OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of science

“Flipping the switch” reveals new compounds with antibiotic potential

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that one gene in a common fungus acts as a master regulator, and deleting it has opened access to a wealth of new compounds that have never before been studied – with the potential to identify new antibiotics.

The finding was announced today in the journal PLOS Genetics, in research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Scientists succeeded in flipping a genetic switch that had silenced more than 2,000 genes in this fungus, the cereal pathogen Fusarium graminearum. Until now this had kept it from producing novel compounds that may have useful properties, particularly for use in medicine but also perhaps in agriculture, industry, or biofuel production.

“About a third of the genome of many fungi has always been silent in the laboratory,” said Michael Freitag, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the OSU College of Science. “Many fungi have antibacterial properties. It was no accident that penicillin was discovered from a fungus, and the genes for these compounds are usually in the silent regions of genomes.

“What we haven’t been able to do is turn on more of the genome of these fungi, see the full range of compounds that could be produced by expression of their genes,” he said. “Our finding should open the door to the study of dozens of new compounds, and we’ll probably see some biochemistry we’ve never seen before.”

In the past, the search for new antibiotics was usually done by changing the environment in which a fungus or other life form grew, and see if those changes generated the formation of a compound with antibiotic properties.

“The problem is, with the approaches of the past we’ve already found most of the low-hanging fruit, and that’s why we’ve had to search in places like deep sea vents or corals to find anything new,” Freitag said. “With traditional approaches there’s not that much left to be discovered. But now that we can change the genome-wide expression of fungi, we may see a whole new range of compounds we didn’t even know existed.”

The gene that was deleted in this case regulates the methylation of histones, the proteins around which DNA is wound, Freitag said. Creating a mutant without this gene allowed new expression, or overexpression of about 25 percent of the genome of this fungus, and the formation of many “secondary metabolites,” the researchers found.

The gene that was deleted, kmt6, encodes a master regulator that affects the expression of hundreds of genetic pathways, researchers say. It’s been conserved through millions of years, in life forms as diverse as plants, fungi, fruit flies and humans.

The discovery of new antibiotics is of increasing importance, researchers say, as bacteria, parasites and fungi are becoming increasingly resistant to older drugs.

“Our studies will open the door to future precise ‘epigenetic engineering’ of gene clusters that generate bioactive compounds, e.g. putative mycotoxins, antibiotics and industrial feedstocks,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion of their report.

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Michael Freitag, 541-737-4845

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Pigments produced



Fungal infection in corn

Fungus on corn

Breakthrough in study of aluminum should yield new technological advances

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon today announced a scientific advance that has eluded researchers for more than 100 years – a platform to study and fully understand the aqueous chemistry of aluminum, one of the world’s most important metals.

The findings, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, should open the door to significant advances in electronics and many other fields, ranging from manufacturing to construction, agriculture and drinking water treatment.

Aluminum, in solution with water, affects the biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and anthrosphere, the scientists said in their report. It may be second only to iron in its importance to human civilization. But for a century or more, and despite the multitude of products based on it, there has been no effective way to explore the enormous variety and complexity of compounds that aluminum forms in water.

Now there is.

“This integrated platform to study aqueous aluminum is a major scientific advance,” said Douglas Keszler, a distinguished professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry.

“Research that can be done with the new platform should have important technological implications,” Keszler said. “Now we can understand aqueous aluminum clusters, see what’s there, how the atomic structure is arranged.”

Chong Fang, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, called the platform “a powerful new toolset.” It’s a way to synthesize aqueous aluminum clusters in a controlled way; analyze them with new laser techniques; and use computational chemistry to interpret the results. It’s simple and easy to use, and may be expanded to do research on other metal atoms.

“A diverse team of scientists came together to solve an important problem and open new research opportunities,” said Paul Cheong, also an OSU assistant professor of chemistry.

The fundamental importance of aluminum to life and modern civilization helps explain the significance of the advance, researchers say. It’s the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, but almost never is found in its natural state. The deposition and migration of aluminum as a mineral ore is controlled by its aqueous chemistry. It’s found in all drinking water and used worldwide for water treatment. Aqueous aluminum plays significant roles in soil chemistry and plant growth.

