OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU ranks 9th in agriculture and forestry among 200 universities globally

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has been recognized as a world-class center in agriculture and forestry, ranking ninth in an international survey.

The listing appeared in the QS World University Rankings of approximately 200 top institutions for agriculture and forestry worldwide in 2015.

“Our world ranking is a testament to the continued great work of our faculty and researchers,” said Dan Arp, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We’re excited about another top global ranking that recognizes the breadth and depth of our research and teaching, and our great partnership with the College of Agricultural Sciences,” said Thomas Maness, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry. “It’s very satisfying to see the excellence of our faculty and students recognized internationally.”

Published annually since 2011, the rankings take into account the number of citations for journal articles. They are also based on surveys sent to employers and academics, who are asked to list institutions they consider excellent for recruitment of graduates and research, respectively. Only eight other institutions in the world ranked above OSU, two of which tied for fifth.

Two of the universities on the list are international, thus OSU agriculture and forestry are ranked seventh in the U.S.

As the state's land-grant university, agricultural research and instruction are a vital component of OSU's mission. Its College of Agricultural Sciences is home to 13 departments, including animal and rangeland sciences, fisheries and wildlife, horticulture, crop and soil science, food science and technology, and environmental and molecular toxicology. Its faculty conduct agricultural research in Corvallis and at 15 other locations around the state, and they help Oregon's farmers and ranchers be successful.

During the 2013-14 academic year, 471 undergraduates and 100 graduate students received degrees from the college, said Penelope Diebel, assistant dean of academic programs.

Spread across three departments, OSU's College of Forestry offers seven undergraduate and four graduate degree programs, including forest engineering, renewable materials, wood science and engineering, natural resources, and recreation resource management. During the 2013-14 academic year, the college awarded more than 170 undergraduate and 50 graduate degrees. 

Story By: 
Source: 

Dan Arp, 541-737-2331;

Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

QS ranking of 9th, 2015

Oregon State University's faculty are stationed around the state, including Maud Powell (second from right), an instructor in southern Oregon with OSU's small farms program. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Taste the latest local products June 2 at OSU's Food Innovation Center

PORTLAND, Ore. – Nearly 50 local food entrepreneurs will offer free tastings of their products to the public at an outdoor market at Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center in Portland on June 2.

The second annual Time to Market will feature live music and will take place from 4-7 p.m. Free samples will be available, including crème brûlée, gelato, pickles, peppers and gluten-free and vegan options. Shoppers will be able buy many of the items.

The vendors are graduates of the 14-week Getting Your Recipe to Market course, taught in part by OSU's Sarah Masoni, the center's product development manager. In the class, they turned their recipes into commercial-ready products, developed business and marketing plans, crafted elevator pitches, solved packaging and food safety issues, and met one-on-one with retail buyers. More than 200 people have completed the program since it started in 2006, Masoni said.

Just before the June 2 showcase, from 2:30-4 p.m., each exhibitor will make private sales pitches to investors, distributors and local retail buyers with the hopes that they can place their products in stores, restaurants, hospitals, college campuses and in the cafeterias of large companies.

The center plans to host a similar showcase indoors in December, said Masoni, who is also a food product development specialist with the OSU Extension Service.

The Food Innovation Center, a collaborative effort between OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, is at 1207 N.W. Naito Parkway. For more information on the event, call 503-872-6680.

Getting Your Recipe to Market is a partnership between OSU, Portland Community College and grocer New Seasons Market. The hands-on program takes place biannually at PCC.

Story By: 
Source: 

Sarah Masoni, 503-872-6655

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Food Innovation Center

Food entrepreneurs and the public gather in front of Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center at last year's Time to Market showcase. Photo by Stephen Ward.

Fracking may affect air quality and human health, OSU study finds

CORVALLIS, Ore. – People living or working near active natural gas wells may be exposed to certain pollutants at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers found that hydraulic fracturing – a technique for releasing natural gas from below-ground rock formations – emits pollutants known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), including some that are linked with increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

“Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them,” said the study’s coauthor Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The study, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology’s online edition, is part of a larger project co-led by the University of Cincinnati’s Erin Haynes, OSU’s Anderson, her graduate student Blair Paulik and Laurel Kincl, director of OSU’s Environmental Health Science Center.

