OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of science

Red grapes, blueberries may enhance immune function

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In an analysis of 446 compounds for their the ability to boost the innate immune system in humans, researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University discovered just two that stood out from the crowd – the resveratrol found in red grapes and a compound called pterostilbene from blueberries.

Both of these compounds, which are called stilbenoids, worked in synergy with vitamin D and had a significant impact in raising the expression of the human cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide, or CAMP gene, that is involved in immune function.

The findings were made in laboratory cell cultures and do not prove that similar results would occur as a result of dietary intake, the scientists said, but do add more interest to the potential of some foods to improve the immune response.

The research was published today in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, in studies supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Out of a study of hundreds of compounds, just these two popped right out,” said Adrian Gombart, an LPI principal investigator and associate professor in the OSU College of Science. “Their synergy with vitamin D to increase CAMP gene expression was significant and intriguing. It’s a pretty interesting interaction.”

Resveratrol has been the subject of dozens of studies for a range of possible benefits, from improving cardiovascular health to fighting cancer and reducing inflammation. This research is the first to show a clear synergy with vitamin D that increased CAMP expression by several times, scientists said.

The CAMP gene itself is also the subject of much study, as it has been shown to play a key role in the “innate” immune system, or the body’s first line of defense and ability to combat bacterial infection. The innate immune response is especially important as many antibiotics increasingly lose their effectiveness.

A strong link has been established between adequate vitamin D levels and the function of the CAMP gene, and the new research suggests that certain other compounds may play a role as well.

Stilbenoids are compounds produced by plants to fight infections, and in human biology appear to affect some of the signaling pathways that allow vitamin D to do its job, researchers said. It appears that combining these compounds with vitamin D has considerably more biological impact than any of them would separately.

Continued research could lead to a better understanding of how diet and nutrition affect immune function, and possibly lead to the development of therapeutically useful natural compounds that could boost the innate immune response, the researchers said in their report.

Despite the interest in compounds such as resveratrol and pterostilbene, their bioavailability remains a question, the researchers said. Some applications that may evolve could be with topical use to improve barrier defense in wounds or infections, they said.

The regulation of the CAMP gene by vitamin D was discovered by Gombart, and researchers are still learning more about how it and other compounds affect immune function. The unique biological pathways involved are found in only two groups of animals – humans and non-human primates. Their importance in the immune response could be one reason those pathways have survived through millions of years of separate evolution of these species.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Adrian Gombart, 541-737-8018

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Blueberries

Blueberries


Grapes

Red grapes

Viruses associated with coral epidemic of “white plague”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – They call it the “white plague,” and like its black counterpart from the Middle Ages, it conjures up visions of catastrophic death, with a cause that was at first uncertain even as it led to widespread destruction – on marine corals in the Caribbean Sea.

Now one of the possible causes of this growing disease epidemic has been identified – a group of viruses that are known as small, circular, single-strand DNA (or SCSD) viruses. Researchers in the College of Science at Oregon State University say these SCSD viruses are associated with a dramatic increase in the white plague that has erupted in recent decades.

Prior to this, it had been believed that the white plague was caused primarily by bacterial pathogens. Researchers are anxious to learn more about this disease and possible ways to prevent it, because its impact on coral reef health has exploded.

“Twenty years ago you had to look pretty hard to find any occurrences of this disease, and now it’s everywhere,” said Nitzan Soffer, a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology at OSU and lead author on a new study just published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology. “It moves fast and can wipe out a small coral colony in a few days.

“In recent years the white plague has killed 70-80 percent of some coral reefs,” Soffer said. “There are 20 or more unknown pathogens that affect corals and in the past we’ve too-often overlooked the role of viruses, which sometimes can spread very fast.”

This is one of the first studies to show viral association with a severe disease epidemic, scientists said. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Marine wildlife diseases are increasing in prevalence, the researchers pointed out. Reports of non-bleaching coral disease have increased more than 50 times since 1965, and are contributing to declines in coral abundance and cover.

White plague is one of the worst. It causes rapid tissue loss, affects many species of coral, and can cause partial or total colony mortality. Some, but not all types are associated with bacteria. Now it appears that viruses also play a role. Corals with white plague disease have higher viral diversity than their healthy counterparts, the study concluded.

