college of agricultural sciences

Aquaculture industry may benefit from water mold genome study

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University scientist and partners borrowed some technology from the Human Genome Project to more clearly identify the genes used by a type of water mold that attacks fish and causes millions of dollars in losses to the aquaculture industry each year.

Researchers compared the fish and plant pathogens to clearly identify the genes involved. By better understanding how these pathogens invade animals, the aquaculture industry can develop more effective control methods, such as improved vaccines and fungicides, researchers said.

The water mold belongs to a group of more than 500 species of fungus-like microorganisms called "oomycetes" that reproduce both sexually and asexually. Oomycetes, close relatives of seaweeds such as kelp, are serious pathogens of salmon and other fish. This is a particular problem in regions of the world where trout and salmon are raised, including the Pacific Northwest, Scotland and Chile.

Brett Tyler, professor and director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, led a project that mapped the entire genome of an oomycete species known as Saprolegnia parasitica. This is the first time these methods have been applied to water mold pathogens of fish.

The pathogen causes a disease called saprolegniosis, characterized by visible grey or white patches of mycelium on skin and fins that can also transfer into the muscles and blood vessels of fish. The potato late blight pathogen that caused the great Irish famine of the 1840s is a relative of S. parasitica. While saprolegniosis can't affect humans, relatives of S. parasitica can.

People around the world now get more protein from fish than from beef, Tyler said. As natural fish stocks decline, farmed fish are more vital to fulfill increasing global demand. But farmed fish are also more prone to disease because of crowding, which can spread to wild fish.

"Developing new, environmentally sustainable ways to reduce fish disease will cut down on the use of chemicals on fish farms, while also protecting wild fish, such as salmon, found in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest," Tyler said.

Key findings of the research include:

  • S. parasitica can rapidly adapt to its environment through changes to its genes, allowing it to spread to new fish species or overcome fungicides.
  • S. parasitica contains an enzyme that can actively suppress a fish's initial immune response, leaving it less able to defend against initial stages of infection. 
  • Plant pathogens can change the physiology of their hosts by using special enzymes that suppress plant immunity, while animal oomycetes have developed different enzymes, proteins and toxins that enable infection of fish.
  • S. parasitica has more enzymes involved in adaptation than humans, allowing it to recognize and quickly adapt to a wide variety of environments.
  • S. parasitica is vulnerable to an antifungal agent called a chitin synthesis inhibitor, contrary to previous beliefs that animal-damaging oomycetes did not contain any chitin.

The study was published in the journal PLOS Genetics at http://bit.ly/101mVfd. Major research partners include the University of Aberdeen and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.


Brett Tyler, 541-737-3347

Oregon State University names Andrew Hulting to Hyslop Professorship

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has selected a weed management specialist with the Extension Service for a major endowed professorship.

Andrew Hulting began July 1 as OSU's fourth Hyslop Professor. He will serve in the role for five years.  

Hulting will train graduate students to work on weed management projects, including in-depth studies of grass weed species, such as annual bluegrass and roughstalk bluegrass. He will train seed industry professionals to improve weed management practices. Additionally, he plans to work with undergraduate students on weed management research.

"The Hyslop Professorship is an extremely important position because it allows us to target funds to issues important to the industries related to seed production," Hulting said. "It's a great honor. I'm so thankful that the Hyslop family had the foresight to create this endowment. It's a rare opportunity to have this amount of time to develop important projects."   

George R. Hyslop's family and friends established a large endowment with the OSU Foundation that provides funds for several activities, including the Hyslop Professorship, within OSU's Crop and Soil Science Department. Hyslop was the first to head the Department of Farm Crops at Oregon Agricultural College in the early 1900s.

Hulting assumes the position as Oregon seed production charts a course toward a more prosperous future.

"We've come out of a huge downturn in grass seed production, and the market is looking more positive," Hulting said. "We've seen a lot of growth in clover seed production and in some other important seed crops. There's good demand for our products and we are starting to turn around and see a more positive outlook for all seed production."