Anderson and her colleagues collected air samples from sites near active natural gas wells in Carroll County, Ohio, over a three-week period last February. Carroll County sits on top of the Utica formation, a deep oil- and gas-rich reef of subterranean shale. The rural county is a hotspot of natural gas prospecting, with more than one active well site per square mile.

The study got its start when a group of citizens approached Haynes, who is a public health expert, wanting to know more about health risks from natural gas extraction.

Haynes got in touch with Anderson and Kincl, and together they designed the study to include citizen participation. They placed air samplers on the properties of 23 volunteers living or working at sites ranging from right next to a gas well to a little more than three miles away.

The samplers are aluminum T-shaped boxes containing specially treated polyethylene ribbons that absorb contaminants in a similar manner to biological cells. Volunteers were trained in proper handling of samplers and documenting of data.

After the study period, the volunteers packaged the samplers in airtight bags, labeled them and mailed them back to Anderson’s lab at OSU.

The samplers picked up high levels of PAHs across the study area. Levels were highest closest to the wells and decreased by about 30 percent with distance.

Even the lowest levels – detected on sites more than a mile away from a well – were higher than previous researchers had found in downtown Chicago and near a Belgian oil refinery. They were about 10 times higher than in a rural Michigan area with no natural gas wells.

By looking at the ratios of individual PAHs detected by the samplers, Anderson and her team were able to discern whether they came directly from the earth – a “petrogenic” source – or from “pyrogenic” sources like the burning of fossil fuels. The proportion of petrogenic PAHs in the mix was highest nearer the wells and decreased with distance.

The team also accounted for the influences of wood smoke and vehicle exhaust, common sources of airborne pyrogenic PAHs. Wood smoke was consistent across the sampling area, supporting the conclusion that the gas wells were contributing to the higher PAH levels.

The researchers then used a standard calculation to determine the additional cancer risk posed by airborne contaminants over a range of scenarios. For the worst-case scenario (exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years), they found that a person anywhere in the study area would be exposed at a risk level exceeding the threshold of what the EPA deems acceptable.

The highest-risk areas were those nearest the wells, Anderson said. Areas more than a mile away posed about 30 percent less risk.

Anderson cautioned that these numbers are worst-case estimates and can’t predict the risk to any particular individual. “Actual risk would depend heavily on exposure time, exposure frequency and proximity to a natural gas well,” she said.

“We made these calculations to put our findings in context with other, similar risk assessments and to compare the levels we found with the EPA’s acceptable risk level.”

The study has other caveats, Anderson said, the main one being the small number of non-random samples used. In addition, findings aren’t necessarily applicable to other gas-producing areas, because PAH emissions are influenced by extraction techniques and by underlying geology.

The researchers are affiliated with their respective universities’ Environmental Health Science Centers, funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences and devoted to addressing citizen concerns.

Story By: 
Source: 

Kim A. Anderson, 541-737-8501

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Kim Anderson

Kim Anderson, environmental chemist at Oregon State University, measured air pollution near natural gas fracking wells in Carroll County, Ohio. Photo by Stephen Ward.

Blair Paulik

Blair Paulik, graduate student in environmental chemistry at Oregon State University, checks on an air-pollution sampler in Carroll County, Ohio. Photo by Kevin Hobbie.

OSU teaches Portland’s Hispanic community about healthy eating

GRESHAM, Ore. – A dozen women in black aprons clustered around a kitchen island chopping onions, shredding chicken and chatting in Spanish.

At a community center in Gresham, they were making chicken chili in a nutrition and exercise program for Hispanic families taught in Spanish by Oregon State University’s Extension Service. The free eight-week class helps participants with the fundamentals of healthy eating like choosing more vegetables over too many carbohydrates, baking instead of frying and substituting water for soda.

