OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU to host small farms conference Feb. 28

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 15th annual Oregon Small Farms Conference, which drew 800 people last year, takes place Feb. 28 at Oregon State University.

The event, one of the flagship educational offerings of OSU Extension Service’s Small Farms Program, is geared toward farmers, agriculture professionals, food policy advocates, students, restaurant owners, food retailers and managers of farmers markets. Over the years, participants have learned how to harvest rainwater, market meat products, develop a business plan, sell products to schools, graft vegetables and lease land.

This year, presenters will include farmers, OSU faculty and representatives of agribusiness and government agencies. Five of the speakers, including Jean-Martin Fortier, will conduct full-day sessions.

Fortier founded the organic farm Jardins de la Grelinette near Quebec, which is recognized internationally for its high productivity and profitability using low-tech, high-yield methods of production. A graduate of the McGill School of Environment in Montreal, Fortier is a passionate advocate for strengthening local food systems and has facilitated more than 50 workshops and conferences in Canada, France, Belgium and the United States promoting the idea of micro-scale farming. His session covers Six Figure Farming for Small Plots.

In addition, the Oregon Small Farms Conference will feature 24 workshops, including three in Spanish, on topics that include:

  • Healthier animals, healthier profits;
  • Diversification of orchards and markets;
  • Climate change and perennial fruit and nut production;
  • Marketing farmers markets;
  • Crunching numbers to determine greenhouse costs;
  • Exploring the small farm dream;
  • Advanced plant disease management on organic vegetable farms;
  • New grant opportunities for farmers markets;
  • Impacts of organic certification.

The cost, which includes lunch, is $65 per person or $100 at the door. Registration is open until midnight on Feb. 18. The conference will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the LaSells Stewart Center. To register, go to the Small Farms Conference website.

OSU will host a free screening of the documentary “Dryland” at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27 at the conference center.

An after-conference hootenanny with dinner, local beer and cider, and dancing to live music will start at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 through Feb. 15, and then $20.

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Chrissy Lucas, 541-766-3556

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Oregon Small Farms Conference

Everything from how to market farmers markets to the impacts of organic certification will be covered at the Oregon Small Farms Conference at OSU. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

Another reason to drink wine: it could help you burn fat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Drinking red grape juice or wine – in moderation – could improve the health of overweight people by helping them burn fat better, according to a new study coauthored by an Oregon State University researcher.

The findings suggest that consuming dark-colored grapes, whether eating them or drinking juice or wine, might help people better manage obesity and related metabolic disorders such as fatty liver.

Neil Shay, a biochemist and molecular biologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, was part of a study team that exposed human liver and fat cells grown in the lab to extracts of four natural chemicals found in Muscadine grapes, a dark-red variety native to the southeastern United States.

One of the chemicals, ellagic acid, proved particularly potent: It dramatically slowed the growth of existing fat cells and formation of new ones, and it boosted metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells.

These plant chemicals are not a weight-loss miracle, cautions Shay. “We didn’t find, and we didn’t expect to, that these compounds would improve body weight,” he said. But by boosting the burning of fat, especially in the liver, they may improve liver function in overweight people.

“If we could develop a dietary strategy for reducing the harmful accumulation of fat in the liver, using common foods like grapes,” Shay said, “that would be good news.”

The study, which Shay conducted with colleagues at the University of Florida and University of Nebraska, complements work with mice he leads at his OSU laboratory. In one 2013 trial, he and his graduate students supplemented the diets of overweight mice with extracts from Pinot noir grapes harvested from Corvallis-area vineyards.

Some of the mice were fed a normal diet of “mouse chow,” as Shay calls it, containing 10 percent fat. The rest were fed a diet of 60 percent fat – the sort of unhealthy diet that would pile excess pounds on a human frame.

“Our mice like that high-fat diet,” said Shay, “and they overconsume it. So they’re a good model for the sedentary person who eats too much snack food and doesn’t get enough exercise.”

The grape extracts, scaled down to a mouse’s nutritional needs, were about the equivalent of one and a half cups of grapes a day for a person. “The portions are reasonable,” said Shay, “which makes our results more applicable to the human diet.”

Over a 10-week trial, the high-fat-fed mice developed fatty liver and diabetic symptoms – “the same metabolic consequences we see in many overweight, sedentary people,” Shay said.

But the chubby mice that got the extracts accumulated less fat in their livers, and they had lower blood sugar, than those that consumed the high-fat diet alone. Ellagic acid proved to be a powerhouse in this experiment, too, lowering the high-fat-fed mice’s blood sugar to nearly the levels of the lean, normally fed mice.  

