteer would probably not know that, so they’d have to know how to look it up. It’s kind of a trick question. We get them all day.”

Not all questions cause serious concern, though. Second-year volunteer Jacqui Richardson of Roseburg still chuckles about a call she got last summer.

“The woman asked if she could put salsa in jelly jars,” Richardson remembered. “I paused and said, ‘You know, I think you could.’ ”

Most commonly, people ask about preserving salsa, tomatoes and tuna. OSU Extension offers publications on each: Salsa Recipes for Canning, Canning Seafood and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products.

Master Food Preservers focus on safety, but they are also excited to learn about canning, pickling, drying and other forms of preserving food for themselves and for sharing with others. The camaraderie they find with the fellow volunteers is important, too.

“We have this thing that connects us,” said Moon as she poured baked beans into a sterilized jar. “It’s my favorite part of the week. I go home and say, ‘Guess what I did in canning class?’ It’s like Christmas.”

Story By: 

Nellie Oehler, 541-344-4885

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OSU Master Food Preservers

Rebecca Butler of Philomath checks the head space of a jar of chicken before putting it in the pressure canner in an Oregon State University's Extension Service Master Food Preservers class. Photo by Kym Pokorny.

Taste Oregon's bounty at alfresco OSU dinner in Portland July 24

PORTLAND, Ore. – Seaweed chips, squash panna cotta, hazelnut miso and barley-infused ice cream will be featured on the menu at an outdoor dinner in Portland on July 24 that aims to showcase the diversity and versatility of some of the state's 220-plus agricultural commodities.

The family-style meal is open to the public and will be held at the Food Innovation Center, which is a collaborative effort between Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Registration for tickets, which cost $75, opens June 19. They can be purchased online. Space is limited to the first 75 who sign up. The dinner will take place from 6-9 p.m. at 1207 N.W. Naito Parkway.

The 75 members of the public will be dining with 25 invited guests, including farmers, small-scale food processors, buyers and food business entrepreneurs, said event organizer Sarah Masoni, who is OSU's product development manager at the center.

The dishes will be prepared by Jason Ball and Mary-Kate Moody, two culinary specialists at the Food Innovation Center, and traveling guest chef Chris Bailey, who has cooked at similar events across the nation. The three will describe how they prepared the dishes as they are passed around the tables.

Also speaking that night will be Brandon and Marieta Easley, the owners of Slice of Heaven Farm in Sandy, where much of the produce on the menu was grown. In a short video, Larry Lev, an economist with the OSU Extension Service, will discuss the economic contributions of the diverse crops produced in Oregon.

This inaugural event is a trial run for 10 similar dinners at OSU's agricultural research centers across the state planned for 2016 and 2017. They aim to raise awareness about crops grown in Oregon and inspire participants to increase their purchases of them.  

Items on the menu will include:

  • crispy chickpea flatbread with wild herbs and flowers;
  • red cabbage stuffed with hazelnut miso and potatoes; 
  • seaweed chips;
  • smoky onions tossed with buttermilk and honey;
  • grated celery root bathed in lemon, yogurt, blueberries and herbs;
  • smoked carrots served with pesto made from their leafy tops;
  • Swiss chard wilted with pickled grapes, plums and fresh herbs;
  • panna cotta made from squash with apricots, pears and cherries;
  • beef and tuna with beets and hot chili pepper paste;
  • mixed berry gelato made by Gelato Maestro;
  • barley-infused ice cream on barley cookies.

"Hors d’oeuvres will be offered at the beginning of the meal," Ball said. "Main dishes will be served family-style. The condiments will be either made in-house or will be donated from local entrepreneurs that the Food Innovation Center has worked with in the past."

Learn more about the event on the center's Facebook page.


Sarah Masoni, 503-872-6655

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dulse chips

Chips made from dulse seaweed will be on the menu at a dinner at the Food Innovation Center in Portland on July 24. (Photo by Stephen Ward)