Extension offers the course every four months in nine communities in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Since the nutrition education programs launched12 years ago, more than 6,300 adults and 9,000 children have taken classes, according to Lynn Steele, leader of OSU Extension’s Hispanic nutrition program in the metro area.

Hispanic immigrants often eat less nutritiously once they leave their traditional diets and lifestyles, said Steele. Health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol spike as they begin eating the high-fat, high-sugar diets common in the United States.

“When they find out they are pre-diabetic or have another condition, they’re kind of in a panic,” Steele said. “They don’t want to go down that road. They come to the class to learn to prevent illness and how they can offer their families a variety of food for good health.”

Women in the course in Gresham heard about it from Extension’s volunteer community health promoters who work with churches, community centers and government social service agencies to identify people who might benefit from the program.

Lorena Caballero, who took the classes more than 10 years ago, is now one of the promoters.

“I’ve lost weight,” she said. “My kids are starting to read nutrition labels. They’ll read the potato chips and say, ‘Oh, I can only eat 12 potato chips.’”

Christina Ramirez, who has completed several courses, spoke through a translator about having diabetes on both sides of her family and a pre-diabetic husband.

“I learned I’m at high risk,” said Ramirez, who is sending her family in Mexico illustrated recipes that Extension published in Spanish and English. “So little by little we’ve reduced the amount of carbs that we eat. We’re making half of our plates vegetables. My husband is starting to take it more seriously.”

In addition to healthy eating, she has added an exercise regime that includes walking, Zumba, yoga and weightlifting. As a result, she has lost 24 pounds in 18 months.

When the women finished cooking and moved on to the exercise portion of the class, they marched in place swirling orange, pink and yellow scarves as their young children ate healthy snacks, drew pictures and played. Bonding between families is an added benefit.

“The group interaction is so important,” Steele said. “Their extended families are in Mexico or another Latin American country. They’re lonely. Depression is not uncommon.”

Candida de Jesus said she had been depressed.

“I didn’t dress well,” said the mother of five said in Spanish. “Now I’m losing weight, dressing better and feeling much better about myself. And I’m teaching my kids to eat vegetables and drink water instead of soda.”

Most of the women in this particular class started their journey in a Walk With Ease course offered by OSU Extension and designed for people with chronic problems such as arthritis. Participants walk for as long as they can, two to three times each week, and get familiar with the importance of exercise.

“They get so much from it,” said Steele. “We want them to develop habits around physical activity. Between that and the nutrition component, the classes change their lives.”

The Hispanic nutrition program is overseen by Extension’s Family and Community Health program in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Services. It is part of OSU Extension’s statewide nutrition education program for limited-income Oregonians, which is funded by Oregon’s Department of Human Services. A video on the Hispanic program can be found in English and Spanish.

Upcoming Hispanic nutrition classes start in October in Aloha, Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Portland, Sandy, Tigard and Troutdale. For days and times, contact the OSU Extension office in Portland at 503-254-5004 or in Washington County at 503-821-1134.

Story By: 
Source: 

Lynn Steele, 503-254-5004

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Nutrition education

Lucy Lores, an educator with the Oregon State University Extension Service, demonstrates a healthy recipe. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

OSU scientists develop improved way to assess cancer risk of pollutants

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists at Oregon State University have developed a faster, more accurate method to assess cancer risk from certain common environmental pollutants.

Researchers found that they could analyze the immediate genetic responses of the skin cells of exposed mice and apply statistical approaches to determine whether or not those cells would eventually become cancerous.

The study focused on an important class of pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, that commonly occur in the environment as mixtures such as diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke.

“After only 12 hours, we could predict the ability of certain PAH mixtures to cause cancer, rather than waiting 25 weeks for tumors to develop,” said Susan Tilton, an environmental toxicologist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

For at least some PAH mixtures, the new method is not only quicker but produces more accurate cancer-risk assessments than are currently possible, she said.

