OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of science

A battle of the vampires, 20 million years ago?

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/y1ekGE

CORVALLIS, Ore. – They are tiny, ugly, disease-carrying little blood-suckers that most people have never seen or heard of, but a new discovery in a one-of-a-kind fossil shows that “bat flies” have been doing their noxious business with bats for at least 20 million years.

For bats, that’s a long time to deal with a parasite doing its best vampire impression. Maybe it is nature’s revenge on the vampire bat, an aggressive blood consumer in its own right that will feed on anything from sheep to dogs and humans.

The find was made by researchers from Oregon State University in amber from the Dominican Republic that was formed 20-30 million years ago. The bat fly was entombed and perfectly preserved for all that time in what was then oozing tree sap and later became a semi-precious stone.

This is the only fossil ever found of a bat fly, and scientists say it’s an extraordinary discovery. It was also carrying malaria, further evidence of the long time that malaria has been prevalent in the New World. The genus of bat fly discovered in this research is now extinct.

The findings have been published in two professional journals, Systematic Parasitology and Parasites and Vectors.

“Bat flies are a remarkable case of specific evolution, animals that have co-evolved with bats and are found nowhere else,” said George Poinar, Jr., an OSU professor of zoology and one of the world’s leading experts on the study of ancient ecosystems through plants and animals preserved in amber.

“Bats are mammals that go back about 50 million years, the only true flying mammal, and the earliest species had claws and climbed trees,” Poinar said. “We now know that bat flies have been parasitizing them for at least half that time, and they are found exclusively in their fur. They are somewhat flat-sided like a flea, allowing them to move more easily through bat fur.”

Not every bat is infested with bat flies, and some of the contemporary flies are specific to certain species of bats. But they are still pretty common and found around the world.

Bat flies only leave their bat in order to mate, Poinar said, and that’s probably what this specimen was doing when it got stuck in some sticky, oozing sap.

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George Poinar, Jr., 541-737-5366

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Bat fly in amber

Bat fly in amber

OSU chemist receives Chemical Research Society of India Medal

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Mas Subramanian, an internationally recognized chemist at Oregon State University, will receive the 2012 Chemical Research Society of India Medal, awarded to outstanding chemists of Indian origin who work outside of India.

Subramanian, the Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science in the OSU Department of Chemistry, will be honored at the 2012 CRSI 14th National Symposium in Chemistry in India this February.

An expert in such fields as high-temperature superconductivity, thermoelectrics, magnetoresistive materials, catalysis and solid-state dielectrics, Subramanian has discovered and developed many new materials. A recent discovery of new color pigments received worldwide attention.

Before joining OSU, Subramanian was a scientist at DuPont Central Research and Development. He has published nearly 300 papers in professional journals, which in turn received more than 12,000 citations. His work has yielded 54 patents that are in place or pending.

Subramanian received a doctoral degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1982, and is also a signature faculty fellow in the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute.

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Mas Subramanian, 541-737-8235

Learning-based tourism an opportunity for industry expansion

The study this story is based on is available in ScholarsArchive@OSU: http://bit.ly/wu3EvJ

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research suggests that major growth in the travel, leisure and tourism industry in the coming century may be possible as more people begin to define recreation as a learning and educational opportunity – a way to explore new ideas and cultures, art, science and history.

Some of this is already happening, although the expansion of tourism in much of the 20th century was often focused on amusement parks and tropical resorts – not that there’s anything wrong with them.

But in a recent study published in the Annals of Tourism Research, experts say that increasingly affluent and educated people around the world are ready to see travel in less conventional ways, and that lifelong learning and personal enrichment can compete favorably with sandy beaches or thrill rides.

“The idea of travel as a learning experience isn’t new, it’s been around a long time,” said John Falk, a professor of science education at Oregon State University and international leader in the “free-choice learning” movement, which taps into personal interests to help boost intellectual growth beyond what’s taught in schools and through formal education.

In the 1700s and 1800s, a “Grand Tour” of Europe was considered an educational rite of passage for upper-class citizens of the gentry or nobility, in which months of travel throughout the continent offered education about art, culture, language, everything from history to science, fencing and dancing.

There may not be as much demand today to perfect one’s skills with a sword, but the concept is the same.

“For a long time the travel industry has been focused on hedonistic escapism,” Falk said. “That’s okay, but as more and more people have the time, means and opportunity to travel, a lot of them are ready to go beyond that. There are many other interesting things to do, and people are voting with their feet.

“You’re already seeing many tour operators and travel agencies offer educational opportunities, things like whale watching, ecotourism,” Falk said. “The National Park Service does a great job with its resources, teaching people about science, geology and history. The push for more international travel experiences as a part of formal education for students is an outgrowth of this concept.

