environment and natural resources

Genome of “potato famine” pathogen sequenced

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A large team of researchers has successfully sequenced the entire genome of one of the most famous pathogens in world history – which caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s – in work that could ultimately help address a resurgence of this pathogen that is still causing almost $7 billion dollars of agricultural losses annually around the world.

Completion of the project, announced today in the journal Nature, is an important advance that could lead to new avenues of attack on this destructive pathogen, experts say. The work was led by the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT, and included collaborators from dozens of other institutions to make a task of this magnitude possible.

“Scientists have studied this pathogen for 150 years and there’s still a great deal we don’t know about it,” said James Carrington, professor and director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing at Oregon State University and collaborator on the project. “It caused one of the most important famines in history and is still a major problem that costs billions of dollars to fight.”

In the short term, Carrington said, studies based on the new genetic “map” may help explain why the pathogen has been so aggressive, virulent and persistent, despite efforts to breed resistance to it. In the long run, the ability to breed far better plants and reduce use of chemicals will benefit from knowing exactly what genetic traits to look for and where they may be found on the huge genome of this pathogen, which has 240 million “base pairs” of DNA.

The pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, is commonly known as “late blight” and can infect potatoes, tomatoes and some other plants. Through its history it has been responsible for many crop epidemics, not the least of which was the Irish potato famine that led to the death of more than one million people in Ireland and a huge wave of immigration to the United States.

“This is probably the most costly plant pathogen, per acre, that we’ve ever had to deal with,” said Nik Grunwald, a plant pathologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and a courtesy associate professor of plant pathology at OSU. “Part of the problem is that we’ve identified and can grow potatoes with resistance to late blight, but they aren’t the varieties that the marketplace expects.”

The vast majority of potatoes consumed around the world are still russet potatoes that are inexpensive and highly popular, prized for the long, golden french fries they can produce – and extremely vulnerable to this pathogen, Grunwald said. But even with this pathogen to battle, potatoes are an important alternative to cereal crops and the fourth largest food crop in the world.

“We have some potato varieties that are completely resistant to late blight,” Grunwald said, “but most farmers are still growing russets because that’s where the demand is, even if they have to use up to 15 chemical sprays a season to produce them.”

According to Carrington, the genome of P. infestans is unusual, with long stretches of “repetitive DNA” that comprise almost 75 percent of its genome and play some role in its virulence and ability to adapt so rapidly to new environments. Many plants have evolved mechanisms for pathogen resistance, but this pathogen appears to tap into this odd, but massive collage of highly-repeated genome segments to overwhelm those defenses.

“These long sequences of repeating DNA contain virulence determinants, and those provide the ability for Phytophthora to change and adapt so readily to plant defenses,” Carrington said. “We believe it’s the key to the pathogen’s virulence.”

Researchers in Oregon, at both OSU and the USDA, will use their expertise in gene “silencing” – understanding what controls the genes that are activated and what turns them off - as a key part of their effort to decipher the secrets of this pathogen. Other researchers around the nation will continue work to learn about the basic biology and pathology of late blight.

“We’ve made great strides in recent years to do genome sequencing, it’s now becoming almost routine,” Carrington said. “But for these large projects we’re combining the use of powerful computers with teams of chemists, computational scientists, plant pathologists and many other experts to accomplish something that would take a smaller research group a lifetime.”

The researchers said in their report that “P. infestans remains a critical threat to world food security, and the genome sequence is a key tool to understanding its pathogenic success.”

Just this year, an outbreak of late blight has caused unusually early and severe damage to tomato and potato crops in the eastern United States. It’s difficult to control even with applications of fungicides, experts say, and can kill plants faster than almost any other disease.

In the mid-1990s, new and exotic strains of P. infestans made news headlines around the world. Particularly in the U.S. and Canada, the new strains appeared to be as or more pathogenic than any known previous strains, including those that caused the Irish potato famine.

Additional chemical treatments were routinely used and made it clear that, after more than a century, this pathogen has lost none of its virulence. The Oregon researchers believe that the new genome knowledge will accelerate development of chemical-free control methods.

This research was supported by the USDA and the National Science Foundation.

Story By: 

James Carrington, 541-737-3347

Public interest growing in safety of well water

CORVALLIS - An outpouring of public interest at some recent informational forums about well water suggests there are a lot of Oregonians who are concerned - often with good reason - that their drinking water is not safe, and want to find out what they can do about it.