“Our work was intended as a proof of concept,” said Tilton, who is also affiliated with the OSU’s multidisciplinary Superfund Research Program, a center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

“The method needs to be tested with a larger group of chemicals and mixtures. But we now have a model that we can use to develop larger-scale screening tests with human cells in a laboratory dish.”

Such a method will be particularly useful for screening PAHs, a large class of pollutants that result from combustion of organic matter and fossil fuels. PAHs are widespread contaminants of air, water and soil. There are hundreds of different kinds, and some are known carcinogens, but many have not been tested.

Humans are primarily exposed to PAHs in the environment as mixtures, which makes it harder to assess their cancer risk. The standard calculation, Tilton said, is to identify the risk of each element in the mix – if it’s known – and add them together.

But this method doesn’t work with most PAH mixes. It assumes the risk for each component is known, as well as which components are in a given mix. Often that information is not available.

This study examined three PAH mixtures that are common in the environment - coal tar, diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke – and various mixtures of them.

They found that each substance touched off a rapid and distinctive cascade of biological and metabolic changes in the skin cells of a mouse. The response amounted to a unique “fingerprint” of the genetic changes that occur as cells reacted to exposure to each chemical.

By matching patterns of genetic changes known to occur as cells become cancerous, they found that some of the cellular responses were early indicators of developing cancers. They also found that the standard method to calculate carcinogenic material underestimated the cancer risk of some mixtures and overestimated the combined risk of others.

“Our study is a first step in moving away from risk assessments based on individual components of these PAH mixtures and developing more accurate methods that look at the mixture as a whole,” Tilton said. “We’re hoping to bring the methodology to the point where we no longer need to use tumors as our endpoint.”

Tilton collaborated on the research with Katrina Waters of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and others. Their findings appeared in a recent edition of Toxicological Sciences.

The study was funded by NIEHS, which supports the Superfund Research Program, a multi-partner collaboration that includes OSU and PNNL.

Story By: 
Source: 

Susan Tilton, 541-737-1740

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Susan Tilton

OSU environmental toxicologist Susan Tilton. Photo by Gail Wells.

Oregon State receives $1 million gift for research brewery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University's fermentation science program has received a $1 million gift from Carlos Alvarez, the chairman and chief executive officer of The Gambrinus Company, a San Antonio-based beer company that owns BridgePort Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon; the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas; and the Trumer Brewery in Berkeley, California.

The gift from Alvarez will fund the purchase of a new research brewery to be housed in Oregon State's Wiegand Hall Pilot Plant Facility, where fermentation science students participate in each step of the brewing and packaging process.

"We are incredibly grateful and excited about building on this great relationship with BridgePort and Gambrinus," said Tom Shellhammer, OSU's Nor'Wester Professor of Fermentation Science. "At Oregon State we are very proud to offer students a 'grain-to-glass' education that covers every aspect of the beer-making process. Furthermore, we carry out cutting-edge, globally relevant brewing science research.

"This state-of-the-art facility will allow us to provide an experiential education that is truly world-class, while also enhancing research that benefits industry," Shellhammer added.

Oregon State's collaborative relationship with BridgePort spans more than 15 years. Most recently, Shellhammer, OSU fermentation science students, and BridgePort brewmaster and OSU alumnus Jeff Edgerton collaborated on a session brown ale that won a gold medal at the European Beer Star competition in Germany.

Alvarez is a graduate of the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico, with a degree in biochemical engineering. After working as export manager for Grupo Modelo and taking Corona to the U.S., Alvarez founded The Gambrinus Company in 1986 and became U.S. importer for Corona and other Modelo brands for the next 20 years.

In 1989, he acquired and revitalized the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, now the fourth largest craft brewery in the U.S. with Shiner Bock as its leading brand. Alvarez subsequently acquired BridgePort Brewing Company in 1995 and founded the Trumer Brewery in Berkeley, California, in 2004.

An ardent supporter of education, Alvarez has contributed to educational institutions across the U.S. with a particular focus on scholarship funding. Among other volunteer leadership roles, he served several years on the board of trustees for Davidson College in North Carolina.