When Shay and his colleagues analyzed the tissues of the fat mice that ate the supplements, they noted higher activity levels of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma, two proteins that work within cells to metabolize fat and sugar.

Shay hypothesizes that the ellagic acid and other chemicals bind to these PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma nuclear hormone receptors, causing them to switch on the genes that trigger the metabolism of dietary fat and glucose. Commonly prescribed drugs for lowering blood sugar and triglycerides act in this way, Shay said.

The goal of his work, he added, is not to replace needed medications but to guide people in choosing common, widely available foods that have particular health benefits, including boosting metabolic function.

“We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for health benefits,” he said. “If you’re out food shopping, and if you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition you have, wouldn’t you want to buy that fruit?”

The research was supported by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science at the University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Shay’s research with mice was supported by the Blue Mountain Horticultural Society, the Erath Family Foundation, and the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

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Neil Shay, 541-737-0685

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Neil Shay, biochemist and food researcher at Oregon State University, at the university’s research vineyard near Alpine, Oregon. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

OSU to host Willamette Valley Bird Symposium on Jan. 24

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and the American Ornithologists’ Union will host the Willamette Valley Bird Symposium, a one-day event focusing on research and careers in avian biology, on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Linus Pauling Science Center on the OSU campus.

The symposium is aimed at high school students, teachers and undergraduates. It is also supported by The Audubon Society of Corvallis and the U.S. Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. More information is available at: http://www.audubon.corvallis.or.us/wbs.shtml

Eric Forsman, a bird expert from the U.S. Forest Service in Corvallis, will give the keynote talk: “A Thirty-Year Study of Spotted Owls in the Old-Growth Forests of Western Oregon.”

The symposium will feature more than 20 short talks on bird research. Among the topics:

  • Mercury in Willamette Valley riparian songbirds;
  • Snowy plover survival, population and management in Oregon;
  • Effectiveness of backyard wildlife habitats;
  • The Oregon 2020 project of citizen scientists contributing to Oregon bird surveys;
  • New research on Adelie penguins.

Other talks will cover a variety of bird species, including swallows, Aphelocoma jays, Pfrimer’s parakeet, songbirds, seabirds, Caspian terns, bald eagles and common murres. Monitoring technology will be covered in talks on solar-powered cameras, use of drones in ornithology, archival GPS tags on diving seabirds, and other topics.

The symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It also will feature a live bird exhibition from Chintimini Wildlife Center, demonstrations of ornithological research techniques, and a panel discussion on careers in ornithology.

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Sue Haig, 541-750-0981; willamettebirds15@gmail.com

Why do plankton bloom? The answer could force rethinking of ocean’s food web

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study at Oregon State University could overturn conventional wisdom about the role of phytoplankton in the Earth’s carbon cycle, potentially changing scientists’ understanding of how global warming will alter the environment for marine life.

OSU researcher Michael Behrenfeld, an expert in marine plants, is leading a $30 million NASA-funded study of a phytoplankton “hot spot” in a triangle of ocean stretching from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to the Azores and north to Greenland’s southern tip.

Behrenfeld’s team will gather shipboard and in-ocean data from four sea cruises over the course of the five-year study. The two spring cruises will catch the North Atlantic plankton bloom – one of the biggest on the planet – in its most southerly latitude and follow it as it progresses north with the warming weather.

Simultaneously, aircraft will fly near the ship and take measurements of tiny airborne particles called aerosols, which are linked to plankton activity and which also play a big role in the Earth’s energy cycle.  

Phytoplankton – which are an assortment of single-celled plants dwelling in the ocean’s upper layer – are the foundation of the marine food web.

“They are tiny, but they’re extremely abundant,” said Behrenfeld. “If you look at the photosynthesis of all these microscopic plants on a global basis, it’s the equivalent of the photosynthesis of all the plants on land.” 

As they capture sunlight and turn it into sugar, they become food for zooplankton (the animal variety of plankton), which are eaten in turn by other organisms, and so on up the chain.

Phytoplankton are present throughout the world’s oceans and are most abundant in the high latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres. In these cold, nutrient-rich waters, they typically undergo seasonal population explosions, or blooms.

For decades, scientists have attributed these blooms to springtime increases in sunlight and warming temperatures – much the same seasonal pattern that makes gardens bloom on land. This explanation is based on a limited number of measurements from ships in the early 20th century.

Under this traditional scenario, warmer oceans should produce bigger blooms, which should produce more food for ocean-dwelling life.