Andrew Hulting, 541-737-5098;

Russ Karow, 541-737-2821

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Oregon State University has named Andrew Hulting, weed management specialist for the OSU Extension Service, to its Hyslop professorship. (Photo by Emmalie Goodwin.)

OSU to test new tools to assess health risk from Superfund sites

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University aims to test new technologies for measuring the toxicity of environmental chemicals to determine their health risk and see if cleaning up hazardous waste sites generates even worse chemicals.

The work will be funded by a $15.4 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The long-term goal is to improve human health by reducing exposures to toxic chemicals.

"The focus is to improve technologies for identifying and measuring the levels and toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs] found at a large percentage of Superfund sites, including the Portland Harbor, and to better assess the impact of PAHs on human health," said OSU's Dave Williams, the lead scientist on the project.

The research could help local, state and federal agencies, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, better understand the risk posed by PAHs, he added.

PAHs are produced when coal, gas, oil and wood are burned and even when meat is smoked or grilled. Some can cause cancer, impede normal development or harm neurological and reproductive systems, Williams said.

OSU chemists Staci Simonich and Kim Anderson will collect PAHs in the sediment, soil and water from 13 locations, including several Superfund sites. Superfund sites are abandoned or uncontrolled parcels of land or water where hazardous waste was dumped and may harm the environment or people.

At several of the sites, OSU scientists will identify which PAHs in soil and sediment get converted into other chemical compounds as a result of cleanup efforts. These remediation methods may include heating the contaminated soil and sediment, exposing it to ultraviolet light, or adding chemicals, bacteria, fungi or charcoal to it to break it down, said Simonich, a professor in the colleges of science and agricultural sciences.

"We don't know what's being formed during remediation," Simonich said. "We're going to investigate that and figure out if it is bad for human health."

Anderson will test a new device with a silicone membrane that absorbs chemicals much like a person's skin cells would. Knowing which chemicals can be absorbed by a human body is key, she said. If they can't be absorbed, then it might be safer to leave the waste in place rather than dredging it up and possibly creating even more dangerous chemicals that can indeed enter the body, she said.

Robert Tanguay, a biochemist at OSU, will test the original PAHs as well as the derivatives that formed from cleanup efforts to see how toxic they are. He'll use zebrafish, the aquatic equivalent of lab rats. Scientists use the tiny fish because they’re transparent during development, mature rapidly and share about 80 percent of their genes with humans. This allows researchers to run many tests in a short time on a huge number of subjects.

Researchers will also see if chemicals become more or less toxic when mixed together versus when they're isolated.

"We are not exposed to one chemical at a time," said Anderson, a professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "We want to understand what the toxicity is of the mixture we're exposed to."

In partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Williams will assess how humans absorb, metabolize and eliminate extremely small doses of PAHs. This data could later be used by regulatory agencies, including the EPA, to estimate risk from exposures to PAH mixtures. These agencies have had to rely on results from animal studies that involve high dosages, said Williams, a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Interacting with communities impacted by nearby hazardous waste or exposure to PAHs is an important additional component of the university's research. So Anderson, in a partnership created by OSU public health scientist Anna Harding, will work with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon to address tribal concerns about environmental chemicals. Anderson will measure tribal members' exposure to PAHs from woodstoves in their homes using portable air samplers and by asking them to wear silicone wristbands that she developed to absorb atmospheric chemicals. Exposures to PAHs from eating smoked salmon will also be investigated by testing tribal members' urine to see how their bodies metabolized the PAHs. 