Several "Well Water Clinics" operated by the Home-A-Syst program at Oregon State University recently concluded in the central Willamette Valley. About 1,000 concerned residents attended those and other sessions. This was "a level of interest that was far more than we had anticipated," said Gail Glick Andrews, an Extension water quality educator with the OSU Department of Bioresource Engineering.

"What this indicates to me is that people are really craving information and want to protect their home water supply," Andrews said. "The odd thing is that many of them thought they were the only ones who didn't know much about this issue. The reality is that many or most people are poorly informed."

One major step that could help address that problem, Andrews said, is new information available on the Internet that will help people learn what they can do to protect their well water supplies. The web address is http://osu.orst.edu/extension/wellwater.

According to Andrews, as many as one-fourth to one-half of the private wells in the state have surface contaminants in them. In some areas, up to three wells out of four may have problems or the users have concerns about nitrate levels.

And with summer approaching, Andrews said, the time is ideal for people to inspect their well systems, have the water tested and make any necessary changes or repairs while the weather cooperates.

"The most basic thing that people don't understand about private water supply is that they personally are the regulator, inspector, maintenance manager, accountant and consumer," Andrews said. "This is not something that's taken care of by some government agency. So if people want clean, safe water to drink from a private well, no one else is going to do anything about it."

The good news, she said, is that there are several support agencies people can look to for information to get started. County Extension offices are the best place to start, she said. They can also obtain information from the new web site, or contact Andrews via e-mail at gail.glick.Andrews@orst.edu.

Andrews said that if properly constructed and maintained, most private wells in Oregon actually produce very safe water. The natural filtering action of soil tends to control bacteria and viruses. Problems are most common with any well-drained soil that speeds the movement downward of surface contaminants, especially in agricultural areas that are heavily fertilized.

Testing for coliform bacteria and nitrate levels every one to three years is recommended, Andrews said, and contrary to common assumptions, taste is not a good indicator of water quality. Some crystal clear water can be contaminated and some foul-tasting water can be fine.

The Extension literature outlines a number of fairly simple things homeowners can do to help protect their well water. They include:

  • Locate your well, septic tank and drain field, as the first step towards managing and protecting these areas.
  • Have your septic tank pumped about every three to five years, depending on household usage patterns.
  • Remove any chemicals stored in your well house, and protect the soils around your property from contamination by oil, gasoline and household chemicals.
  • Make sure there is no water standing around the top of your well.
  • Ensure that a sanitary seal caps your well, to keep out foreign objects and surface contaminants.

Andrews said that the informational and educational programs she works with will continue their efforts around Oregon, and more community educational forums will be planned.

"The main thing people need to keep in mind is that they personally are responsible for making sure their well water is safe, and that they do need to be informed about the issues," Andrews said. "But there is plenty of information available to help, and often some fairly simple changes are all that's needed to correct any problems that are found."

Story By: 

Gail Andrews, 541-541-737-6294

Cadmium toxicity threatening wildlife in Rocky Mountains

CORVALLIS, Ore. - An alarming number of white-tailed ptarmigan in a large region of the southern Rocky Mountains are suffering from acute cadmium poisoning - an exposure to high concentrations of the extremely toxic trace metal.

Scientists report Thursday in the journal Nature that 46 percent of the adult birds surveyed in a 10,000-square kilometer area in south-central Colorado were found with cadmium accumulations in their kidneys well above the toxic threshold of 100 parts pe r million.

Cadmium toxicity causes kidney and liver dysfunction, brittle bones, and adversely affects reproduction and survival.

Lead author James R. Larison, an Oregon State University professor and alpine ecologist, said the findings are not unlike those that linked the pesticide DDT to a problem of thin-eggshells in the peregrine falcon three decades ago. The implications of th e toxicity go beyond a single species.

"What we found in our study was that a particular genus of plants - willows - were 'biomagnifying' or concentrating cadmium," Larison said. "They act as biological pumps, increasing the concentrations of cadmium by two orders of magnitude. Birds eat a lo t of willow, especially in the winter when other foods are scarce.

"They aren't the only creatures to eat willow, though," he added. "The possibility exists that deer, elk, moose, snowshoe rabbits, beaver and other animals may face similar problems, just as it is possible that other plants - including some vegetables - may have the same abilities to biomagnify cadmium that willow does."