“We’re convinced this is just the beginning of a major shift in how people want to spend their leisure time, and one that could have important implications for intellectual and cultural growth around the world,” he said.

Among the observations the researchers make in their study:

  • More leisure time and lower relative cost of travel near the end of the 20th century has opened the door for people to consider different types of recreation focused on intellectual engagement.
  • A growing appetite for lifelong learning is being underserved by the existing tourism industry.
  • A major expansion of learning-based tourism will require both participants and the tourism industry to overcome a long-standing bias that recreation and education are opposite ends of the spectrum – to accept that learning can be fun.
  • People seek experiences that are sensation-rich, alter their view of the world, or instill a sense of wonder, beauty and appreciation.
  • A down side to travel and learning can occur if tourists use the experience to reinforce colonialist, racial or cultural stereotypes.
  • Tourism activities are most successful if the participant feels active and engaged, rather than just receiving a recitation of facts to correct a “knowledge deficit.”

Collaborators on this research were from the University of Queensland in Australia.

“It is expected that tourism will become ever more centered upon a quest for something larger, something more personally fulfilling,” the researchers wrote in their report. “It is argued that the quest for knowledge and understanding, enacted through travel, will continue to be a dominant theme of the new century.”

 

Note: Video is available of an OSU program that trains people to become naturalist guides: http://bit.ly/yvu0rU

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John Falk, 541-737-1826

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Educational tour

Ecotourism in Oregon

 

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http://bit.ly/yvu0rU

OSU science dean to lead university’s budget office

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sherman Bloomer, dean of the prestigious College of Science at Oregon State University since 2001, will become director of the Office of Budgets and Fiscal Planning at OSU, effective Feb. 1.

The college is home to some of the university’s most recognized disciplines, including nationally noted programs in physics, ecosystem informatics, water resources, environmental health science and more. It is a major reason that OSU gained the top ranking in the United States in conservation biology from the Conservation Biology Journal in 2007, and three other departments have been ranked in the top 10 nationally by the Chronicle of Higher Education – zoology, science education and plant pathology (since moved to the College of Agricultural Sciences).

Important scientific advances in the college have taken place during Bloomer’s tenure, such as creation of the Center for Green Materials Chemistry, development of biosensors to detect pathogens and identification of ways marine reserves can help protect Oregon’s coastal resources. Science faculty are frequently in the limelight for pursuit of new therapies for Lou Gehrig’s disease, advances in the field of healthy aging and new research insights on fish disease and salmon declines.

The college offers many baccalaureate core classes and also has numerous internationally known researchers. Under Bloomer’s leadership, faculty have increased the college’s research backing from $13 million to nearly $19 million last year, the majority of that funding from federal sources – the most competitive arena for research funding.

Bloomer’s experience in university-wide fiscal analysis, as well as management of large budgets within the College of Science, will be valuable assets in his new role, said OSU Provost and Executive Vice President Sabah Randhawa.

“The university’s growth in every facet – from enrollment to research – has created the need for additional leadership in fiscal planning, and Sherm Bloomer brings strong analytical skills and a broad-based knowledge of OSU to the position,” Randhawa said. “He also has earned a great deal of respect from his colleagues across campus.”

A marine geologist by training, Bloomer joined the OSU faculty in 1995 and was named dean of the College of Science five years later. He launched initiatives aimed at increasing student retention and graduation rates and established transparency in budgeting and fiscal planning for the college, and helped it thrive during a period of unprecedented university growth.

Randhawa said he would launch an immediate internal search for an interim leader of the college, and a national search for permanent leadership.

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Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111

Disruption of biological clocks causes neurodegeneration, early death

The study this story is based on is available at ScholarsArchive@OSU: http://bit.ly/AdBMx6

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research at Oregon State University provides evidence for the first time that disruption of circadian rhythms – the biological “clocks” found in many animals – can clearly cause accelerated neurodegeneration, loss of motor function and premature death.

The study was published in Neurobiology of Disease and done by researchers at OSU and Oregon Health and Science University. Prior to this, it wasn’t clear which came first - whether the disruption of biological clock mechanisms was the cause or the result of neurodegeneration.

“In these experiments, we showed through both environmental and genetic approaches that disrupting the biological clock accelerated these health problems,” said Kuntol Rakshit, an OSU graduate fellow.

“There’s a great deal of interest right now in studies on circadian rhythms, as we learn more about the range of problems that can result when they are disrupted,” Rakshit said. “Ultimately we hope that this research will be taken from the laboratory to the bedside.”

These studies were done with fruit flies, but the OSU scientists said previous research has indicated there are close parallels between them and humans. Some of the genes regulating circadian rhythms in flies are so important that they have been preserved through millions of years of separate evolution and still do the same thing in humans.