On Fidalgo Island in Washington, Anderson will carry out a study at the Swinomish Indian Reservation, where oil refinery waste was once disposed, and at the Samish Indian Lands. She'll measure PAHs from sediment and tissues of butter clams, which tribal members' eat.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a partner on the grant and an integral part of the research. Rick Corley, a toxicologist at the lab, will develop computational models to predict internal doses of biologically active PAHs in sensitive target organs of humans at different life stages – from the fetus through adulthood – under real-world exposure conditions. Katrina Waters, a computational biologist there, will provide bioinformatics support to determine linkages between exposure and disease.

In 2009, the NIEHS designated OSU as home to one of the nation’s 18 Superfund Research Programs. As part of that, it awarded the university $12.4 million to study the health risks from PAHs in the Pacific Northwest and China. More information on the program at OSU is at http://oregonstate.edu/superfund.

Since then, OSU scientists have studied fetal exposure to carcinogens and Chinese residents' cancer risk from electronic waste sites. They've also investigated the impact of air pollution on Beijing residents' health and tested the water and air along the Gulf Coast after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. To read stories about OSU's work with PAHs, go to http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons.

In the latest grant, researchers will collect PAHs from the following locations:

  • McCormick and Baxter Creosoting Co. site (Portland, Ore.)
  • Portland Harbor (Oregon)
  • Lower Duwamish Waterway (Seattle, Wash.)
  • St. Maries Creosote site (St. Maries, Idaho)
  • Anniston PCB site (Alabama)
  • American Creosote Works site (Winnfield plant) (Louisiana)
  • Grasse River Study Area (New York)
  • Dewey Loeffel Landfill (Nassau, N.Y.)
  • Passaic River-Newark Bay Study Area (New Jersey)
  • Hudson River PCBs site (New York)
  • Swinomish Indian Reservation (Fidalgo Island, Wash.)
  • Samish Indian Lands (Fidalgo Island, Wash.)
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Oregon)
Media Contact: 

Dave Williams, 541-737-3277

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Staci Simonich, OSU professor

Chemist Staci Simonich examines a vial containing air pollutants at her lab at Oregon State University. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Robert Tanguay

Biochemist Robert Tanguay checks tanks of zebrafish at his lab at Oregon State University. He uses the fish to test the toxicity of certain chemicals. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU agricultural students earn $22,000 in scholarships

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University's Agricultural and Resource Economics Department has awarded 22 of its students $22,000 in scholarships made possible by gifts to the department.  

Recipients are:

BONANZA: Mieke deJong, a senior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,000 Edward Earnest Scholarship in Agribusiness Management.

CORVALLIS: Kelsey Burkum, a senior majoring in environmental economics, policy and management, received a $1,000 William P. "Chip" Harris Memorial Scholarship. Emily Honey, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received a $1,000 William P. "Chip" Harris Memorial Scholarship. Tyler Knapp, a post-baccalaureate student majoring in environmental economics and policy, received the $1,000 Fred Obermiller Memorial Scholarship.

COQUILLE: Julia Scolari, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,000 Edward Earnest Scholarship in Agribusiness Management.

CORNELIUS: Conner Duyck, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $500  JELD-WEN Scholarship.

ESTACADA: Aaron Schoknecht, a senior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $700 Rachel and Harold Hollands Scholarship as well as the $150 LeRoy Breithaupt Award.

LA GRANDE: Briana Tanaka, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,600 Agricultural Cooperative Council of Oregon Scholarship.

LANGLOIS: Cora Wahl, a senior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,600 Agricultural Cooperative Council of Oregon Scholarship.

MCMINNVILLE: Amanda Noble, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,600 Agricultural Cooperative Council of Oregon Scholarship. Jenna Way, a senior majoring in environmental economics and policy, received the $1,000 Ermine L. and Norma Olson Potter Memorial Fund Award.

OREGON CITY: Gerald Hosler, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,600 Agricultural Cooperative Council of Oregon Scholarship.

PORTLAND: Erik Levi, a senior majoring in environmental economics and policy, received the $1,000 Ermine L. and Norma Olson Potter Memorial Fund Award.