Increasing temperatures that stress corals and make them more vulnerable may be part of the equation, because the disease often appears to be at its worst by the end of summer. Overfishing that allows more algae to grow on corals may help spread pathogens, researchers said, as can pollution caused by sewage outflows in some marine habitats.

Viral infection, by itself, does not necessarily cause major problems, the researchers noted. Many healthy corals are infected with herpes-like viruses that are persistent but not fatal, as in many other vertebrate hosts, including humans.

Media Contact: 
Source: 
Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Coral disease

Coral with white plague


Marine research

Taking samples

Noted researcher to speak at OSU commencement in June

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Ann A. Kiessling, director of the independent Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation and a leader in both stem cell research and reproductive biology, will give the commencement address at Oregon State University’s graduation ceremony this spring.

Kiessling also will receive an honorary doctorate from the university at its 145th commencement, which begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in Reser Stadium.

“Ann Kiessling is a nationally recognized researcher and pioneer whose work in cutting-edge fields of stem cell research and the HIV virus should make for an enlightening talk for our graduates,” said Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray. “She has had a remarkable career that launched at Oregon State, where she earned her Ph.D.”

Kiessling, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from Oregon State, joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1985, specializing in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, and working in the Department of Surgery. In the early 1990s, she pioneered reproductive options for couples living with the HIV disease and hepatitis C – techniques that led to the successful births of 121 children free of those diseases.

The Bedford Research Foundation was founded in 1996 as a Massachusetts public charity to support research. By the year 2000, the foundation’s research laboratory expanded to include human stem cell research. To date, the foundation has collaborated with more than 60 clinics globally to find treatment for infectious diseases and spinal cord injuries. Foundation officials say their belief is that international scientific collaboration is fundamentally important to rapid biomedical advances.

Kiessling’s book, “Human Embryonic Stem Cells: An Introduction to the Science and Therapeutic Potential,” published in 2003 and re-released in 2006, is the first textbook on the topic.

Before joining the Harvard University faculty, Kiessling had a faculty appointment at Oregon Health & Science University, where she worked from 1977-85.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111; Sabah.randhawa@oregonstate.edu

Pass the salt: Common condiment could enable new high-tech industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemists at Oregon State University have identified a compound that could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures – materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage.

This extraordinary compound is called table salt.

Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal.

By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.

The concept, surprising in its simplicity, should open the door to wider use of these remarkable materials that have stimulated scientific research all over the world.

“This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts.

“The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”

Silicon, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, has already created a revolution in electronics. But silicon nanostructures, which are complex structures much smaller than a speck of dust, have potential that goes far beyond the element itself.

Uses are envisioned in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage.

Batteries are one of the most obvious and possibly first applications that may emerge from this field, Ji said. It should be possible with silicon nanostructures to create batteries – for anything from a cell phone to an electric car – that last nearly twice as long before they need recharging.

Existing technologies to make silicon nanostructures are costly, and simpler technologies in the past would not work because they required such high temperatures. Ji developed a methodology that mixed sodium chloride and magnesium with diatomaceous earth, a cheap and abundant form of silicon.

When the temperature reached 801 degrees centigrade, the salt melted and absorbed heat in the process. This basic chemical concept – a solid melting into a liquid absorbs heat – kept the nanostructure from collapsing.

The sodium chloride did not contaminate or otherwise affect the reaction, researchers said. Scaling reactions such as this up to larger commercial levels should be feasible, they said.

The study also created, for the first time with this process, nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium. These could have wide applications in semiconductors, thermoelectric materials and electrochemical energy devices.

Funding for the research was provided by OSU. Six other researchers from the Department of Chemistry and the OSU Department of Chemical Engineering also collaborated on the work.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

David Xiulei Ji, 541-737-6798

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Silicon nanostructure

Silicon nanostructures


Table salt

Table salt

Lionfish expedition: down deep is where the big, scary ones live

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Last month, the first expedition to use a deep-diving submersible to study the Atlantic Ocean lionfish invasion found something very disturbing – at 300 feet deep, there were still significant populations of these predatory fish, and they were big.

Big fish in many species can reproduce much more efficiently than their younger, smaller counterparts, and lionfish are known to travel considerable distances and move to various depths. This raises significant new concerns in the effort to control this invasive species that is devastating native fish populations on the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

“We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise,” said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, who participated in the dives. OSU has been one of the early leaders in the study of the lionfish invasion.

