college of agricultural sciences

OSU to study diseases affecting common nursery plants

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University plans to use a $3 million grant to study two groups of bacteria that result in millions of dollars in losses annually to the nation’s nursery industry.

Researchers will study Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Rhodococcus fascians, which deform hundreds of common landscape plants, including hostas, Shasta daisies, petunias and pansies.

These bacterial pathogens are of particular concern in Oregon, where the greenhouse and nursery industry contributes more than $745 million to the Oregon economy annually. Some growers report losses of up to $100,000 a year to gall-forming bacterial diseases.

The four-year grant, from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will help determine how these pathogens are introduced into nurseries and how they establish and persist; develop new approaches to improve detection and control; and help nursery workers recognize and prevent the spread of the pathogens.

For more than a decade Melodie Putnam, chief diagnostician at OSU's Plant Clinic, has been working with Oregon nurseries to correctly identify these bacterial pathogens that are responsible for tumor-like galls and cancer-like leaf growth in infected plants. Correct identification of the bacterial pathogen is a necessary first step to preventing disease, Putnam said.

“It is difficult to combat a problem if you don’t recognize it for what it is,” she said.

These two types of bacteria have “wily life histories that help them evade detection,” Putnam added. R. fascians can grow on the surface of plants without causing any symptoms for months before moving into plant tissue and triggering a proliferation of leafy galls, deforming the plant and making it unmarketable. The ubiquitous R. fascians has been found in environments such as cheese rinds, glacial ice cores, the stomach of Atlantic hagfish and the backs of fly-bitten sheep.

A. tumefaciens infects plants by injecting and integrating a portion of its DNA into the genome of the host plant. Scientists have long used non-pathogenic variants of A. tumefaciens in the process of plant genetic engineering. Using the bacteria's natural infection process, it is possible to genetically modify plants to express novel traits such as increased synthesis of vitamin A in rice to combat nutrient deficiencies.

Long before its remarkable biology was fully understood, A. tumefaciens was known to cause crown gall disease, which alters plant metabolism and swells tissues into tumors, called galls.

“A. tumefaciens has caused up to 40 percent reductions in yield in some perennial crops, and as much as 100 percent loss in roses,” Putnam said.

Despite the obvious disease symptoms, both of these pathogens can be easily misdiagnosed, Putnam said, which slows the response to a spreading infection.

“Unfortunately, there is no treatment for either A. tumefaciens or R. fascians at this time," she said. "Therefore, steps must be taken to prevent disease.”

The project will be carried out by an interdisciplinary team that will include the following:

  • Jeff Chang, a molecular plant pathologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, will lead the team.
  • Niklaus Grunwald, a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will use genomic epidemiology to understand where the pathogens hide, move and change over time.
  • Melodie Putnam, the chief diagnostician at OSU's Plant Clinic, will use whole genome sequences to design more effective diagnostic methods for rapid detection and identification.
  • Taifo Mahmud, a natural product chemist in OSU’s College of Pharmacy, will aim to develop less toxic control compounds and will work with Putnam to develop safe practices for chemical control.
  • Luisa Santamaria, a nursery specialist with the OSU Extension Service, plans to develop information in Spanish and English to help nursery workers prevent the spread of bacterial diseases in the field and greenhouses.
  • Clark Seavert, an economist with OSU Extension, will assess the economic benefits to the industry of this research and workforce education.
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Jeff Chang, 541-737-5278;

Melodie Putnam, 541-737-5542

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Gaillardia 09-113 A. tumefaciens (3)
Agrobacterium tumefaciens creates cancer-like galls on the roots of plants, in this case on the Gaillardia. (Photo by OSU Plant Clinic.)

Leucanthemum 10-1795 (+) Rf positive (2)
The bacteria Rhodococcus fascia causes a witch’s broom of abnormal leaf growth on this Shasta daisy. (Photo contributed by Oregon State University's Plant Clinic.)

OSU professor helps develop promising Ebola drug

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As the Ebola crisis in Africa continues and concern ramps up in the United States, a pharmaceutical company with a Corvallis connection is ready to respond with a limited amount of a potentially promising new drug.

Sarepta Therapeutics can provide an anti-viral drug if more people in the U.S. become infected, according to Patrick Iversen, a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, adjunct professor in the College of Science and former senior vice president of the biotech company.

There is enough of the drug now available for about 20 treatment courses, with the promise of enough to treat more than 250 additional patients within a few months, if the company receives the funding to complete the manufacturing of the remaining drug materials.