SALEM: Ashley Grucza, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $500 Oregon Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers Award and an additional $500 Oregon Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers Award.

SILVERTON: Tim Nicholson, a senior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $500 Western Agricultural Economics Association Outstanding Senior Award-Certificate of Merit.

SUTHERLIN: Rozalyn Patrick, a junior majoring in environmental economics and policy, received the $1,000 Dustin Goedeck Memorial Scholarship.

TIGARD: Amanda Carlson, a sophomore majoring in agricultural business management, received the $500 JELD-WEN Scholarship.

TUALATIN: Kathryn Jernberg, a freshman majoring in agricultural business management, received the $750 D. Curtis Mumford Award.

WARREN: Teri McGettigan, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,600 Agricultural Cooperative Council of Oregon Scholarship.

WHITE CITY: Gabriella DeSimone, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $1,000 Edward Earnest Scholarship in Agribusiness Management.


WOODLAND: Zach Millang, a junior majoring in agricultural business management, received the $400 E.L. Potter Scholarship.


REDMOND: Tyler West, a senior majoring in environmental economics and policy, received the $500 Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics Outstanding Senior Award.

Raising funds for scholarships is a priority of The Campaign to OSU, the university's first comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, donors have committed more than $930 million toward the $1 billion goal, including nearly $160 million for scholarships and fellowships.


Tjodie Richardson, 541-737-1399

OSU study suggests reducing air-polluting PAHs may lower levels of lung cancer deaths

CORVALLIS, Ore. – High emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be linked to lung cancer deaths in the United States and countries with a similarly high socioeconomic rank, including Canada, Australia, France, and Germany, according to a study by Oregon State University.

Researchers reviewed a range of information from 136 countries, including average body mass index, gross domestic product per capita, the price of cigarettes, smoking rates, and the amount of PAHs emitted into the air. PAHs are a group of more than 100 chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic when inhaled or ingested. They most commonly come from vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood.

OSU researchers calculated how measures of health, wealth and pollution related to lung cancer deaths in each country.

"Analyzing data on a global scale revealed relationships between PAH emissions and smoking rates on the lung cancer death rates in each country," said Staci Simonich, a co-author of the study and toxicologist at OSU. "Ultimately, the strength of the relationships was determined by the country’s socioeconomic status."

While the link between smoking and lung cancer is well-established, OSU researchers did not find a correlation between cigarette smoking rates and lung cancer death rates in countries with high levels of income. Researchers attribute this conclusion to previous studies showing high-income smokers tend to light up less often.

OSU's study also suggests that reducing smoking rates could significantly lessen lung cancer deaths in countries with a lower socioeconomic status, including North Korea, Nepal, Mongolia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and many others. Researchers found that lung cancer mortality rates in these countries negatively correlated with price – meaning cheaper cigarettes are often associated with higher levels of deaths from lung cancer.

Detectable lung cancer can take 20 years to develop, and the poorest countries in the study had an average age of death of 54. OSU researchers suggest heavy smokers in these countries can sometimes die before tumors attributable to lung cancer become apparent.

"If the life expectancies were the same in all of the countries we reviewed, it's possible we would see a consistent relationship between PAH emissions and lung cancer," said Simonich, an OSU professor of environmental and molecular toxicology.

The study, "Association of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Emissions and Smoking with Lung Cancer Mortality Rates on a Global Scale," was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Toxicology.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Richland, Wash. assisted with calculating the statistical associations between data used in the study. The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences funded the research through OSU’s Superfund Research Program.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. Lung cancer accounts for 12 percent of all cancer diagnoses and is the leading cancer killer of men and second among women, according to the American Cancer Society.


Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

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Staci Simonich, OSU environmental chemist

Staci Simonich, an OSU environmental chemist, calculated how measures of health, wealth and pollution related to lung cancer deaths around the world. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU 4-H to induct four honorees into Hall of Fame

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H youth development program will induct four longtime volunteer leaders or retired staff into its Hall of Fame on June 28.  