“This was kind of an ‘Ah hah!’ moment,” she said. “It was immediately clear that this is a new frontier in the lionfish crisis, and that something is going to have to be done about it. Seeing it up-close really brought home the nature of the problem.”

OSU participated in this expedition with researchers from a number of other universities, in work supported by Nova Southeastern University, the Guy Harvey Foundation, NOAA, and other agencies. The five-person  submersible “Antipodes” was provided by OceanGate, Inc., and it dove about 300 feet deep off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., near the “Bill Boyd” cargo ship that was intentionally sunk there in 1986 to create an artificial reef for marine life.

That ship has, in fact, attracted a great deal of marine life, and now, a great number of lionfish. And for that species, they are growing to an unusually large size – as much as 16 inches.

Lionfish are a predatory fish that’s native to the Pacific Ocean and were accidentally introduced to Atlantic Ocean waters in the early 1990s, and there became a voracious predator with no natural controls on its population. An OSU study in 2008 showed that lionfish in the Atlantic have been known to reduce native fish populations by up to 80 percent.

Eradication appears impossible, and they threaten everything from coral reef ecosystems to local economies that are based on fishing and tourism.

Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific – and researchers around the world are trying to find out what that is – is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrain, are largely ignored by other local predators and parasites, and are rapidly eating their way through entire ecosystems. They will attack many other species and appear to eat constantly.

And, unfortunately, the big fish just discovered at greater depths pose that much more of a predatory threat, not to mention appetite.

“A lionfish will eat almost any fish smaller than it is,” Green said. “Regarding the large fish we observed in the submersible dives, a real concern is that they could migrate to shallower depths as well and eat many of the fish there. And the control measures we’re using at shallower depths – catch them and let people eat them – are not as practical at great depth.”

Size does more than just increase predation.  In many fish species, a large, mature adult can produce far more offspring that small, younger fish. A large, mature female in some species can produce up to 10 times as many offspring as a fish that’s able to reproduce, but half the size.

Trapping is a possibility for removing fish at greater depth, Green said, and could be especially effective if a method were developed to selectively trap lionfish and not other species. Work on control technologies and cost effectiveness of various approaches will continue at OSU, she said.

When attacking another fish, a lionfish uses its large, fan-like fins to herd smaller fish into a corner and then swallow them in a rapid strike. Because of their natural defense mechanisms they are afraid of almost no other marine life, and will consume dozens of species of the tropical fish and invertebrates that typically congregate in coral reefs and other areas. The venom released by their sharp spines can cause extremely painful stings to humans.

Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish will also set the stage for seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist.

This newest threat follows on the heels of overfishing, sediment deposition, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions. Lionfish may be the final straw that breaks the back of Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs, some researchers believe.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Stephanie Green, 541-737-5364

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Submersible research

Submersible in Florida


Exploring sunken ship

Lionfish near sunken ship


Lionfish

Lionfish

Bullfrogs may help spread deadly amphibian fungus, but also die from it

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amphibian populations are declining worldwide and a major cause is a deadly fungus thought to be spread by bullfrogs, but a two-year study shows they can also die from this pathogen, contrary to suggestions that bullfrogs are a tolerant carrier host that just spreads the disease.

When researchers raised the frogs from eggs in controlled experimental conditions, they found at least one strain of this pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also called Bd or a chytrid fungus, can be fatal to year-old juveniles. However, bullfrogs were resistant to one other strain that was tested.

The findings, made by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Pittsburgh, show that bullfrogs are not the sole culprit in the spread of this deadly fungus, and add further complexity to the question of why amphibians are in such serious jeopardy.

About 40 percent of all amphibian species are declining or are already extinct, researchers say. Various causes are suspected, including this fungus, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, invasive species, increased UV-B light exposure, and other forces.

“At least so far as the chytrid fungus is involved, bullfrogs may not be the villains they are currently made out to be,” said Stephanie Gervasi, a zoology researcher in the OSU College of Science. “The conventional wisdom is that bullfrogs, as a tolerant host, are what helped spread this fungus all over the world. But we’ve now shown they can die from it just like other amphibians.”

The research suggests that bullfrogs actually are not a very good host for the fungus, which first was identified as a novel disease of amphibians in 1998. So why the fungus has spread so fast, so far, and is causing such mortality rates is still not clear.