However, to produce tens of thousands of doses of the drug, which slows down the Ebola virus in order for the body to eliminate it, it could take a year or more due to the time and staff it takes to acquire the raw materials and combine them into the drug.

“Just finding enough facilities to synthesize the drug is a challenge,” said Iversen, who is now a consultant with Sarepta. “Our scale reduces the number of options. And there’s always the bottom line. It would take a significant investment, possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to manufacture drugs at the scale and rate they’re needed.”

Iversen, who led the team that came up with the treatment, has 200 medical patents and came to Corvallis 18 years ago to work with James Summerton, who was an OSU professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department from 1978 to 1980. When Summerton left to start biotech company AntiVirals, he asked Iversen to lead its pharmacology research. AntiVirals later became AVI BioPharma, changing its name again in 2012 to Sarepta Therapeutics.

The company has completed Phase 1 of the three-phase process for approval of the drug – known as AVI-7537 -- by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In Phase 1, healthy human volunteers took the drug at doses expected to be therapeutic and experienced no ill effects. In addition, the drug was tested in multiple studies involving infected monkeys. All subjects in the control group died, but 60 to 80 percent of those in the treatment groups survived.

By the very nature of Ebola, drug development must be accomplished through the FDA animal rule, which requires efficacy established in a well-characterized animal model and safety in healthy humans. But because of the outbreak, Sarepta expects emergency approval from the FDA to use it if more people in the U.S. become infected.

The classic approach to fighting viral infections is to inhibit the function of viral enzymes and other proteins produced by infected cells. Sarepta uses its proprietary RNA-based, gene-blocking agents to target specific genes, which is more efficient and much quicker.

“By knowing the gene sequence,” Iversen said, “it can be targeted to find a therapeutic approach to a specific disease.”

Since Ebola only has seven genes, he targeted those and found VP24, the gene that makes the protein that blocks the host’s immune response, to be the most effective gene to inhibit.

“That response is the thing that makes antibodies that attack the virus,” said Iversen, who published a peer-reviewed paper on the success of Phase 1 in the November issue of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. “The reason the virus is so successful is that it goes faster than the immune system, which doesn’t have the chance to catch up.”

Once the protein was identified, it was possible to synthesize a strand of nucleic acid, called an oligonucleotide, that can bind to the viral RNA that leads to the viral VP24 protein.

“What we did is put a little clamp on the cell so it can’t make the virus’ protein,” Iversen said.

For official approval of the drug by the FDA, Sarepta needs to conclude Phase 3 human trials.

The Wellcome Trust, a global health charitable foundation, is supporting a number of humanitarian and medical efforts in West Africa in response to this Ebola outbreak, including the preparation of select treatment centers that can conduct Ebola clinical trials, Iversen said. Sarepta has positioned itself to participate.

“If they can prepare for the conduct of a quality clinical trial, we can get over there before the outbreak ends and gain valuable information about our drug in a controlled study,” he said. “That’s critical.”

Media Contact: 

Kym Pokorny, 541-737-3380


Patrick Iversen, 541-737-3249

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Patrick Iversen, professor in the College of Agricultural Science and adjunct professor in the College of Science at Oregon State University. Photo by Kym Pokorny.

Widely recognized OSU toxicologist dies, will receive Discovery Award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – George Bailey, an Oregon State University toxicologist, died on Monday, Oct. 20, just one month before he was to receive the 2014 Discovery Award presented by the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon Health & Science University.

Bailey, a distinguished professor emeritus in the OSU Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, was an international expert on carcinogenesis and cancer prevention through dietary agents. He died at age 73 following a serious illness.

On Nov. 12, Bailey will be honored posthumously with the Discovery Award. Made to a leading medical researcher in Oregon, it recognizes an investigator who has made significant, original contributions to health-related research. In its citation, the organization noted that Bailey’s research “has the potential to dramatically limit colon and liver cancer rates in many regions of the world.”

This is the third consecutive year that an OSU scientist has received the Discovery Award.

Bailey, who also was a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU, did pioneering work on aflatoxins, a common cause of liver cancer that kills millions of people in China and Africa. He has studied chlorophyll as an inexpensive way to reduce DNA damage caused by aflatoxins, and also indole-3-carbinol for the prevention of breast cancer.

As a toxicologist, Bailey helped develop the use of rainbow trout in biomedical research to study carcinogens and cancer. Serving for 17 years as director of OSU’s Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center, he used trout to help revolutionize the study of cancer risk, especially the dose level of carcinogens that can ultimately lead to cancer.