This year's inductees are Tom and Mona Easley of Corvallis, Dawn Frazier of Prineville, and Marilyn Moore of Baker City.  They will be honored this week at the annual OSU 4-H Summer Conference.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for 4-H youth to be able to interact with people who have spent 30-40 years of their lives contributing to 4-H," said Helen Pease, coordinator for OSU Extension's 4-H program. 

The Oregon 4-H Hall of Fame (http://bit.ly/181pu66) was established in 2004 to recognize people who have made a significant impact on the Oregon 4-H program.

The Easleys have contributed to 4-H for more than 40 years. Mona started in her youth as an OSU Extension 4-H member in Umatilla County. In the early 1970s she worked as a 4-H home economics specialist in Polk and Union counties, later volunteering as a club leader. In the early 1990s, Mona joined the state staff of Oregon 4-H, coordinating statewide events. Tom has worked by her side throughout those years, giving countless hours of time and skills. He transports, constructs, designs, paints, sets up and cleans up at fairs and events.  

Prineville's Frazier served nearly 30 years as a 4-H leader. She volunteered in several roles in Lane County for nearly 15 years. She served as fair superintendent, County 4-H Leader Association member and taught home economics. She was instrumental in helping the state 4-H Leaders Association rebuild itself in the 1990s.

Moore of Baker City worked as a 4-H specialist in Malheur County for more than 25 years. She helped develop shooting sports, outdoor cookery and ranch horse programs. She taught science classes to more than 10,000 youth. Since retiring, she has volunteered as a program coordinator for Baker County's Field to Fork Agriculture Field Days, serving more than 1,000 fifth-graders.

4-H is the largest out-of-school youth development program nationwide. The OSU Extension Service oversees Oregon's 4-H program, which reached nearly 117,000 youth in kindergarten through 12th grade via a network of 8,534 volunteers in 2012. Activities focus on areas like healthy living, civic engagement and science. Learn more about 4-H at http://bit.ly/14fEFHF.


Helen Pease, 541-737-1314

Increased selenium dosage boosts growth and immunity in lambs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sheep given supplements of organic selenium above United States government recommendations showed improved growth, weight and immunity, according to new research at Oregon State University.

In a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science, OSU researchers show that maximum selenium levels permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be too low for sheep to reach optimum growth and health.

Selenium is essential for cellular function in animals and aids development. Large selenium doses can be toxic, but too-low levels can impair growth and compromise the immune system.

"When sheep don't grow to their potential or have weak immune systems, it can be a sign of insufficient selenium," said Gerd Bobe, co-author of the study and an OSU professor. “Our research shows higher levels of selenium can result in healthier animals that grow bigger and that can improve returns at the marketplace for farmers and ranchers.”

Normally, grazing animals eat ample amounts of selenium from grass and other plants grown in soils naturally containing the element. Yet the soils of the Pacific Northwest are low in selenium, and the region's livestock often need it added to their diets to avoid health problems.

A challenge is that the range between selenium deficiency and selenium toxicity can be narrow; current FDA regulations limit the amount of dietary selenium supplementation for animals grazing on selenium-scare soils – up to 0.7 mg per sheep per day or 3 mg per beef cattle per day.

In OSU's experiments, pregnant ewes were given selenium doses up to five times higher than the FDA's allowed level – an amount of supplementation researchers determined to be not harmful to sheep. The element is carried into the bodies of offspring, helping young animals during development.

At the highest amount, ewes gave birth to lambs that grew to be 4.3 pounds heavier than average after 60 days. Furthermore, survival was 15 percent higher in lambs receiving the highest amount of organic selenium supplementation. As farmers look to sell sheep at five to six months old, weight and health metrics are keys to profitability.