"I am very pleased to support Oregon State's fermentation science program and its outstanding students, who represent so much promise as future craft brewers," Alvarez said. "I am particularly excited to be able to fund this project and give back to the industry that built my business."

Oregon State is one of only two universities in the nation offering undergraduate and graduate level degrees in fermentation science that lead to a career in the brewing industry. Housed within the Department of Food Science and Technology, one of the oldest and top-ranked food science programs in the U.S., the program attracts students from across the country and around the world who hope to enter the craft brewing market. Three out of four students in the department are fermentation science majors.

When construction is finished, the new research brewery funded by Alvarez's gift will be named in his honor.

 

Story By: 
Source: 

Tom Shellhammer, 541-737-9308

OSU scientists invent rain-resistant coating that cuts cherry cracking in half

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- A tissue-thin, food-grade film developed at Oregon State University acts like a raincoat for sweet cherries, cutting rain-related cracking of the fruit in half and potentially saving a whole season’s crop.

The stretchy spray-on biofilm, patented as SureSeal, was developed by Clive Kaiser, an OSU horticulturist and Extension tree-fruit expert, and OSU pharmacist J. Mark Christensen. SureSeal is a proprietary mix of natural chemicals similar to those found in the outer skins of cherries and blueberries. Its main ingredients are cellulose, palm oil-based wax and calcium.

Growers spray it onto their trees twice per season in a water-based emulsion. Tiny droplets of the film cohere on the fruit and leaves, forming an edible, elastic, water-resistant bandage about 13 microns thick. The bandage stretches as the fruit grows, staying on through harvest to market and table.

Spring rainstorms – common in cherry-growing country – can crack cherries so badly they’re not worth picking, said OSU horticulturist Lynn Long. An Extension expert in tree fruits, Long conducted field trials of SureSeal in orchards in Oregon’s Wasco and Hood River counties from 2008 through 2014 and helped develop the final commercial formulation.

His field testing in 2007-08 showed that rainfall in late June and early July caused between 10 percent and 27 percent of cherries to crack. Spraying with the biofilm reduced the rate of cracking by at least 50 percent, and more in some cases.

Damage to cherries can vary widely from season to season, depending on how much it rains at critical points in the ripening.

“If rain damage exceeds 25 percent of the crop, you can’t harvest; the economics don’t support it,” said Long. “But if you can reduce cracking to 12 percent, you’ve got a chance to salvage a crop that would otherwise have been lost. That’s pretty significant.”

Long and Kaiser also conducted controlled tests in orchards in Norway, where cool seasons and rainy weather make cherries even more prone to cracking. In the 2008 season, almost one-quarter of the untreated cherries cracked from the rain, while 17 percent of the treated cherries cracked.

Norway’s climate, said Long, may explain why results there were less dramatic than in Oregon: Cherries will also crack when soils get saturated and water gets drawn into the fruit from inside. “Nothing you spray on a tree,” he said, “can protect cherries against that.”

In Norway, fruit cracking was reduced to 10 percent when the biofilm treatment was combined with plastic ground covers that drew rainwater away from trees’ roots.

Christensen holds a patent on a similar film-like coating that he invented to enable pulse-release dosages of oral medications. Kaiser had worked on food-grade biofilms in his native South Africa before coming to OSU in 2006.

“When I learned about Mark’s work,” said Kaiser, “I wandered over to (the College of) Pharmacy and asked him if we might produce a hydrophobic film for cherry trees. He said he thought we could give it a go.”

The product is completely safe to eat, said Christensen. Each ingredient is either on the Food and Drug Administration’s “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list or the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of inert ingredients in registered pesticides.

He added that a 2013 trial in Washington found that SureSeal-sprayed fruit had higher residual levels of some insecticides and fungicides. However, these levels did not exceed the thresholds set by the EPA for U.S.-produced cherries, and the study concluded there was no additional risk to human health.

Oregon has about 12,500 acres of sweet cherries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Oregon growers sold $78.4 million worth of sweet cherries in 2014.