Yet satellite images suggest a different story, Behrenfeld said. Sophisticated instruments continuously monitor global plankton populations year-round by measuring shifts in light-wave frequencies that capture changes in phytoplankton abundance. Studying these images a few years ago, Behrenfeld noticed phytoplankton blooming when they shouldn’t have been.

“In the middle of winter, in the worst conditions for growth, we saw that the pigment concentrations actually started to increase,” he said. “That alone tells us that the old hypothesis is incorrect.”

Behrenfeld proposes a different explanation: The blooms are born in early winter, when the ocean’s upper waters – the so-called mixed layer – are agitated by strong winds. They also are churned by a process called thermal convection, in which the top tier of water gets cold and sinks, causing the warmer waters beneath to well up to the surface.

These physical forces cause a deepening of the mixed layer, and this, Behrenfeld believes, gives the phytoplankton room to spread out, making it easier for them to escape being eaten by zooplankton.

“You can think of phytoplankton as the grass and the zooplankton as the grazers – the cows, if you will,” Behrenfeld explained. “The idea is that these strong physical processes deepen the mixing layer and dilute the phytoplankton to such low levels that the zooplankton can’t effectively feed on them.”

He hypothesizes that the phytoplankton take advantage of their competitive edge to out-multiply their grazers and begin a population increase that culminates in a spring bloom.

If the winter turbulence of the ocean is what triggers a plankton bloom, as Behrenfeld believes, and not spring warming, then a warming ocean should produce smaller blooms, reducing photosynthesis and potentially limiting the ocean’s food supply.

The new study will provide the measurements needed to test this hypothesis and compare it to the traditional explanation.

“Our investigation will address two basic questions,” Behrenfeld said. “First, what processes allow the bloom to be recreated each year? And second, how do blooms impact atmospheric aerosols and clouds? By answering these questions, we will be able to make better predictions on how marine ecosystems, including fisheries, will be affected.”

The NASA team includes four other researchers from OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences (Stephen Giovannoni, Kimberly Halsey, Allen Milligan and Toby Westberry) and scientists from NASA, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and six other U.S. universities. Almost $4 million of the grant funds will go to the OSU team.

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Michael Behrenfeld, 541-737-5289

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Michael Behrenfeld

Scientist Michael Behrenfeld is leading a major study that may overturn the accepted theory about plankton blooms. Behrenfeld is a marine botanist at Oregon State University. (Photo by Gail Wells)

OSU’s Art About Agriculture exhibit open in Newberg

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Art About Agriculture exhibit celebrating the bond between Oregonians and the land will hang in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg through Feb. 12.

For 33 years, artists around the Northwest have been asked to submit pieces related to an agricultural theme for the curated show presented by the OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. The 2015 show, called This Everlasting Valley: Willamette River Valley and Basin, is the third to play homage to the fertile Willamette Valley.

On March 9, the exhibit moves to the Memorial Union Concourse Gallery on the OSU campus, where it will remain until May 7. A reception for the campus exhibit will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. April 6 in Joyce Powell Leadership Center Room 106.

The first of the Willamette Valley exhibitions took place in 2005 and focused on the upper part of the valley from the river’s source to Albany. In 2009, the second turned to the mid-valley from Albany to Newberg.

“The works of art are always local and personal,” said OSU’s Shelley Curtis, curator of the exhibit since 1999. “We don’t ask the artists for specific things. They interpret the theme from their inspiration of the connection between community and agriculture. This year it was the idea of linking the river and natural resources. That has everything to do with what you’ll see in the show.”

The 45 pieces of artwork, most of which are for sale, feature a multitude of media ranging from watercolors and oils on paper to mixed media and silkscreen. The majority of artists are included in the college’s permanent collection, which includes more than 250 works and is supported by private donations.

“The thing that struck me as the person who gets to see the art come in, is the vast diversity,” Curtis said. “I’d love to get a map and go see where these artists did their work or what they saw to inspire them to do the work.”

She thinks others will be similarly inspired.

“The audience is going to appreciate more of what they see on a daily basis and want to explore,” she said. “They’ll think, ‘I’d really like to find out where Elk Rock is. I’d like to see the Steel Bridge from this outlook. I want to see the field where those cows are grazing.’ It’s personal responses.”

Learn more about Art About Agriculture in a video featuring Curtis.

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Shelley Curtis, 541-737-5534

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Art About Agriculture

November Moon and Cows, oil on paper, 7 by 5 inches, Sally Cleveland


Art About Agriculture

Peaceful Lilies, acrylic on canvas, 36 by 48 inches, Phyllis Yes

OSU awards $70,000 in agricultural scholarships

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences awarded 39 undergraduates $70,000 in scholarships for the 2014-2015 school year.