Selenium also boosted an important gauge of the lambs' immune systems. Levels of immunoglobulin G, a protein that defends against pathogens and is essential for lamb survival, were elevated by 48 percent in Polypay ewes and 23 percent in all ewes given five times maximum FDA-permitted levels of selenium.

The changes were measured in colostrum of ewes – a mother's first milk that is rich in immunoglobulins and vital for building the immune system and protecting against pathogens.

OSU has a long legacy of selenium research. Half a century ago, OSU animal scientist Jim Oldfield was the first to identify severe selenium deficiency as a reason for several deadly diseases in animals, including cardiomyopathy and white muscle disease.

A new generation of OSU research is attempting to determine how much selenium and in what form is best for optimal growth and health of sheep and cattle.

Consumers may also benefit from eating meat from selenium-supplemented animals, as its one of the major sources of the element in the U.S. diet. Human observational studies suggest that regions with low selenium intake have a greater risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, Bobe said.

"Consuming selenium-enriched foods may be a viable alternative for getting extra selenium," said Bobe, an expert in human and animal nutrition. "Plus, selenium-enriched animal products, including meat, are sold in other countries at a premium price."

OSU's selenium research is a collaboration between Bobe, Gene Pirelli and Wayne Mosher in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Jean Hall, Charles Estill and Jorge Vanegas in the College of Veterinary Medicine.


Gerd Bobe, 541-737-1898

Six exotic vegetables for Oregon gardeners to try

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Bring a taste of South America, Europe or Asia to your garden this year by adding a diverse array of exotic vegetables.

A varied collection of plants can also reduce the potential for pests and diseases in a garden, said Jim Myers, a vegetable breeder with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"There's a lot of natural, biological control that goes on in a garden that we're not even aware of when we have biodiversity," Myers said.

When shopping for exotic plants, buy only seeds or starts from Pacific Northwest-based nurseries and suppliers, Myers advised. If you order online or while traveling, globetrotting plants can carry hitchhiking pests or diseases.

The following plants were tested at OSU fields and perform well with varying degrees of success in a Pacific Northwest climate, Myers said.

  • Yacón: Smallanthus sonchifolius. The yacón is an Andean relative of the sunflower that grows 6-8 feet tall. It's tasty in a salad or as a snack but doesn't contain enough carbohydrates to become a diet staple, according to Myers. The perennial performs well in both eastern and western Oregon. While similar to the Jerusalem artichoke, yacón's tuberous roots grow to about the size of a sweet potato. Plant seed pieces in the spring for an October harvest. Yacón can overwinter in the ground where the soil does not freeze.
  • Mashua: Tropaeolum tuberosum. Mashua is grown in the Andes for its edible tuberous roots. A relative of the nasturtium, mashua's showy red flowers emerge in late September. A vigorous perennial, it can climb 7-13 feet high. Mashua has a pungent flavor, similar to a radish. This hardy plant thrives even in poor soil. Cultivate it similar to how you would a potato; plant in spring for a fall harvest.
  • Oca: Oxalis tuberosa. Oregon does not offer an optimum climate for oca, but it can be grown in select areas in the western part of the state. Tubers will grow small without tropical heat. It can't survive frost but tubers will overwinter in the ground as long as they do not freeze. Plant in spring for November harvest. Cultivate as you would a potato. The tuber is edible and the leaves and young shoots can be eaten as well. Its flavor is slightly tangy, caused by its oxalic acid content, which should not be consumed in large quantities. Some varieties have been bred for lower oxalic acid content.
  • Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus. The cardoon is related to the artichoke. Both are perennial members of the thistle family and hail from southern Europe. It needs full sun. Good for the Willamette Valley and eastern Oregon. Its leaf stalks produce in a flush of springtime growth; in the summer there is little growth. Harvest the leaf stalks similar to the way you would celery. Stalks need to be cleaned and peeled before cooking. Plant transplants in spring.
  • Asian greens: Any green in the Brassica rapa family. A good one to try is pakchoi cabbage, which has large white, fleshy stems. When eaten, it has a soft, creamy texture. "It has a little bite to it but it's pretty mild," Myers said. This cool-season crop goes well in salads or cooked. Plant it in early spring for an early summer harvest. Not tolerant of winter conditions. At OSU, pakchoi cabbage is planted in July for a fall harvest.