Funds for the initial research that led to SureSeal came from a company that ultimately chose not to commercialize the product, said Berry Treat, director of OSU’s Office of Commercialization and Corporate Development. The university licensed the SureSeal technology to another company, Nevada-based Cultiva LLC, in 2013.

Cultiva manufactures SureSeal-based products and markets them under its own trade names. In 2014, the company released a formulation for blueberries, and is now working on a third for apples. The inventors and OSU share a 5 percent royalty on all revenue derived from SureSeal technology.

Parka, Cultiva’s product for cherries, is now in its third commercial season. The two recommended spring applications cost growers about $75 per acre each. Long estimated that the product could save $16,500 worth of cherries per acre in a rainy Oregon spring.

Cultiva expects to sell 29,000 gallons of product to about 300 cherry and blueberry growers in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Georgia, said Sean Musser, the company’s vice president for business development. SureSeal-based products are also being marketed in Canada, Chile and Australia.

Story By: 
Source: 

Lynn Long, 541-296-5494;

Clive Kaiser, 541-938-5597

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

cherries

Oregon sweet-cherry growers now have a rain-resistant coating to prevent fruit cracking. Photo by Betsy Hartley.

OSU uses unmanned aircraft to take temperatures up in the air

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For the first time, scientists at Oregon State University are measuring atmospheric temperatures with fiber optic thermometers suspended from unmanned aircraft—combining two emerging technologies to probe a poorly understood swath of Earth’s atmosphere.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, John Selker is buying two new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to loft sophisticated measuring instruments of his own design into an atmospheric zone that’s been hard to study until now.

“These two technologies together will add orders of magnitude to the precision and resolution of our atmospheric measurements,” said Selker, a hydrologist and professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’ll be able to take a continuous slice of data through space and time, getting information that no one has been able to capture before.”

The high-powered thermometers use a down-to-earth technology: fiber-optic cable, similar to that used for telephone and internet communication. By measuring tiny pulses of light zipping along spun-glass strands, the fiber cables capture thousands of temperature readings along their length, detecting differences as slight as 0.01 degree Celsius.

In early-morning test flights near Hermiston, Selker’s OSU colleagues Michael Wing and Chad Higgins suspended a 400-foot sensing cable—not much thicker than a kite string—from an OSU-owned quad copter. They flew the aircraft at 30 miles an hour, sending it high enough that the tip of the cable just touched the ground. The cable reported temperatures every 13 centimeters.

The researchers started their flights at sunrise because they wanted to see how the atmosphere develops in the boundary layer, the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere, as the sun’s heat begins to move the air.

The Earth’s surface and near atmosphere—up to about 1,000 meters above the ground—is a critical zone of feedbacks between air, water and earth, Selker said. “It’s where processes interact, where synergies occur. And temperature is a critical driver of these interactions.”

Until now, he said, scientists have had a hard time taking comprehensive measurements of the lower atmosphere.

“Typically, you’d have to take readings from a fixed point, a tower or a balloon,” Selker said. “Now, instead of measuring one or two or three points at a time, we can measure a million points.”

Such detailed measurements promise to shed light on how clouds and rainstorms develop, how air pollution gets diluted, how pollen moves across the landscape and other important atmospheric dynamics, he said.

Selker’s sensors have captured data from land and sea—an old-growth forest canopy, the Pacific Ocean floor, Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. Until now, there hasn’t been an easy way to deploy them in the air.

UAVs equipped with fiber-optic sensors represent “a fundamentally new way to look at the lower atmosphere,” Selker said. “It’s like living with 20-200 vision and then getting a good pair of glasses. You see a different universe.”

UAVs—popularly known as drones—are best known for their military uses, but they have found many civilian applications, including precision agriculture, traffic surveillance and wilderness rescue. They are a boon to environmental scientists, Selker said, because they can carry measuring instruments into places where it’s difficult or dangerous to send humans, or where other technology can’t easily reach.