“Dr. Bailey retired from OSU after decades of outstanding research, instructional and service contributions to OSU,” said Craig Marcus, professor and head of the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology. “His productive career focused on understanding the mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis, its modulation by dietary and environmental factors, and the development of cancer preventive agents.”

Bailey received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1969, and had been on the OSU faculty for 35 years. In his career he published more than 150 papers in scientific journals and won several awards, including the prestigious Prince Hitachi Prize in Comparative Oncology in 2001.

Story By: 

Craig Marcus, 541-737-1808

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George Bailey

George Bailey

Oregon Hatchery Research Center to host open house, festival

CORVALLIS, Ore – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will hold its annual Fall Creek Festival on Saturday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The center, which is jointly operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, is located 13 miles west of Alsea on Highway 34. The event is free and open to the public.

The center is an important research site for studying similarities and differences between hatchery-raised and wild salmon and steelhead. It is located on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River.

“There has been a strong run of salmon this year throughout the Northwest, and festival participants should have an opportunity to view a number of fish,” said David Noakes, a professor of fisheries at OSU and science director for the center.

A free lunch will be provided during the festival, which also includes a number of children’s activities and workshops. Workshops begin at both 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., with topics including fish printing, water color painting, wire wrap jewelry-making, salmon cycle jewelry, bird house building, and stamping.

Registration for the festival is required since space is limited. Call 541-487-5512, or email oregonhatchery.researchcenter@state.or.us

Story By: 

David Noakes, 541-737-1953, david.noakes@oregonstate.edu

OSU names Jay Noller new head of crop and soil science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has selected Jay Noller as the new department head of crop and soil science in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Noller, a longtime landscape soils professor in the department, starts his new position on Oct. 1. He succeeds Russ Karow, who is retiring and served as department head since 2001.

 “Our research into soil and crops will continue to have a common theme: food. Improving food, creating sustainable conditions to produce food and supporting stakeholders in agriculture and natural resources,” said Noller, who previously served as associate department head under Karow.

“We’re also all about terroir—how food carries its place of origin with it through taste, nutrition and other qualities. We want people to say, ‘This came from Oregon,’” he added.

As department head, Noller has set his sights on increasing the number of undergraduate students, noting the department could double its current enrollment. Students with crop and soil expertise are enjoying increased employment opportunities in farming, conservation, forestry and agricultural support, he said.

“There are jobs in these areas. We can prepare students to immediately launch into the positions and be effective.” Noller said. “There is a crying need for the knowledge and training we provide, especially in agronomic circles.”

Noller will also continue an effort to combine the department’s faculty and labs into a single cohesive unit under the same roof—an ongoing effort since the separate departments of crop and soil science merged in 1990.

Before becoming department head, Noller studied the co-evolution of landscapes and culture, such as soil erosion in relationship with ancient land use in Cyprus and Greece. Digging deep into the soils under Rome recently, Noller concluded the ancient city began as a grain terminal for exporting food around the Mediterranean, Middle East and beyond.

“Jay truly thinks across the broad spectrum in academia – from the liberal arts to the depths of science,” said Karow. “He uses new technologies and knowledge of the environment and plant communities to predict what soil will be—and see what could have been."

Noller is also an accomplished artist, painting the often hidden beauty of underground landscapes. He incorporates soils from around the world into his paintings to add texture and unique colors. To see his artwork, visit http://soilscapestudio.com.


Jay Noller, 541-737-2821

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Jay Noller

Jay Noller incorporates his landscape research and soils from around the world into his celebrated artwork.

Organic and conventional dairies show few differences in cow health and milk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Cows raised on organic and conventional dairy farms in three regions of the United States show no significant differences in health or in the nutritional content of their milk, according to a new study by Oregon State University researchers and their collaborators.

Many organic and conventional dairies in the study also did not meet standards set by three commonly used cattle welfare programs.

"While there are differences in how cows are treated on organic farms, health outcomes are similar to conventional dairies," said Mike Gamroth, co-author of the study and professor emeritus in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Few dairies in this study performed well in formal criteria used to measure the health and well-being of cows."

Nearly 300 small dairy farms—192 organic and 100 conventional—in New York, Oregon and Wisconsin participated in the study, which was funded by a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The five-year project looked at many aspects of dairy cow health, including nutrition, lameness, udder cleanliness, and other conditions. Milk samples were screened for bacteria and common diseases, and farmers were asked about their operations, including the use of veterinarians and pain relief when removing horns from cattle.