Aluminum is ubiquitous in cooking, eating utensils, food packaging, construction, and the automotive and aircraft industries. It’s almost 100 percent recyclable, but in commercial use is a fairly modern metal. Before electrolytic processes were developed in the late 1800s to produce it inexpensively, it was once as costly as silver.

Now, aluminum is increasingly important in electronics, particularly as a “green” component that’s cheap, widely available and environmentally benign.

Besides developing the new platform, this study also discovered one behavior for aluminum in water that had not been previously observed. This is a “flat cluster” of one form of aluminum oxide that’s relevant to large scale productions of thin films and nanoparticles, and may find applications in transistors, solar energy cells, corrosion protection, catalytic converters and other uses.

Ultimately, researchers say they expect new technologies, “green” products, lowered equipment costs, and aluminum applications that work better, cost less and have high performance.

The research was made possible, in part, by collaboration between chemists at OSU and the University of Oregon, through the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry. This is a collaboration of six research universities, which is sponsored and funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Douglas Keszler, 541-737-6736

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Aluminum in manufacturing

Aluminum manufacturing

Increasing toxicity of algal blooms tied to nutrient enrichment and climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nutrient enrichment and climate change are posing yet another concern of growing importance – an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms in freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world, which threatens aquatic organisms, ecosystem health and human drinking water safety.

As this nutrient enrichment, or “eutrophication” increases, so will the proportion of toxin-producing strains of cyanobacteria in harmful algal blooms, scientists said.

Researchers from Oregon State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will outline recent findings in an analysis Friday in the journal Science.

Cyanobacteria are some of the oldest microorganisms on Earth, dating back about 3.5 billion years to a time when the planet was void of oxygen and barren of most life. These bacteria are believed to have produced the oxygen that paved the way for terrestrial life to evolve. They are highly adaptive and persistent, researchers say, and today are once again adapting to new conditions in a way that threatens some of the life they originally made possible.

A particular concern is Microcystis sp., a near-ubiquitous cyanobacterium that thrives in warm, nutrient-rich and stagnant waters around the world. Like many cyanobacteria, it can regulate its position in the water column, and often forms green, paint-like scums near the surface.

In a high-light, oxidizing environment, microcystin-producing cyanobacteria have a survival advantage over other forms of cyanobacteria that are not toxic. Over time, they can displace the nontoxic strains, resulting in blooms that are increasingly toxic.

“Cyanobacteria are basically the cockroaches of the aquatic world,” said Timothy Otten, a postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences, whose work has been supported by the National Science Foundation. “They're the uninvited guest that just won't leave.”

“When one considers their evolutionary history and the fact that they've persisted even through ice ages and asteroid strikes, it's not surprising they're extremely difficult to remove once they’ve taken hold in a lake,” he said. “For the most part, the best we can do is to try to minimize the conditions that favor their proliferation.”

Researchers lack an extensive historical record of bloom events and their associated toxicities to put current observations into a long-term context.  However, Otten said, “If you go looking for toxin-producing cyanobacteria, chances are you won't have to look very long until you find some.”

There are more than 123,000 lakes greater than 10 acres in size spread across the United States, and based on the last EPA National Lakes Assessment, at least one-third may contain toxin-producing cyanobacteria. Dams; rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations; droughts; and increased runoff of nutrients from urban and agricultural lands are all compounding the problem.

Many large, eutrophic lakes such as Lake Erie are plagued each year by algal blooms so massive that they are visible from outer space. Dogs have died from drinking contaminated water.

Researchers studying cyanobacterial toxins say it’s improbable that their true function was to be toxic, since they actually predate any predators. New research suggests that the potent liver toxin and possible carcinogen, microcystin, has a protective role in cyanobacteria and helps them respond to oxidative stress. This is probably one of the reasons the genes involved in its biosynthesis are so widespread across cyanobacteria and have been retained over millions of years.