Selker’s UAVs will join a growing suite of instruments and tools at the Center for Transformative Environmental Monitoring, or CTEMPs, an NSF-sponsored partnership between OSU and the University of Nevada-Reno. CTEMPs has a fleet of scientific instruments that it makes available, along with training, to environmental scientists throughout the United States.

Selker is a co-director of CTEMPs along with Scott Tyler of the University of Nevada. Wing is director of AirCTEMPs and directs UAV flights at OSU for agriculture, engineering, fish, wildlife and natural resource applications.

The $1.2 million NSF grant renewal will also fund CTEMPs’s purchase of other UAV-mountable instruments, including thermal imaging cameras and a small LIDAR, or laser-powered imaging tool, that captures three-dimensional measurements of landscape features.

Story By: 
Source: 

John Selker, 541-737-6304;

Michael Wing, 541-737-4009

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

UAV with fiber optic cable

OSU scientist Michael Wing flies a UAV equipped with a fiber-optic temperature sensing cable over farm fields near Hermiston, Ore. Photo by Robert Predosa

 

UAV with fiber optic cable. Photo by Robert Predosa

UAV flies over clouds in eastern Oregon.

Climate change, plant roots may accelerate carbon loss from soils, say OSU researchers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Soil, long thought to be a semi-permanent storehouse for ancient carbon, may be releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than anyone thought, according to Oregon State University soil scientists.

In a study published in this week’s online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes.

The carbon then passes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), said the study’s coauthor, Markus Kleber, a soil scientist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

He said the study challenges the prevailing view that carbon bonded to minerals stays in the soil for thousands of years. “As these root compounds separate the carbon from its protective mineral phase,” he said, “we may see a greater release of carbon from its storage sites in the soil.”

It’s likely that a warming climate is speeding this process up, he said. As warmer weather and more carbon dioxide in the air stimulate plants to grow, they produce more root compounds. This will likely release more stored carbon, which will enter the atmosphere as CO2—which could in turn accelerate the rate of climate warming.

“Our main concern is that this is an important mechanism, and we are not presently considering it in global models of carbon cycling,” Kleber said.

CO2 is a major driver of the current warming of Earth’s atmosphere. By failing to account for accelerated soil-carbon decomposition, the study suggests, current climate-change models may be underestimating carbon loss from soil by as much as 1 percent per year.

“There is more carbon stored in the soil, on a global scale, than in vegetation or even in the atmosphere,” said Kleber. “Since this reservoir is so large, even small changes will have serious effects on carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and by extension on climate.”

One percent may not sound like much, he added. “But think of it this way: If you have money in the bank and you lose 1 percent per year, you would be down to two thirds of your starting capital after only 50 years.”

Between 60 and 80 percent of organic matter entering the soil gets broken down within the first year in a chain of decomposition that ends with CO2, Kleber said. Most of the remaining carbon gets bound to the soil’s minerals through a variety of physical and chemical mechanisms. When this happens, the carbon is protected because the microbes can’t get at it to break it down.

For the past couple of decades, scientists have assumed that these carbon-mineral bonds amounted to a long-lasting “sink” for soil carbon—keeping it out of the atmosphere by storing it in a stable form over many centuries.

“But from the beginning, there was a question that made a lot of folks uneasy,” said Kleber. “If carbon keeps going into the soil and staying there, then why aren’t we drowning in carbon? Isn’t there some process that takes it back into the cycle? That part was not very well researched, and it was what we were trying to find.”

The researchers tested three model compounds for common “root exudates”—chemicals commonly excreted by plant roots—to see how strongly each one stimulated the microbes that drive organic-matter decomposition.

In the laboratory, using a syringe and pump, they applied oxalic acid, acetic acid and glucose to soil taken from a dry-climate agricultural area and a wet-climate forest, both in Oregon. They conducted the experiment over 35 days to simulate a flush of root growth in the spring.

Prevailing theory, said Kleber, would predict that the hungry microbes would respond most strongly to the nutritious glucose, which would give them the energy to tackle the rest of the organic matter, including the carbon.