“One possibility for the fungal increase is climate change, which can also compromise the immune systems of amphibians,” said Andrew Blaustein, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and international leader in the study of amphibian declines. “There are a lot of possible ways the fungus can spread. People can even carry it on their shoes.”

The average infection load of the chytrid fungus in bullfrogs, regardless of the strain, is considerably lower than that of many other amphibian species, researchers have found. Some bullfrogs can reduce and even get rid of infection in their skin over time.

While adult bullfrogs may be carriers of some strains of Bd in some areas, the researchers concluded, different hosts may be as or more important in other locations. International trade of both amphibian and non-amphibian animal species may also drive global pathogen distribution, they said.

The findings of this study were published in EcoHealth, a professional journal.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Andrew Blaustein, 541-737-3705

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Bullfrog

Bullfrog

“eButterfly” can change a summer hobby into a scientific venture

CORVALLIS, Ore. – With the arrival of sunny summer days and creation of a new “citizen science” project called eButterfly, every seven-year-old child in the United States and Canada just gained the ability to become a working scientist.

This project, which is now online at e-butterfly.org, is one of the first of its type, and will allow everyone from children to senior citizens to record the butterflies they see or collect, build a virtual butterfly collection, share their sightings with others, and contribute to a scientific record of global change.

It’s free, and all you need to get started are a sharp eye, an interest in nature and a computer.

“We expect global changes in climate and other forces to have serious impacts on butterfly populations around the world,” said Katy Prudic, a research scientist at Oregon State University and founder and director of this project in the U.S. “There are estimates of general declines over 30 percent and localized extinctions.”

Butterflies, an important part of many ecosystems, are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, population growth, urban sprawl, changes in land and water use, and many other forces, Prudic said. Experts have the ability with powerful computers to interpret these changes and better understand how they are affecting biodiversity – but they don’t have the manpower to gather all the data.

“What we need, and what we believe eButterfly will provide, is thousands of individuals collecting data on butterfly sightings all over the U.S. and Canada, for decades to come,” Prudic said. “This will be a wonderful opportunity for people to get involved in science, appreciate nature and our changing world, and interact with and enjoy biodiversity.”

Because the project taps into the natural interests of children, both rural and urban, who have been chasing butterflies and making collections for centuries, it also offers an entry into the world of science at a very young age, organizers say. Their contributions will be just as valuable as those of an adult hobbyist or working professional, and in the process they can learn about ecology, botany, entomology, geography, computers, data management, global change issues, and other science disciplines.

Slight changes in temperature and other climate factors, experts say, cause changes in butterfly development, migration, eating habits, and other behavior. Butterflies are also a good indicator of the availability of certain plants on which various species depend. And changes are inevitable.

“With the amount of global warming expected in the next 20 years, almost all butterfly species will move somewhat, in location or elevation,” Prudic said. “There may be winners and losers as these changes take place, and some species will struggle more than others. With the data we gather from this project we can monitor those changes and understand the impact on biodiversity.”

The new web site offers a tutorial in how to use it, and simple features such as a map that you can zoom in on, to provide exact latitude and longitudes of butterfly sightings. Experts will review entries for accuracy, and people will be encouraged to take digital photos to help verify their sightings.

Data from new sightings will be combined in this project with historical information from a century of museum collections, organizers say, to provide some historic perspective almost immediately.

This project is being developed in collaboration with the Montreal Space for Life, the University of Ottawa, the University of Alberta, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. A system for recording butterfly sightings in Mexico is not yet available, organizers said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Katy Prudic, 541-737-5736

Four Oregon State University students honored by Barry M. Goldwater Foundation

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Three Oregon State University students have been awarded the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an annual award given to the nation’s top undergraduate student research scholars in science, math and engineering by the federally endowed Goldwater Foundation.

A fourth student has received an honorable mention, making this OSU’s most successful year ever in the annual competition.

“Each campus is allowed to nominate four students for the award and for the first time, all four students nominated by OSU were recognized by the national Goldwater selection committee,” said Kevin Ahern, director of undergraduate research at Oregon State.

The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

The four awardees are all students in the University Honors College and the College of Science.

