OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of science

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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Coral with white plague


Marine research

Taking samples

Lubchenco receives World Academy of Sciences Medal

MUSCAT, Oman - Jane Lubchenco, the University Distinguished Professor and Advisor in Marine Studies at Oregon State University and former NOAA administrator, yesterday received The World Academy of Sciences Medal at the annual meeting of this organization in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.

This international academy of sciences was founded by Abdus Salam, a physicist and Pakistani Nobel laureate, and the medal recognizes outstanding achievements in science. The organization, with about 1,100 members, promotes science and the development of scientific capacity in the developing world.

Lubchenco was first elected a member of the group in 2004, in recognition of her discoveries in marine ecology and efforts to strengthen science in the developing world. She served three years as president of the International Council for Science, a non-governmental organization that is the voice for international, interdisciplinary science.

Lubchenco presented an award lecture in Oman on Oct. 26 on “Delivering on Science’s Social Contract,” which will outline new advances that are transforming attitudes, behavior, management and policies that affect ocean health.

Lubchenco is an environmental scientist and marine ecologist whose research interests include biodiversity, climate change, sustainable use of oceans and the planet, and interactions between the environment and human well-being. She currently is a distinguished professor in the OSU College of Science and advisor in marine studies at OSU, and recently served for four years as the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

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Jane Lubchenco

Jane Lubchenco

OSU’s Lubchenco honored for science communication efforts

SAN FRANCISCO - Climate One at The Commonwealth Club today announced that Jane Lubchenco, the University Distinguished Professor and Advisor in Marine Studies at Oregon State University and former NOAA administrator, will receive the fourth annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication.

The $10,000 award is given to a natural or social scientist who has made extraordinary scientific contributions and communicated that knowledge to a broad public in a clear and compelling fashion. It was established in memory of Stephen H. Schneider, a pioneer in the field of climatology.

“Throughout her distinguished career, Jane Lubchenco has been that rare combination: an outstanding environmental scientist and an outspoken champion of scientific engagement and communication with policy-makers, the media, and the public,” said Cristine Russell, a science journalist and one of the jurors making the award selection.

“She co-founded three important organizations dedicated to improving science communication and the health of the world’s oceans.”

Lubchenco is an environmental scientist and marine ecologist in the OSU College of Science whose research interests include biodiversity, climate change, sustainable use of oceans and the planet, and interactions between the environment and human well-being. She recently served for four years as the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As an advocate for effective science communication to non-technical audiences, Lubchenco founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program in 1998, the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea in 1999, and Climate Central in 2007.

During her tenure with NOAA, Lubchenco helped lead the nation through the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 770 tornadoes, 70 Atlantic hurricanes, six major floods, three tsunamis, historic drought and wildfires, prolonged heat waves and record snowfalls and blizzards.

She launched a “Weather Ready Nation” initiative to improve responses to extreme water and weather events, oversaw the most comprehensive National Climate Assessment ever, and led programs to forbid politicization of science or interference with scientists communicating with the news media.

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Riki Rafner, 415-597-6712

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Jane Lubchenco

Jane Lubchenco

Corvallis Science Pub focuses on Buddhism and science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Science and Buddhism might seem to have little in common, but they share surprising similarities. At the Oct. 13 Corvallis Science Pub, Dee Denver, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University, will explore the intersection of these two traditions.

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

“Science of the West and Buddhism of the East have been separated in time and space for most of their respective histories, but recent dialogue between them has revealed many unexpected points of harmony,” said Denver. “Science and Buddhism share a value in logic and reason in shaping their respective worldviews.”

Denver is director of the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program at OSU. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, in 2002. His research team studies the evolution of genomes and symbiotic relationships in nematodes and anemones. In 2012, he was a visiting research professor at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, where he did research for an ongoing book project focused on the intersections of Buddhism and biology.

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

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Dee Denver, 541-737-3698

Grant to improve STEM success among underrepresented students

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to improve the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields.

The program will benefit underrepresented minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged individuals, and help address a growing national need for workers trained in STEM disciplines.

Targeted at students in the colleges of science, engineering, and agricultural sciences, the OSU program will use methods proven to increase STEM success, such as small, cohort-based orientation courses; mentoring by student peers; and workshops given by upper-class STEM students.