Because of their buoyancy and the location of toxins primarily within the cell, exposure risks are greatest near the water's surface, which raises concerns for swimming, boating and other recreational uses.

Also, since cyanobacteria blooms become entrenched and usually occur every summer in impacted systems, chronic exposure to drinking water containing these compounds is an important concern that needs more attention, Otten said.

“Water quality managers have a toolbox of options to mitigate cyanobacteria toxicity issues, assuming they are aware of the problem and compelled to act,” Otten said. “But there are no formal regulations in place on how to respond to bloom events.

“We need to increase public awareness of these issues,” he said. “With a warming climate, rising carbon dioxide levels, dams on many rivers and overloading of nutrients into our waterways, the magnitude and duration of toxic cyanobacterial blooms is only going to get worse.”

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Tim Otten, 541-737-1796

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Beyond antibiotics: “PPMOs” offer new approach to bacterial infection

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University and other institutions today announced the successful use of a new type of antibacterial agent called a PPMO, which appears to function as well or better than an antibiotic, but may be more precise and also solve problems with antibiotic resistance.

In animal studies, one form of PPMO showed significant control of two strains of Acinetobacter, a group of bacteria of global concern that has caused significant mortality among military personnel serving in Middle East combat.

The new PPMOs offer a fundamentally different attack on bacterial infection, researchers say.

They specifically target the underlying genes of a bacterium, whereas conventional antibiotics just disrupt its cellular function and often have broader, unwanted impacts. As they are further developed, PPMOs should offer a completely different and more precise approach to managing bacterial infection, or conceptually almost any disease that has an underlying genetic component.

The findings were published today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, by researchers from OSU, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Sarepta, Inc., a Corvallis, Ore., firm.

“The mechanism that PPMOs use to kill bacteria is revolutionary,” said Bruce Geller, a professor of microbiology in the OSU College of Science and lead author on the study. “They can be synthesized to target almost any gene, and in that way avoid the development of antibiotic resistance and the negative impacts sometimes associated with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

“Molecular medicine,” Geller said, “is the way of the future.”

PPMO stands for a peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer – a synthetic analog of DNA or RNA that has the ability to silence the expression of specific genes. Compared to conventional antibiotics, which are often found in nature, PPMOs are completely synthesized in the laboratory with a specific genetic target in mind.

In animal laboratory tests against A. baumannii, one of the most dangerous Acinetobacter strains, PPMOs were far more powerful than some conventional antibiotics like ampicillin, and comparable to the strongest antibiotics available today. They were also effective in cases where the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics.

PPMOs have not yet been tested in humans. However, their basic chemical structure, the PMO, has been extensively tested in humans and found safe. Although the addition of the peptide to the PPMO poses an uncertain risk of toxicity, the potency of PPMOs reduces the risk while greatly improving delivery of the PMOs into bacterial cells, Geller said.

Geller said research is being done with Acinetobacter in part because this pathogen has become a huge global problem, and is often spread in hospitals. It can cause respiratory infection, sepsis, and is a special concern to anyone whose immune system is compromised. Wounds in military battle conditions have led to numerous cases in veterans, and A. baumannii is now resistant to many antibiotics. “Urgent new approaches to therapeutics are needed,” the scientists said in their report.

Continued research and eventually human clinical trials will be required before the new compounds are available for health care, the researchers said. This and continued studies have been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the other collaborators and the N.L. Tartar fund.

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Editor’s Note: A scanning electron microscope image of A. baumannii is available online (please provide image credit as indicated at web site): http://bit.ly/GztejR

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Bruce Geller, 541-737-1845

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.

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Adrian Gombart, 541-737-8018

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Blueberries


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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.

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Scientists: Oregon dodges a ‘dead zone’ bullet in 2017; hypoxia season similar to wildfire

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon coast is now facing annual threats from hypoxia, or low oxygen, and scientists liken the phenomenon to the wildfire season the state faces every summer and fall.

The oxygen content of Oregon’s near-shore Pacific Ocean waters plummeted to dangerously low levels this summer before a timely storm arrived in mid-September to “flush” the system and ease the threat to many marine creatures. Hypoxia has become a seasonal threat. 