Larison said the human health risk from eating ptarmigan likely is small, unless the internal organs are consumed. But, he added, many people eat vegetables grown in the area and these could pose a risk to human health. The former director of Sea Grant Communications at Oregon State University, Larison has spent the past four years at Cornell University pursuing his doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology. His doctoral study was funded primarily by the National Ge ographic Society. Other authors in the Nature article include Gene Likens, director of the Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, and J.G. Crock, a chemist with t he U.S. Geological Survey.

The study focused on an expansive section of Colorado stretching from Denver and Fort Collins to Durango known as an "ore belt." Larison, who has returned to the OSU faculty, said abandoned mines throughout this area have "exacerbated the problem."

Though cadmium is natural to the area, he pointed out, mining tends to mobilize potentially toxic metals. "Cadmium poisoning originally was discovered in Japan, with rice acting as a biomagnifier," Larison said. "Elderly women in particular were affected with severe osteomalacia - a condition not unlike osteoporosis. Trace amounts of cadmium can be found in almost all soils, surface waters and plants, but human activities tend to concentrate it. Mining is one obvious factor, but cadmium also is mobilized by certain industrial and agricultural practices."

Once ingested, cadmium cannot easily be excreted from the body and accumulates, usually in the kidneys and liver. The kidneys are responsible for calcium levels in the blood, Larison said, and when cadmium levels rise and kidneys tubules fail, calcium le vels drop. To compensate, the body "borrows" calcium from bones. In Japan, elderly women eating a diet heavy in cadmium-contaminated rice suffered from severe bone decalcification.

In Larison's study, 57 percent of the adult ptarmigan had damaged kidneys and their bones contained 8 to 10 percent less calcium.

"We also found a number of birds with bone fractures," he said. "For every one we found, there may have been others that did not survive long enough for us to discover them."

Cadmium toxicity in predators eating ptarmigan is a concern, Larison pointed out, because they likely would eat the internal organs and the cadmium would then accumulate in their bodies as well. Ptarmigan predators include eagles and hawks, as well as fo xes and coyotes.

Though the Nature article focuses on one area in the Rocky Mountains, cadmium poisoning potentially could occur elsewhere, Larison said.

"We happened to look at the effects just on white-tailed ptarmigan eating willows in Colorado," Larison said. "But there are some indications that the conditions for cadmium poisoning are widespread."

Story By: 

Jim Larison, 541-737-8284

Multimedia Downloads

white-tailed ptarmigan

A new study published in Nature found that an alarming number of white-tailed ptarmigan are suffering from acute cadmium poisoning.

ptarmigan fracture

This X-ray image of a ptarmigan shows a fracture caused by calcium deficiency triggered by cadmium-damaged kidneys.

James R. Larison

Jim Larison releases a ptarmigan.

Scientists estimate area of groundwater concern near lab

CORVALLIS - An interagency team of scientists studying fish liver cancer and other fish health problems at an Oregon State University research facility east of Corvallis has estimated an "area of highest potential groundwater concern" around the laboratory.

He estimated area extends north and south of Highway 34, from the Willamette River east approximately two miles to the vicinity of Terra Circle, and southeast along Peoria Road to the old Dixie School.

Although there is not yet direct evidence linking a known groundwater contaminant to the fish problems, persons living within the area of concern should consider drinking bottled water as a precaution, recommended Duncan Gilroy, public health toxicologist with the Oregon Health Division. Use of bottled water outside the area is probably not necessary.

This spring, OSU researchers discovered an unusually high rate of liver cancer and other effects in a number of untreated "control" fish at the Food Toxicology and Nutrition Laboratory, located one mile east of Corvallis on Highway 34. The OSU researcher s previously had experienced a mass fish kill of thousands during December of 1998. Subsequent analysis of the trout's diet, the source and biology of the fish, and laboratory infrastructure and procedures revealed no possible method of contamination, oth er than the source of the lab's water, which is pumped from the groundwater through a series of wells.

Scientists with Oregon Health Division and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality have been studying the hydrology of the area, and have made some approximations about groundwater movement and the dimensions of the groundwater area providing wate r to the OSU laboratory. A number of private wells also are within this area.

"The area is based largely on groundwater modeling and is only an estimate at this point," emphasized Dennis Nelson, groundwater coordinator for the Health Division's Drinking Water Program. "But it will help identify which households should consider usi ng bottled water."

The area estimated by the agencies is not necessarily an area of groundwater contamination, pointed out Bill Mason, a hydrogeologist with DEQ. Numerous tests of the groundwater thus far have revealed no contaminants that could be responsible for the fish cancer and other effects.