The biological clock, in humans and many other animals, is a complex genetic mechanism tuned to the 24-hour day and regular cycles of light, dark and sleep. It influences a wide range of biological processes, from fertility to hormone production, feeding patterns, DNA repair, sleep, stress reactions, even the effectiveness of medications. In humans, researchers have found strong correlations between disrupted clock mechanisms, aging, and neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.

The fruit flies used in this research carried two mutations, one that disrupts circadian rhythms and another that causes flies to develop brain pathologies during aging. These double mutants had a 32-50 percent shorter lifespan, lost much of their motor function, and developed significant “vacuoles” or holes in their brains far sooner than flies with a functional clock.

The decline and loss of clock function may be just the beginning of a damaging, circular process, said Jadwiga Giebultowicz, an OSU professor of zoology, member of the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research and project leader.

“When the biological clock begins to fail, rhythms that regulate cell function and health get disrupted, and we now know that this predisposes the brain to neurodegeneration,” Giebultowicz said. “But that neurodegeneration, in turn, may cause more damage to the clock function.

“A healthy biological clock helps protect against this damage,” she said. “When the clock fails, the damage processes speed up.”

Aging is closely associated with this process, Giebultowicz said, but it’s not clear exactly how. Molecular clock oscillations decline during aging. Finding ways to restore them might form a possible therapy for biological clock damage and help to prevent disease, and work in that area will be part of future research.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program, or IGERT in Aging Sciences at OSU, a program of the National Science Foundation. Collaborators included Doris Kretzschmar, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, who specializes in the use of flies as models for human neurodegenerative disease.

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Jadwiga Giebultowicz, 541-737-5530

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Drosophila melanogaster
Fruit fly

 
Holes in brain

Holes in brain

Hatcheries change steelhead genetics after a single generation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The impact of hatcheries on salmonids is so profound that in just one generation traits are selected that allow fish to survive and prosper in the hatchery environment, at the cost of their ability to thrive and reproduce in a wild environment.

The findings, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a speed of evolution and natural selection that surprised researchers.

They confirmed that a primary impact of hatcheries is a change in fish genetics, as opposed to a temporary environmental effect.

“We’ve known for some time that hatchery-born fish are less successful at survival and reproduction in the wild,” said Michael Blouin, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. “However, until now, it wasn’t clear why. What this study shows is that intense evolutionary pressures in the hatchery rapidly select for fish that excel there, at the expense of their reproductive success in the wild.”

Hatcheries are efficient at producing fish for harvest, the researchers said, but this and other studies continue to raise concerns about the genetic impacts that hatchery fish may have when they interbreed with wild salmon and steelhead, and whether or not they will help wild salmonid runs to recover.

These findings were based on a 19-year genetic analysis of steelhead in Oregon’s Hood River. It examined why hatchery fish struggle to reproduce in wild river conditions, a fact that has been made clear in previous research. Some of the possible causes explored were environmental effects of captive rearing, inbreeding among close relatives, and unintentional “domestication selection,” or the ability of some fish to adapt to the unique hatchery environment.

The study confirmed that domestication selection was at work.

When thousands of smolts are born in the artificial environment of a hatchery, those that survive best are the ones that can deal, for whatever reason, with hatchery conditions. But the same traits that help them in the hatchery backfire when they return to a wild river, where their ability to produce surviving offspring is much reduced.

“We expected to see some of these changes after multiple generations,” said Mark Christie, an OSU post-doctoral research associate and lead author on the study. “To see these changes happen in a single generation was amazing. Evolutionary change doesn’t always take thousands of years.”

It’s not clear exactly what traits are being selected for among the thousands of smolts born in hatcheries, the scientists said, but one of the leading candidates is the ability to tolerate extreme crowding. If research can determine exactly what aspect of hatchery operations is selecting for fish with less fitness in the wild, it could be possible to make changes that would help address the problem, they said.

Historically, hatchery managers preferred to use fish born in hatcheries as brood stock to create future generations, because whatever trait they had that allowed them to succeed in the hatchery helped produce thousands of apparently healthy young salmon. But they later found that when those same fish were released they had a survival and reproductive success that was far lower than those born in the wild.

Billions of captive-reared salmon are intentionally released into the wild each year in order to increase fishery yields and bolster declining populations. The steelhead studied in this research are, in fact, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and part of their recovery plan includes supplementation with hatchery fish.

“It remains to be seen whether results from this one study on steelhead generalize to other hatcheries or salmon species,” Blouin said.

“Nevertheless, this shows that hatcheries can produce fish that are genetically different from wild fish, and that it can happen extraordinarily fast,” he said. “The challenge now is to identify the traits under selection to see if we can slow that rate of domestication.”

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Mark Christie, 541-231-0719

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Spawning steelhead

Spawning steelhead