“We are now living on a knife edge in terms of hypoxia, and this year we crossed the threshold into danger,” said Francis Chan, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and an expert on ocean chemistry. “It was one of the worst years we have had in a while and it looked like it was going to get really bad before that storm came in.

“This is something that only happened occasionally in the 20th century, but has been taking place on a near-yearly basis for the past 15 years. The leading hypothesis for why this is happening is that the ocean is changing. Warmer water holds less oxygen, for one, but there also may be increased stratification and other factors.” 

Chan said he and his colleagues began hearing anecdotal reports about abnormal conditions and animal behavior in July. Researchers from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife collected video of crabs in a research trap dying from lack of oxygen. Marine educators at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center said crabs were leaving the ocean to enter bays and estuaries – some even burying themselves in sandy flats exposed to the air at low tide.

Researchers on survey ships run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Chan that when they sampled the ocean waters off Oregon this summer for juvenile fish, they caught almost nothing. 

Jack Barth, director of the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State and a principal investigator with the National Science Foundation-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative, retrieved data that showed the level of oxygen in the ocean off Yaquina Head – in 25 meters of water – was down to 0.5 milliliters of oxygen per liter of water. That is classified as “severe” hypoxia, he noted.

“It lasted from mid-August to early September,” Barth said, “which is enough time to do some damage, but not as bad as the event in 2006, which killed thousands of crabs and other marine organisms. Oxygen levels were down to zero that year and it persisted well into September. We were lucky this year – we dodged a bullet.” 

When water near the seafloor reaches hypoxic levels – below 1.4 milliliters of oxygen per liter of water – some fish and other creatures have the ability to flee the area and find more oxygenated water. However, some animals don’t have that ability and those that do, when the hypoxia is severe and widespread, may not find a place to go.

“The good thing is that we now have a lot of eyes on the ocean, with more and more people reporting abnormalities,” Chan said. “We can use instrumentation from the Ocean Observatories Initiative, research ships and gliders to determine where the levels of low oxygen are and when they occur, as well as where there may be areas of more oxygenated water. We are learning more each year.” 

Near-shore hypoxia, which can lead to the aforementioned marine “dead zones,” first came to researchers’ attention in 2002 when crabbers pulled up pots of dead crabs, Chan said.

“When you look back to data from the 1950s and 1960s, the low oxygen values were just not there,” he noted. “It’s been much more prevalent over the past 15 or so years. It’s like a special season out there in mid- to late-summer that we can’t see, but is very important. On land, we get smoke and fires. In the ocean, it’s dead crabs.” 

The Oregon legislature has recognized the threat and established an ocean acidification and hypoxia council, which Barth co-chairs. Chan is meeting with fishermen in October to brief them on the oceanographic data OSU has recorded, and to get their insights and observations from up and down the Oregon coast.

“Every year, things get a little weird and though we are observing more of it, there’s still a lot to learn,” Chan said. “This spring, for example, millions of pyrosomes showed up in the water – they are a luminescent, jellyfish-like sea creature that can grow up to two feet long – and no one is sure why, or if they may have contributed to the hypoxia. 

“As the ocean changes, and we experience an annual hypoxia season, we can expect more surprises.”

Chan is in OSU’s College of Science, while Barth is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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Francis Chan, 541-737-9131; chanft@science.oregonstate.edu; Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Oregon State University breaks record with $441 million in research grants

CORVALLIS, Ore. –Oregon State University crossed the $400 million threshold in grants and contracts for the first time in the fiscal year that ended June 30, including being awarded a grant to build a $122 million regional research vessel.

Oregon State received $441 million from state and federal governments, businesses and foundations for research on a wide range of projects in natural resources, health, engineering and science across the state and around the world. Federal agencies provided $315 million (71 percent), and additional funds came from state agencies, businesses and foundations.

“OSU research spurs solutions to problems and serves and involves people, communities and businesses across the state and world,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU vice president for research. “Investment in research affects our daily lives —  the food we eat, health care, the environment — and pays back dividends in economic growth for Oregonians. Researchers are starting new businesses and assisting established companies.”