Researchers found the following:

  • One in five herds met standards for hygiene, a measure of animal cleanliness;
  • 30 percent of herds met criteria for body condition, which measures size and weight of cows;
  • Only 26 percent of organic and 18 percent of conventional farms met recommendations for pain relief during dehorning;
  • Four percent of farms fed calves recommended doses of colostrum, which helps boost their limited immune systems after birth;
  • 88 percent of farms did not have an integrated plan to control mastitis, a common disease in dairy cattle;
  • 42 percent of conventional farms met standards for treating lameness;
  • Cows on organic farms produced 43 percent less milk per day than conventional non-grazing cattle, the study found, and 25 percent less than conventional grazing herds.

Milk from organic and non-organic herds also showed few nutritional differences, researchers found. Organic milk can occasionally contain more omega-3 fatty acids, which may improve heart health. However, those increases come from seasonal grazing and are not present when cattle are fed stored forage, according to Gamroth.

To become USDA-certified, organic dairy farms must allow cows access to grazing, and the grain cows consume must be grown on land free of pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farmers are not allowed the use of antibiotics, hormones or synthetic reproductive drugs.

"Nearly seven in 10 organic farms previously operated conventional herds, which explains the lack of differences between them," said Gamroth. "Many organic farmers operate in a similar fashion to when they raised conventional herds, from milking procedures, to using the same facilities, to caring for sick cattle."

The study also found more conventional farms (69 percent) used veterinarians than organic dairies (36 percent). Organic dairy farmers often perform their own veterinary work, Gamroth said, because they feel vets do not always know or follow organic standards for care.

Some organic herds in the study also showed a strain of bacteria, commonly known as Strep. ag., that conventional herds eliminated long ago, by using antibiotics.

Organic farms did perform better in some areas of health: cows had fewer hock lesions—injuries to the legs that often form from being housed for long periods. Calves on organic farms were also fed a greater volume of milk and were weaned at an older age than on conventional farms.

Results were based on criteria from three commonly used cattle welfare programs: the American Humane Association's Animal Welfare Standards for Dairy Cattle, Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, and the Canadian Codes of Practice. However, the dairies surveyed for the study were not committed to these standards, said Gamroth.

"Our data shows there is room for improvement in dairies and sets a benchmark to measure progress in the industry," said Gamroth. "We believe adopting animal welfare standards is part of the solution, as are increases to educational efforts to improve the care of cows."

Milk is Oregon’s official state beverage and its fourth-largest agricultural commodity, with dairy farmers grossing $528 million in sales in 2013. The state's dairy industry contributes more than $1 billion to Oregon's economy each year thanks to its approximately 350 dairy farms and 123,000 dairy cows. The study included 24 organic and 24 conventional dairies in Oregon.

Articles from the study have been published in the Journal of Dairy Science and the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Other project collaborators include Pamela Ruegg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Linda Tikofsky and Ynte Schukken of Cornell University, and Charles Benbrook of the Organic Centre in Oregon.


Michael Gamroth, 541-231-0928

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Organic dairy cow

A Jersey cow heads back to the pasture after evening milking at an organic dairy farm in western Oregon. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Land policy changes would sequester more carbon and conserve habitat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Rewarding landowners for converting farmland into forest will be key to sequestering carbon and providing wildlife habitat, according to a new study by Oregon State University and collaborators.

Current land-use trends in the United States will significantly increase urban land development by mid-century, along with a greater than 10 percent reduction in habitat of nearly 50 at-risk species, including amphibians, large predators and birds, said David Lewis, co-author of the study and an environmental economist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"One of the great challenges of our time is providing food, timber and housing, while also preserving the environment," said Lewis. "Our simulations show our growing appetite for resources could have cascading effects on wildlife and other vital services provided by nature."

"Policymakers have tools to increase tree cover and limit urban sprawl, such as targeted taxes, incentives and zoning," he added.

Paying landowners $100 an acre per year to convert land into forest would increase forestland by an estimated 14 percent and carbon storage by 8 percent by mid-century, the researchers say. Timber production would increase by nearly 20 percent and some key wildlife species would gain at least 10 percent more habitat, they added.

Yet this subsidy program would also shrink food production by 10 percent and comes with an annual $7.5 billion price tag, said Lewis.

Another policy option – charging landowners $100 per acre of land that is deforested for urban development, cropland or pasture – would generate $1.8 billion a year in revenue. More than 30 percent of vital species would gain habitat. Yet carbon storage and food production would shrink slightly, according to the study.