Helen Hobbs, a junior from Butte, Mont., is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. She is a two-time participant in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program and is researching the molecular basis of aging with professor Tory Hagen. She aspires to a research career.

Thomas Pitts, a junior from Ontario, Ore., is a math major conducting research in mathematics education and theoretical mathematics, with an emphasis on algebra and number theory. He has worked in OSU’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program and studies under professor Tevian Dray. His goal is research and teaching at the university level.

Justin Zhang, a junior from Beaverton, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. He has worked with associate professor Jeffrey Greenwood since his freshman year studying glioblastoma, a type of malignant brain cancer. Zhang has done internships at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sloan-Kettering. He is looking forward to a research career in human health.

James Rekow, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry/biophysics from Portland, works with associate professor Andrew Buermeyer on mechanisms of DNA repair and mutation relating to colon cancer. He has been involved in undergraduate research since his freshman year, including an internship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After attaining his Ph.D. in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Rekow plans to conduct research in genetic toxicology and teach at the university level.

The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, according to Peggy Goldwater Clay, who chairs the foundation’s board of trustees.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Kevin Ahern, 541-737-2305

College of Science

About the OSU College of Science:  As one of the largest academic units at OSU, the College of Science has seven departments and 12 pre-professional programs. It provides the basic science courses essential to the education of every OSU student, builds future leaders in science, and its faculty are international leaders in scientific research.

 

 

Discovery opens door to new drug options for serious diseases

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have discovered how oxidative stress can turn to the dark side a cellular protein that’s usually benign, and make it become a powerful, unwanted accomplice in neuronal death.

This finding, reported today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could ultimately lead to new therapeutic approaches to many of the world’s debilitating or fatal diseases.

The research explains how one form of oxidative stress called tyrosine nitration can lead to cell death. Through the common link of inflammation, this may relate to health problems ranging from heart disease to chronic pain, spinal injury, cancer, aging, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

As part of the work, the scientists also identified a specific “chaperone” protein damaged by oxidants, which is getting activated in this spiral of cellular decline and death. This insight will provide a new approach to design therapeutic drugs.

The findings were published by scientists from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University; Maria Clara Franco and Alvaro Estevez, now at the University of Central Florida; and researchers from several other institutions. They culminate a decade of work.

“These are very exciting results and could begin a major shift in medicine,” said Joseph Beckman.

Beckman is an LPI principal investigator, distinguished professor of biochemistry, and director of the OSU Environmental Health Sciences Center. He also last year received the Discovery Award from the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon, given to the leading medical scientist in the state.

“Preventing this process of tyrosine nitration may protect against a wide range of degenerative diseases,” Beckman said. “The study shows that drugs could effectively target oxidatively damaged proteins.”

Scientists have known for decades about the general concept of oxidative damage to cells, resulting in neurodegeneration, inflammation and aging. But the latest findings prove that some molecules in a cell are thousands of times more sensitive to attack.

In this case, heat shock protein 90, or HSP90, helps monitor and chaperone as many as 200 necessary cell functions. But it can acquire a toxic function after nitration of a single tyrosine residue.

“It was difficult to believe that adding one nitro group to one protein will make it toxic enough to kill a motor neuron,” Beckman said. “But nitration of HSP90 was shown to activate a pro-inflammatory receptor called P2X7. This begins a dangerous spiral that eventually leads to the death of motor neurons.”

The very specificity of this attack, however, is part of what makes the new findings important. Drugs that could prevent or reduce oxidative attack on these most vulnerable sites in a cell might have value against a wide range of diseases.

“Most people think of things like heart disease, cancer, aging, liver disease, even the damage from spinal injury as completely different medical issues,” Beckman said. “To the extent they can often be traced back to inflammatory processes that are caused by oxidative attack and cellular damage, they can be more similar than different.

“It could be possible to develop therapies with value against many seemingly different health problems,” Beckman added.

Beckman has spent much of his career studying the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and this study suggested the processes outlined in this study might be relevant both to that disease and spinal cord injury.

One key to this research involved new methods that allowed researchers to genetically engineer nitrotyrosine into HSP90. This allowed scientists to pin down the exact areas of damage, which may be important in the identification of drugs that could affect this process, the researchers said.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Burke Medical Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, the ALS Association and other agencies.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Joseph Beckman, 541-737-8867

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Death of a motor neuron

Tyrosine nitration