Jim Myers, 541-737-3083

New study links speciation and size evolution across all ray-finned fishes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A comprehensive new study of more than 7,000 species of fish documents for the first time correlation on a grand scale between the rapidity of the origin of the species and the rate of morphological change.

In other words, groups of fish that rapidly split into new species tend to quickly evolve diversity in physical traits, such as the size of their bodies, while others described by Charles Darwin as “living fossils” because of their prehistoric characteristics show little change over millions of years in either numbers of species or types of morphologies.

The study is important because it links speciation with morphological adaptation on a scale that has never been done. It also demonstrates that variation in a single evolutionary process may create both living fossils and adaptive radiations, which are two of the most famous and celebrated phenomena in the history of life, the authors say.

Findings of the study are being published this week in Nature Communications.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers created a “Tree of Life” of ray-finned fishes, which comprise a majority of vertebrate biological diversity, to compare evolutionary rates across all families of fishes. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Miller Institute at University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA, and featured scientists from the University of Michigan, UCLA, University of Torino, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University.

“We were able to document the link between speciation and morphological evolution, but the question remains as to whether the speciation process itself leads to changes in anatomy or whether something in the anatomically diverse lineages promotes speciation,” said Daniel Rabosky, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan and co-lead author on the study.

Co-lead author Michael Alfaro, a UCLA scientist who specializes in the evolution of marine fishes, said one key facet in the correlation between evolutionary and morphological change is body size.

“The fastest speciating fish typically also had the fastest rate of size evolution,” Alfaro said. “It didn’t seem to matter whether they were freshwater or marine fish, or lived in cold or warm environments – the correlation was amazingly consistent. Changes in body size were closely linked to speciation, but whether one causes the other isn’t yet clear.”

The research team synthesized existing data from GenBank, FishBase and other sources to create their comprehensive phylogenetic tree of living fishes, which is one of the largest trees ever assembled for any group of animals.

Inclusion of so many species was critical to investigating body size evolution at such a grand scale.

Co-author Brian Sidlauskas, an Oregon State University ichthyologist specializing in the conservation of freshwater fish, said the study helps illustrate and explain the differences between dynamic groups of fish, characterized by African cichlids, and living fossils such as sturgeon and gars.

“Cichlids are the poster children for explosive adaptive radiation, having rapidly diversified into a vast number of species with different characteristics,” said Sidlauskas, who curates the Oregon State University Ichthyology Collection in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Whitefishes are another example. They have only been in glacial lakes for a few thousand years, yet they already have branched repeatedly into two or three different morphologies, including some that feed on the bottom and others in mid-water.”

Based on the new results, cichlids and whitefishes fall into the 10 percent of fastest-evolving and speciating fishes, along with rockfishes, snailfishes, pufferfishes and several other groups.

“Sturgeon and gars are just the opposite, showing remarkably few changes over millions of years and little tendency to speciate,” Sidlauskas noted. “It isn’t just ecological opportunity. If you put a handful of gars into the Rift Lakes of Africa, it is doubtful they would have evolved much. Yet cichlids evolved into hundreds of different species with different morphologies. Something in the wiring differs from one group of fish to another, and that’s what we need to investigate next.”

The authors say that although their study focused on ray-finned fishes, the same correlation potentially may be applicable to other branches of the Tree of Life, including mammals, birds, insects, plants and snails.

Media Contact: 

Brian Sidlauskas, 541-737-6789, Brian.Sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu

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fish evolution

"This evolutionary tree shows the relationships between nearly 8,000 living species of fishes. Red branches denote groups with fast rates of body size change, blue branches indicate slow body size change, and the length of each branch reflects the speed at which groups split into new species. Illustration courtesy of Dan Rabosky."