Faculty-directed undergraduate research in the freshman and early sophomore years, and the immediate post-transfer year for community college students, will also help provide students with enriching experiences that increase learning and provide economic support to help disadvantaged students remain in school.

The program is designed to benefit 276 student participants over its five-year span, and will be evaluated and communicated to other universities, for them to benefit by replicating its successes.

“This should also help build a structure, design and institutional culture of support for STEM students that will be retained long after the funding has ended,” said Kevin Ahern, principal investigator on the grant and a leader in university efforts to get more undergraduate students involved in experiential learning.

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Kevin Ahern, 541-737-2305

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Student research

Student research

Schellman to head physics department

CORVALLIS, Ore.  – Heidi Schellman has been appointed to head the Department of Physics in the College of Science at Oregon State University, beginning in January, 2015.

Schellman, a fellow of the American Physical Society who does international research on high energy physics, has chaired the physics and astronomy program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University since 2010.

“Dr. Schellman will work with the Department of Physics to enhance our research excellence and to advance our teaching and learning initiatives,” said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the OSU College of Science. “With her research experience, academic leadership, innovative approach to course development, and support for underrepresented student populations, I know she will be an excellent addition to our college and to Oregon State.”

At Northwestern, Schellman has increased funding support for graduate students, created smaller class sizes and drop-in tutoring for undergraduate students, developed courses to help underrepresented groups succeed in academia, and pursued other initiatives.

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Debbie Farris, 541-737-862

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Heidi Schellman

Heidi Schellman

Chemistry professors named ACS Fellows

CORVALLIS, Ore.  -  Two professors at Oregon State University have been named as fellows of the American Chemical Society.

Kevin P. Gable,  a professor of chemistry, was honored for the study of chemical processes important to industrial manufacturers of antifreeze, plastics precursors and the pharmaceutical industry. An expert in reaction processes involved in metal-catalyzed oxidations, Gable received his doctorate from Cornell University and has been on the OSU chemistry faculty since 1988. He has also been active in both academic and administrative leadership at OSU and with the ACS.

Robert J. McGorrin, the Jacobs-Root Professor and head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at OSU, was honored for his contributions to food chemistry and more than 35 years of leadership in ACS.  McGorrin, who is a national expert on flavor chemistry and trace volatile analysis, received his doctorate from the University of Illinois and has been on the OSU faculty since 2000. He worked in private industry for 23 years, and while at OSU has helped to greatly expand food science educational and research programs, along with student enrollment.

With more than 161,000 members, the ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and one of the world’s leading sources of authoritative scientific information. The 2014 ACS fellows will be inducted at the national meeting of the organization in San Francisco in August.

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Debbie Farris, 541-737-862

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Robert McGorrin
Robert McGorrin


Kevin Gable

Kevin Gable

Keszler named associate dean in OSU College of Science

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The College of Science at Oregon State University has named Douglas Keszler as associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Keszler, a distinguished professor in the OSU Department of Chemistry and director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, earned his doctorate from Northwestern University and in 1984 joined OSU.

He is an expert on the synthesis and study of inorganic molecules and materials that will enable next-generation electronic and energy devices, including high-efficiency solar cells. His pioneering science contributions are being commercialized by three start-up companies – Inpria, Amorphyx, and Beet.

“I am confident that Doug will have a tremendous impact on the college’s research excellence, collaborations across departments and colleges, mentorship of faculty, industry partnerships and start-ups,” said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the college, “while increasing the quality, quantity, and diversity of our graduate programs.”

The associate dean supports graduate and faculty research, cultivates collaborative research and large-scale interdisciplinary projects, and helps to identify potential industry partners and start-ups.

 “I look forward to enhancing a supportive and creative research environment, advancing high-quality graduate programs that support broad professional development of students, and enriching the scientific research community at OSU,” Keszler said.

Home to the life, statistical, physical and mathematical sciences, the College of Science has graduated more than 25,000 students since 1932 and is recognized for excellence in research and scholarship.

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Debbie Farris, 541-737-4862

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Doug Keszler

Doug Keszler

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.

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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.

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David Xiulei Ji, 541-737-6798

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Silicon nanostructure

Silicon nanostructures


Table salt

Table salt