"Price drives how most landowners decide what to do with their property,” Lewis said. “Some choices have market values – such as selling food and timber – and yet others, like sequestering carbon, do not earn money for landowners, who then have less incentive to provide them."

"To reverse loss of habitat and boost carbon storage, the government could provide compensation for services the free market does not currently offer," added Lewis.

However, researchers found neither the tax nor subsidy plan would limit the growth of urban sprawl. Instead, they simulated a prohibition on new urban development – such as building new housing and commercial properties – in rural and non-metropolitan areas.

By 2051, the policy would decrease urban growth by 24 percent in the researchers' simulation, but it would result in smaller gains in habitat and carbon storage than the tax and subsidy.

"There are inherent tradeoffs involved in any policy,” Lewis pointed out. “More urban land comes at the expense of wildlife habitat, and more carbon storage could reduce food production. Understanding these choices can help us prepare for the different shapes our landscapes may take in the future."

Co-authors of the study include researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Washington, University of Minnesota, University of California-Santa Barbara, Bowdoin College, Florida International University, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The study (http://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7492.full) was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding was provided by grants from the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.


David Lewis, 541-737-1334

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Exurban landscape

Prohibiting new development in certain areas limits urban growth more effectively than targeted taxes and incentives, say OSU researchers. (Photo by Bob Rost.)

Grant to improve STEM success among underrepresented students

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to improve the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields.

The program will benefit underrepresented minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged individuals, and help address a growing national need for workers trained in STEM disciplines.

Targeted at students in the colleges of science, engineering, and agricultural sciences, the OSU program will use methods proven to increase STEM success, such as small, cohort-based orientation courses; mentoring by student peers; and workshops given by upper-class STEM students.

Faculty-directed undergraduate research in the freshman and early sophomore years, and the immediate post-transfer year for community college students, will also help provide students with enriching experiences that increase learning and provide economic support to help disadvantaged students remain in school.

The program is designed to benefit 276 student participants over its five-year span, and will be evaluated and communicated to other universities, for them to benefit by replicating its successes.

“This should also help build a structure, design and institutional culture of support for STEM students that will be retained long after the funding has ended,” said Kevin Ahern, principal investigator on the grant and a leader in university efforts to get more undergraduate students involved in experiential learning.


Kevin Ahern, 541-737-2305

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Student research

Student research

Fungi that changed the world featured at Corvallis Science Pub

If you eat bread, drink beer or take antibiotics, thank the fungi that make these things possible. At the Sept. 8 Corvallis Science Pub, Joey Spatafora, a leading fungal biologist, will share the often-bizarre tales of this kingdom of life and reveal how human civilization would be so much poorer without it.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 SW 2nd St. in Corvallis.

“Without fungi, human life would be very different — no beer or cheese; no penicillin or cyclosporin antibiotics,” said Spatafora, professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University. “Our forests would be far less resilient and productive. And we’d be swimming in every manner of waste product.”

Spatafora specializes in fungal evolution and leads an international effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to sequence the genomes for 1,000 fungal species. He also led a 10-year study called Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life. Out of the estimated 1.5 million species of fungi, scientists have described only about 100,000.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.


Story By: 

Joey Spatafora, 541-737-5304

Chemistry professors named ACS Fellows

CORVALLIS, Ore.  -  Two professors at Oregon State University have been named as fellows of the American Chemical Society.

Kevin P. Gable,  a professor of chemistry, was honored for the study of chemical processes important to industrial manufacturers of antifreeze, plastics precursors and the pharmaceutical industry. An expert in reaction processes involved in metal-catalyzed oxidations, Gable received his doctorate from Cornell University and has been on the OSU chemistry faculty since 1988. He has also been active in both academic and administrative leadership at OSU and with the ACS.

Robert J. McGorrin, the Jacobs-Root Professor and head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at OSU, was honored for his contributions to food chemistry and more than 35 years of leadership in ACS.  McGorrin, who is a national expert on flavor chemistry and trace volatile analysis, received his doctorate from the University of Illinois and has been on the OSU faculty since 2000. He worked in private industry for 23 years, and while at OSU has helped to greatly expand food science educational and research programs, along with student enrollment.

With more than 161,000 members, the ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and one of the world’s leading sources of authoritative scientific information. The 2014 ACS fellows will be inducted at the national meeting of the organization in San Francisco in August.


Debbie Farris, 541-737-862

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Robert McGorrin
Robert McGorrin

Kevin Gable

Kevin Gable