Book outlines history of California condors in Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new book documents the history of the California condor in the Pacific Northwest from northern California to British Columbia, an important step in discussions that could lead to reintroduction of the giant birds to the Northwest in the future.

No immediate plans for Northwest reintroduction exist, the authors say, but establishing a history of the condors’ presence is a prerequisite for potential reintroduction of the birds in the near future, noted Susan Haig, a co-author of the book, which is being published by the Oregon State University Press.

“Condors are iconic symbols to many Northwest tribes, and they were an important part of many ecosystems in the West,” said Haig, who is a professor of wildlife ecology at OSU and a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Unlike other endangered species – such as spotted owls – they don’t require specific habitat to thrive. They like big open areas and can be found today in the Grand Canyon as well as the mountains and coastal area around Monterey, Calif.”

The OSU Press book, “California Condors in the Pacific Northwest,” was written by Jesse D’Elia, a Ph.D. candidate under Haig and now a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland and by Haig. It is available from the OSU Press at: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/california-condors-in-pacific-northwest.

At nearly 10 feet, California condors have the largest wingspan of all land birds in North America. Their existence dates back to prehistoric times in the Northwest, and they were present in Oregon as recently as 1920, according to Haig. “Noted naturalist William Finley had one named ‘General’ as a pet,” she said. “It ended up at the New York Zoo.”

“Lewis and Clark reported condors all along the Columbia River,” Haig added, “and they were sighted at Willamette Falls as well.”

The historic population of condors is difficult to estimate, the authors say, and only an estimated 240 today live in the wild in North America. An additional 170 live in captivity. The Oregon Zoo in Portland is one of only four captive breeding facilities for the species.

The reasons for their decline are varied and not well-documented, Haig said. Condors are scavengers and feed on the carcasses of dead animals – some of which have been poisoned and others that contain fragments from bullets containing lead, which can be lethal. As electric power lines began dotting the West, others were electrocuted. And in an odd twist, some condors were killed by museum collectors in the 19th century so they could be put on display.

“In the 1800s, many museums were just starting and building their collections,” Haig said. “We do know that museum operators from Paris and Germany came all the way over to the West Coast to kill condors for their collections.”

D’Elia has collected condor bone and tissue samples from numerous museums around the world, and along with Haig and other colleagues is analyzing their DNA in an effort to determine their population structure prior to their decline.

“The California condor is an endangered species that captures our collective imagination,” D’Elia said. “Reading through the first-hand accounts of early explorers encountering condors, it isn’t hard to envision these giant birds once soaring through the skies of the Pacific Northwest in numbers. In addition to stirring our imagination, evaluating the history of condors in the region helps us understand where condors once occurred, how common they were and why they disappeared.”

Some of the factors that led to their decline could be barriers to potential reintroduction, Haig said.

“Hunting is not really an issue,” Haig emphasized, “but the use of lead bullets to kill animals that condors feed on is an issue. Hunting actually benefits condors because it provides fresh carcasses upon which they can feed. Lead bullet fragments left in carcasses are deadly to a variety of non-targeted wildlife, however, including condors. Power lines were an issue, but condors in captivity are now trained to avoid them prior to their release.”

“In fact, condors are incredibly smart and cool animals,” Haig said. “They recognize individuals and remember them. One bird can be mad at another bird for years at a time, and even recognize that animal a decade later. They have a very strong social structure and older birds pass behaviors along to younger birds.  They typically are monogamous and pair for life.”

“They only produce one egg at a time, and the parents fight over who gets to take care of that egg,” Haig said. “They are obsessive parents. But if the fledgling can survive, that young condor could potentially live to a ripe old age of 50 to 60 years.”

Media Contact: 

Susan Haig, 541-750-0981; susan.haig@usgs.gov

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