Altogether, Oregon State’s research revenues leapt 31 percent over last year’s record-breaking total of $336 million. Over the past 10 years, OSU’s research revenues have more than doubled and exceed those of Oregon’s public universities combined.

OSU research totals surged in June with a $122 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a new regional research vessel, which will be stationed at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. It was the largest single grant ever received by the university.

Revenues from business and industry — including technology testing, sponsored contracts and licensing of innovations developed at the university — grew to $34 million last year, up 10 percent from the previous year.

“Our latest success is the result of hard work and strategic decisions by our faculty and partners in business, local and state government and the federal delegation,” Sagers said.

Based on past OSU research, startup companies such as Agility Robotics (animal-like robot motion), Outset Medical (at-home kidney dialysis) and Inpria (photolithography for high-performance computer chips) are attracting private investment and creating jobs. Advances in agricultural crops (winter wheat, hazelnuts, small fruits and vegetables) and forest products (cross-laminated timber panels for high-rise construction) are bolstering rural economies as well.

Since it began in 2013, the Oregon State University Advantage program has provided market analysis and support services to more than 70 local technology businesses and start-up companies. 

Other major grants last year included:

  • Up to $40 million by the U.S. Department of Energy for testing systems for ocean wave energy technologies;
  • $9 million for a next-generation approach to chemical manufacturing known as RAPID, in partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory;
  • $6.5 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to make artificial-intelligence systems more trustworthy;
  • A combined $1.15 million in state, federal and foundation funding for a state-of-the-art instrument known as an X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy system. The XPS system brings world-class capabilities to the Pacific Northwest to address challenges in surface chemistry. Partners included the Murdock Charitable Trust, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center and the National Science Foundation.

 “Whether it’s with the fishing and seafood industries on our coast, federal labs working on energy and the environment or local governments concerned about jobs and education, partnerships with business, government and other research organizations are absolutely vital to our work,” said Sagers. “We care about these relationships, the benefits they bring to our communities and the educational opportunities they create for our students.”

Research has long been a hallmark of graduate education, and undergraduate students are increasingly participating in research projects in all fields, from the sciences to engineering, health and liberal arts. OSU provided undergraduates with more than $1 million last year to support projects conducted under the mentorship of faculty members.

“Research is fundamental to President Ray’s Student Success Initiative,” said Sagers. “Studies show time and again that students who participate in research tend to stay in school, connect with their peers and find meaningful work after they graduate. Research is a key part of the educational process.”

Federal agencies represent the lion’s share of investment in OSU research. That investment has more than doubled in the last five years. The National Science Foundation provided the largest share of funding, followed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy. 

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Project summaries and FY17 research totals for OSU colleges are posted online:

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/our-best/research-awards-2016-17

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/research/map/

College of Education: http://education.oregonstate.edu/research-and-outreach

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy17-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/college-forestry-continues-advance-research-efforts#

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2017-research-summary

College of Pharmacy: http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/grant_information

College of Public Health and Human Sciences: http://health.oregonstate.edu/research/funding-highlights 

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2017/08/research-funding-continues-upward-trajectory/

College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/research-highlights

Video b-roll is available with comments by Cindy Sagers, vice president of research, at https://youtu.be/pkGD-lhVTwo.

 

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Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, cynthia.sagers@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0664

    

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Oregon State University names new College of Science dean

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University Provost and Executive Vice President Ed Feser Monday appointed Roy Haggerty, associate vice president for research, the dean of OSU’s College of Science.

Haggerty, who served as associate vice president for research since August 2016, replaces Sastry Pantula, who stepped down as dean on Monday and will return to his appointment as a professor of statistics at Oregon State.

“Roy is a highly skilled and experienced administrator in addition to being an exceptional scholar,” Feser said. “I look forward to working closely with him to advance the College of Science’s goals as well as those of the university.”

Feser credited Pantula for many accomplishments while serving as dean, including growing the profile of the College of Science; increasing the diversity of faculty and administrators; and strong gains in philanthropy serving the college.