“And this is likely happening to a certain extent,” he said. “But our big surprise was that the energy-poor oxalic acid generated a much stronger response from the microbes than the energy-rich glucose.”

When they analyzed the water stored in the oxalic acid-treated soil, the researchers saw there was eight times more dissolved carbon in it than there had been before. Additional laboratory tests confirmed the finding that the acids were breaking the carbon-mineral bonds.

“The significance of this research,” Kleber said, “is that we have documented for the first time a mechanism by which long-stored soil carbon is cycled back into the system.”

Oxalic acid is a good stand-in for a whole suite of root compounds that are excreted by plants in the root zone, Kleber said. “Roots excrete several compounds similar to oxalic acid. We can assume that many root exudates act in a similar way.”

Kleber collaborated on the study with his doctoral student Marco Keiluweit and researchers from Australia and the United States. The work was funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant and directed by Jennifer Pett-Ridge at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

Story By: 
Source: 

Markus Kleber, 541-737-5718

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Kleber002TW

Markus Kleber is a soil scientist at Oregon State University.

Baby boomers dance and cook their way to health in new OSU program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A group of Deschutes County baby boomers got their groove on as music from a Wiggles children’s tape streamed from speakers. Behind them a kitchen was ready for the brain-beneficial menu next on the agenda. The fun had just begun.

It was the first day of a four-part Nourishing Boomers and Beyond program, a pilot project by Oregon State University’s Extension Service in Deschutes County in partnership with North Dakota State University, where the curriculum was developed.

The plan is to repeat the course in June and have the program picked up by other counties, said Glenda Hyde, an Extension family and community health educator who started the project. Created to help boomers prevent chronic diseases by taking charge of their health, the course touches on strategies for nourishing the brain, skin, digestive system and heart.

Patty Stark, who has taken several classes through Extension, including canning and food preservation, heard about the class and thought, “Gosh, that sounds great. I figured I could really benefit from it.”

After the first class, she was convinced. The dancing, she said, was a kick, and she’d had no idea how important it is for brain health.

“I went home and told my husband that the research shows dancing is one of the best things you can do for memory and preventing Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Maybe we’ll dance more now.”

The cooking segment was even more meaningful for Stark, who is gluten intolerant and has a family history of heart attacks, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Learning to make a gluten-free blueberry buckle made an impression on her, as did a salmon salad with lemon-tarragon dressing.

“Oh yeah, that was a really nice salad,” she said. “I try to eat healthy, but we go out quite a bit. That was definitely something I’ll try at home.”

In the second class on caring for your skin, Hyde introduced facial masks made with ingredients like avocado, whipping cream, carrot, yogurt and flaxseed. She asked everyone to make and try one.

“It was a hoot,” Hyde said. “They made two and put one on each side of their faces. They put the yogurt one on one side first and it was really good. But then they put the second one on the other cheek and, holy smokes, they said they could tell a big difference between the two.”

When the class made oven-roasted sweet potatoes with walnuts, brown sugar and spices, they found out sweet potatoes are even more full of cancer-fighting antioxidants than blueberries. The gluten-free, whole-grain cornbread made with brown and white rice flour, potato and tapioca starch was a revelation, too.

“Nobody could believe how good it was,” Hyde said, adding that ingredients provided by sponsor Bob’s Red Mill went home with participants to encourage them to make the cornbread and other recipes on their own.

Hyde taught more hands-on cooking in the classes on the digestive system and heart, including a popular breakfast dish of whole-grain polenta, wilted spinach, grated Parmesan cheese, mango and just a bit of sausage.

“That went over really well,” she said. “The whole Boomers and Beyond course went over well. Everyone soaked up the information we gave them and everyone had fun, too.”

Story By: 
Source: 

Glenda Hyde, 541-548-6088

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Nourishing Boomers and Beyond

Patty Stark dishes up smoked salmon salad, a recipe she learned in the Nourishing Boomers and Beyond course in Deschutes County. Photo by Glenda Hyde.