"The task force wants people to understand that the area we have estimated is NOT an area of known groundwater contamination," Mason said. "It is simply an area where private wells could be drawing the same water as the wells at the OSU lab."

Mason said conservative assumptions were used in defining the area of concern, and it is likely that some wells within the area draw water from a different part of the aquifer than the OSU lab. For example, another Oregon State fish laboratory, located l ess than a mile away, has had no apparent problems with its fish.

Scientists with OHD and DEQ have not ruled out the possibility that stream water seeping into the groundwater could carry a contaminant. They therefore also recommend that residents having wells within approximately 100 feet of the East Channel or Muddy Creek consider using bottled water, especially during high water levels in the winter and spring.

Larry Curtis, chair of the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at OSU, said it is possible that a groundwater contaminant appears only sporadically and could be triggered by high water. The December 1998 incident at the lab that killed t housands of fish occurred during a prolonged rainy period, added Curtis, who chairs the interagency task force.

Curtis said the team is continuing its effort to identify potential contaminants that could have caused the health problems in the fish. The Environmental Protection Agency's national laboratory in Las Vegas is assisting the team in the analysis of addit ional water samples and tissue from the affected fish.

In the meantime, residents who live inside the area of concern should consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking, said OHD's Gilroy.

"Until we know more about what is going on, using bottled water is a sensible precaution," Gilroy said. "We will continue to provide the community with updates as they develop."

A fact sheet with additional details about the fish laboratory and groundwater testing is available by calling the Oregon Health Division at 503-731-4015, or accessing it on the .

Story By: 

Dennis Nelson, OHD, 541-726-2587

Multimedia Downloads

Oregon Health Division's Drinking Water Program,

This map, produced by the Oregon Health Division's Drinking Water Program, shows an "area of concern" that may be drawing the same well water as an OSU fish laboratory which has experienced high rates of cancer and other symptoms in rainbow trout. (Source: The Oregon Health Division)

Study of huge numbers of genetic mutations point to oxidative stress as underlying cause

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study that tracked genetic mutations through the human equivalent of about 5,000 years has demonstrated for the first time that oxidative DNA damage is a primary cause of the process of mutation – the fuel for evolution but also a leading cause of aging, cancer and other diseases.

The research, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also indicated that natural selection is affecting the parts of the genome that don’t contain genes – supposedly “junk” DNA that increasingly appears to have important roles in life processes that are poorly understood.

The analysis was done by scientists at Oregon State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida and University of New Hampshire, in studies supported by the National Institutes of Health.

This research was unusual, scientists say, because the model animal used for the study, a type of roundworm called C. elegans, was tracked through 250 generations and in that period of time accumulated 391 genetic mutations through normal life processes. That’s more than 10 times as many mutations as have ever before been tracked in a study such as this.

Several Nobel Prizes have been awarded based on studies done with this roundworm, which was the first animal to have its entire genome sequenced. And despite their vast evolutionary separation as life forms, this tiny roundworm and humans still share comparable forms of DNA maintenance.

“Genetic mutations in animals are actually pretty rare, they don’t happen very often unless they are induced by something,” said Dee Denver, an assistant professor of zoology at OSU and principal investigator on the study. “The value of using this roundworm is that it reaches reproductive age in about four days, so we can study changes that happen through hundreds of generations, using advanced genome sequencing technology.”

Genetic mutations can take various forms, such as a disruption in the sequence of DNA bases, larger deletions of whole sections of DNA, or other events. They are a fundamental part of the biological process of life and the basis of evolution, allowing organisms to change – sometimes in ways that are good and lead to greater survival value, sometimes bad and leading to decline or death. But the process is difficult to study and a real understanding of the driving forces behind mutation, its frequency, and the types of mutation that happen most often has been elusive, researchers say.

A primary finding of the new study is that a predominant number of genetic mutations – most, but not all of them – are linked to guanine, one of the four basic nucleotides that make up DNA and form the genetic code of life. Guanine is known to be particularly sensitive to oxidative damage.

“Most life on Earth depends in some form on oxygen, which is great at the production of energy,” Denver said. “But we pay a high price for our dependence on oxygen, because the process of using it is not 100 percent efficient, and it can result in free oxygen radicals that can damage proteins, fats and DNA. And this process gets worse with age, as free radicals accumulate and begin to cause disease.”

This is one of the first studies, Denver said, that clearly demonstrates the effects of oxidative damage at a genome-wide scale.