The scholarships are made possible by gifts to the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. Recipients of the 2014-2015 scholarships are:

AMITY: Lea Hudson, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship, and the $1,000 Loren J. Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

ASHLAND: Sara Dunagan, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Paul and Frances Montecucco Beginning Venture Scholarship.

BEAVERTON: Emilirose Ammons, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship, and the $1,000 Oregon Women for Agriculture Honors Scholarship.

BEAVERTON: Madeline Broussard, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Herb and Anita Summers Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

BEAVERTON: Austin Nguyen, bioresource research major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

BOULDER CREEK, CA: Lauren Smith, fisheries and wildlife major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

CENTRAL POINT: Marie Nelson, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Lawrence E. and Marguerite Kaseberg Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CENTRAL POINT: Gabrielle Redhead, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 John and Florence Scharff Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CORBETT: Marina Clark, bioresearch research major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CORVALLIS: Victoria Jansen, agricultural sciences major, received the $1,000 Lawrence E. and Marguerite Kaseberg Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CORVALLIS: Jamie Lach, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Eugene H. Fisher Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

ELKTON: Kaila Trout, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Clifford Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

EUGENE: Meghan Knettle, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Lawrence E. and Marguerite Kaseberg Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

GOLD HILL: Samantha Beck, agricultural sciences major, received the $1,000 Wilco Farmers Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John. W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

HAPPY VALLEY: Taelor Anderegg, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Herb and Anita Summers Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

HOOD RIVER: Austyn Polzel, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

INDEPENDENCE: Olivia Miller, food science and technology major, received the $1,000 Clifford Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

KEIZER: Menley Neitzel, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

KLAMATH FALLS: Shelby Stiller, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Grange Co-op Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

LAKE OSWEGO: Danica Berry, food science and technology major, received the $1,000 Wilco Farmers Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

LAKEVIEW: Ashley Reese, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 John and Florence Scharff Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

LANGLOIS: Bennett Wahl, environmental economics and policy major, received the $1,000 Karla S. Chambers Leadership Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MANZANITA: Alicia Torppa, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Tillamook County Creamery Association Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MCMINNVILLE: Lauren Bernards, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Herb and Anita Summers Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

MCMINNVILLE: Moriah Mansour, food science and technology major, received the $1,000 Loren J. Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MILWAUKIE: Julia Barnes, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Oregon Women for Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MISSION VIEJO, CA: Trevor Penner, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MYRTLE CREEK: Mary Ruble, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Fisher Farm and Lawn Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

MYRTLE CREEK: Cassandra Van Atta, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Clifford Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

PORTLAND: Lucy Carr, fisheries and wildlife sciences major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SACRAMENTO, CA: Kayla Chang, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SAN BERNARDINO, CA: Amani Carr, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SHORELINE, WA: Margaret McCormick, fisheries and wildlife sciences major, received the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship, and the $1,000 A/B Technologies International, Inc. Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

SPRINGFIELD: Sarah Akers, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SUTHERLIN: Heather Brown, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Naumes Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

SUTHERLIN: Jerry Risk III, bioresource research major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

TOLEDO: Karisa Howry, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship, and the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

WARRENTON: Christina Lynn, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Eugene H. Fisher Agricultural Honors Scholarship.

WEST LINN: Abigail Chadwick, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Naumes Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship. 

Several of these scholarships were made possible by donors to The Campaign for OSU. Supporters of the university have contributed $1.1 billion to the campaign, including more than $184 million in scholarship and fellowship support for OSU students. Learn more at Campaign for OSU.

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Paul Dorres, 541-737-5655

Corvallis Science Pub focuses on Ebola

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak mount, health care providers continue to search for effective treatments. One promising approach has been developed by a Corvallis company, Sarepta Therapeutics (formerly AVI Biopharma).

Patrick Iversen, now a professor at Oregon State University, led the development of a drug that targets the genetic machinery of the Ebola virus. At the Dec. 8 Corvallis Science Pub, he will review what scientists know about Ebola and how the new drug works. He’ll also discuss how the basis for Sarepta’s approach could signal a new way to treat infectious diseases. 

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

Iversen received his Ph.D. in pharmacology at the University of Utah in 1984. He was a professor in the University of Nebraska College of Medicine and on the staff of the university’s medical center before moving to Corvallis to join AVI Biopharma Inc. in 1997. He is named as an inventor on 200 medical patents and is now a research professor (Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Biochemistry and Biophysics) at Oregon State.

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

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Patrick Iversen, 541-737-3249

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Patrick Iversen

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.
Media Contact: 
Source: 

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.”

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Kym Pokorny, 541-737-3380

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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.

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Craig Marcus, 541-737-1808

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George Bailey