Haggerty joined the OSU faculty in 1996 and specializes in hydrology, hydrogeology and echohydrology, and served previously as the Hollis M. Dole Professor of Environmental Geology. Prior to joining the university’s research office, he served as interim dean for the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences beginning in October 2015. He also led the university’s geology program from 2003-2006.

“I am pleased to serve the university as the new dean of the College of Science,” Haggerty said. “Universities are one of the best things human beings have ever invented. Science plays a foundational role at every university, and I am committed to ensuring that OSU’s College of Science continues its important work of teaching, research and discovery.”

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By Annie Athon Heck, 541-737-0790, annie.heck@oregonstate.edu

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Roy Haggerty, 541-737-0663, roy.haggerty@oregonstate.edu

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Size matters, and so do temperature and habitat, to scavengers and the carcasses they eat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Size matters in the carrion world, and so do habitat and temperature.

New research has shed fresh light on the largely understudied area of vertebrate scavenging ecology, particularly how biotic factors – living organisms – and abiotic ones such as heat or cold influence communities of scavengers.

The findings are important because carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is a key nutrient for vertebrates worldwide and comparatively little is known about how all of the interplay works.

“A common perception is most things are depredated and eaten quickly, but in actuality, carrion is a highly available resource that’s contributing significantly to the food web,” said Erin Abernethy, a Ph.D. student in integrative biology in Oregon State University’s College of Science and second author on the study.

“There’s been a lot of research on how much carrion invertebrates eat, and they do eat a lot, and how the size of a carcass can tell you how much goes to vertebrates or invertebrates,” Abernethy said. “But there hasn’t been much on who among the vertebrate scavengers – coyotes, vultures, hogs, foxes, etc. – is getting what and how much, and how carcass size and habitat affect all of that. The nutrients from carcasses are reaching higher levels of the food web, and that knowledge is now getting fleshed out more.”

Working at the Savannah River Site, a 78,000-hectare coastal plain in South Carolina managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers conducted scavenging trials across four habitat types: clearcut, mature hardwood forest, immature pine forest and mature pine forest.

They used carcasses of three different types and sizes – rat, rabbit and wild pig, representing small, medium and large. Scientists did trials both in a cool-weather time of year and in warm weather to measure changes in scavenger community dynamics as a result of seasonal differences in what microbes and invertebrates eat.

Hidden cameras captured “scavenging events” – an animal feeding on a carcass. Collectively, the photos – nearly 400,000 were analyzed – told a story of scavenger efficiency, scavenger species composition and carcass persistence as functions of carcass size, habitat type, and season.

“All of these photos, it’s kind of like spying on wildlife,” Abernethy said. “It’s a really nice way of communicating science, tickling people’s senses about a really integral part of the ecosystem.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this study was learning the sheer amount, the volume of carcasses, consumed by vertebrates.”

Animals with backbones partially or fully scavenged more than three-quarters of the carcasses, research showed.

“The results suggest vertebrate communities are efficient at locating varying sized carcasses, even in warmer months when invertebrate and microbial communities are most active, but not as efficiently as in cooler months when invertebrate and microbial activity isn’t as high,” Abernethy said. “We think carcass fate is ultimately determined by the scavenging community’s ability to find carrion as well as the availability of the carcass to vertebrate scavengers, both of which vary not only by season but also by habitat and carcass size.”

Abernethy said the study points out the importance of building multiple variables into carrion research.

“Not incorporating a range of carcass sizes, habitat types and air temperatures into scavenging studies can greatly diminish any potential derived insights into rates of carcass acquisition and community composition of scavengers,” she said.

The corresponding author is Kelsey Turner of the University of Georgia, and two other collaborators, Olin Rhodes Jr. and James Beasley, are from the University of Georgia as well. The research team also included L. Mike Conner of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, Ga.

Abernethy works in the lab of David Lytle, professor of integrative biology at OSU.

The U.S. Department of Energy supported this research. Findings were recently published in Ecology.

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Coyotes

Coyotes scavenging a pig carcass