“The research showed that the majority of all DNA mutations bear the signature of oxidative stress,” Denver said. “That’s exactly what you would expect if you believe that oxidative stress is an underlying cause of aging and disease.”

Beyond that, however, the study also found that mutation and natural selection is also operating in the “junk DNA” parts of the roundworm, which actually comprises about 75 percent of its genome but traditionally was not thought to play any major role in life and genetic processes. This suggests that these poorly-understood and little appreciated parts of the genome may have important biological roles that are not yet known, Denver said.

Oxidative stress for decades has been suspected as a mechanism for some of the processes that lead to aging and disease, and it has been studied extensively for that reason. This research provides a better fundamental understanding of the genetic impacts of oxidative stress and its role in both genetic disease and evolution, researchers say.

Story By: 

Dee Denver, 541-737-3698

Wolves in Yellowstone may aid aspen recovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A new study suggests that the decline of aspen groves in Yellowstone National Park during much of the past century may be at least partly due to the absence of wolves.

The loss of native aspen groves in Yellowstone and other areas of the Rocky Mountains is reaching crisis proportions, experts say, having declined as much as 50-90 percent in certain areas.

Now, scientists have outlined in more detail the magnitude of the aspen decline in Yellowstone National Park, and developed a new theory for the tree's decline within the park. It links those declines to the loss of wolves, a key predator species, and their interactions with elk and bear populations.

The study was done by Eric Larsen, with the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University, and William Ripple, professor of forestry and director of the OSU Environmental Remote Sensing Applications Laboratory. It was just published in the journal Biological Conservation.

"This hypothesis is not yet proven, and we're working closely now with National Park Service biologists in more than 115 permanent research plots to test the theory," Larsen said. "What is clear is that the wolves disappeared during the same era that the successful development of mature aspen stands ground to a halt."

The loss of aspen, scientists say, is an ecological crisis that's poorly appreciated by much of the public.

Aspen not only adds scenic beauty to the landscape with their rich golden fall color, but they are often the only significant hardwood present in these conifer-dominated ecosystems. Groves of aspens, which are biologically rich with herbs, shrubs, insects, birds and berries, offer a diversity of plant and animal life often exceeded only in riparian zones in the mountain West.

Using historic documents, aerial photographs, and dendrochronological, or tree ring dating techniques, Ripple and Larsen determined that Yellowstone Park aspen successfully recruited tree-sized aspen into their overstory from about 1751 to 1928, but have been unable to do so since. Various theories have been proposed to explain the lack of aspen overstory recruitment in Yellowstone since the 1920s, including the effects of fire suppression and a trend towards a warmer and drier climate. A key factor on which virtually all scientists agree is that elk browsing has had a major effect on suppressing the growth of young aspen in Yellowstone.

"During winter, elk browse off the aspen suckers, preventing them from growing to a full tree height," Larsen said. "But elk have been in this ecosystem for centuries, so the question becomes why are the aspen declining only now?"

One answer is that due to their protected status, elk populations may now be unusually high. However, there may be additional factors other than just the total number of elk present.

"The difference between the effect of elk on aspen now, compared to periods prior to 1900, may be a reflection of both their population levels and their behavior," Ripple said "Foraging behavior of elk may be influenced by the risk of predation on them."

Wolves are a natural elk predator, the OSU researchers say. Wolf packs not only lower the overall elk population, but may also change elk behavior by their very presence. Elk avoid areas frequented by wolves, which can include aspen thickets, and protect themselves by staying in open areas. By influencing both the total number and foraging behavior of elk, the wolf packs may historically have prevented extensive elk browsing in some of Yellowstone's aspen stands.

Seen as a threat to local herds of elk and bison, the wolves in and near Yellowstone Park were eliminated by 1926. By counting the annual growth rings on a sample of Yellowstone Parks' aspen trees, the OSU research has determined that the 1920s were also the last decade in which aspen overstory trees were able to regenerate.

"When the wolves were eliminated the aspen overstory began to decline, and young trees were unable to join the mature overstory," Larsen said. "Prior to the elimination of the wolf, we documented successful aspen regeneration for a period of at least 170 years."

The ecological link between wolves, elk and aspen is being tested with continued research in Yellowstone Park. The study is comparing aspen growth and survival rates both inside and outside the territories of Yellowstone's wolf packs. The researchers will acquire data on the amount of elk use of those areas and its effect on aspen growth.

This project and others are part of a larger "Aspen Project" at OSU, focusing on the condition of aspen throughout the western United States and Canada. More information can be obtained on the Internet.

"This is one of the most important tree species in these ecosystems," Larsen said. "And in the fall it provides much of the natural beauty in the Yellowstone forests. We have to determine what is happening to these trees and what we can do to prevent their decline."

Story By: 

Bill Ripple, 541-737-3056

Multimedia Downloads

Aspens in Yellowstone National Park

A withering stand of aspen in Yellowstone National Park reflect a phenomenon that researchers from Oregon State University believe is now far more widespread - the loss of wolves in the American West leading to the decline of tree and stream ecosystems.

Urban traffic congestion linked to "arterial" access

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Many of the "arterial" roads in America's urban areas are not functioning properly due to the poor location or design of access roads, experts say, and steps are urgently needed to recognize the seriousness of this problem and take steps to address it.

Some of that work is already underway in Oregon.

Recent research by engineers at Oregon State University, in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Transportation, has helped inject modern traffic science into decisions that often in the past were based on arbitrary estimates or may not have adequately considered our exploding traffic levels.

This issue is a concern of local businesses, developers and the traveling public, said Bob Layton, a professor in the OSU Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. The need is to balance ready access to businesses with driving efficiency, safety and convenience. And the significance of the problem, Layton said, is the reason that experts from all over the United States will be meeting Aug. 13-16 in Portland, Ore., to consider the problems in a conference titled "Taking Access Management into the New Millenium."

"Uncontrolled access to arterial streets can cause the traffic flow to break down, congestion to become almost intolerable and local businesses to suffer," Layton said. "As traffic engineers we've now developed some good tools and knowledge to help address this problem, but we have to convince both travelers and business owners that access management is good for everyone."

At the moment the effective functioning of arterial streets, which are the major connection between freeways and residential streets, are the critical link in our automotive transportation systems, Layton said.

"It's essential that we have an integrated surface street system with all types of roads, ranging from residential streets to high capacity freeways, that move traffic with safety, speed and economy," Layton said. "Right now the biggest concerns are with the urban arterials, and how well they operate is dramatically influenced by how access to them is managed."

Arterial streets in which access locations, spacing and design are not managed can result in delays, congested traffic, accidents and uneconomic public investment.

There are ways to address this, Layton said, such as controlling driveway access from stores or homes, improving the design of that access, installing medians to control where drivers make left turns, creating an adequate supporting surface street system, and providing appropriate turn lanes.

The impacts are serious. When a driver slows to about five miles per hour to turn into a driveway, while the rest of the traffic on the road is moving at 45 miles per hour, studies show the accident potential goes up by about 200 times. Every additional stop a driver has to make per mile raises fuel consumption by 20 percent and exhaust emissions by up to 50 percent. And 70 percent of all accidents at intersecting roadways are caused by drivers turning left.

According to Layton, some concepts developed in recent years have been touted as a panacea to arterial congestion, such as the two-way left turn lanes located as the "center" lane in a five-lane road. And those ideas can work, he said, up to a point.

"Research has found that two-way left turn lanes are effective only up to a certain level of traffic volume," Layton said. "After that there aren't enough gaps in oncoming traffic to use them safely. And people start to use gaps that are too short, an illegal and dangerous maneuver, as a way of getting onto a crowded road."

The approaches and criteria for access management that OSU researchers have developed and scientifically supported include optimal driveway spacing, appropriate use of medians, appropriate signalized intersection spacing, left and right turn lane standards and management of interchange areas. These are already being implemented around the state by the Oregon Department of Transportation and attracting interest from other states, he said.

"There's concern from business owners that controls on access are a threat to business," Layton said. "But in reality effective access management can set the stage for successful businesses, because people will more often use streets that allow them to get safely, quickly and economically get where they want to go. And conversely, they avoid locations with overly-congested roads or intersections."

The Portland conference next week is the fourth annual conference on access management, Layton said, attracting traffic experts from all over the nation who increasingly realize that dysfunctional arterials are a key problem in our congested urban traffic crisis.

"Traffic experts have known about this issue for some time, and we've recently made strides in making our analyses and standards even more scientific and rational," Layton said. "Now we have to work with city planners, business owners and the public to make the changes necessary to keep traffic moving. It won't always be easy but it can be done."

Story By: 

Robert Layton, 541-737-4980

Master Gardener program recognizes exemplary volunteers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two Oregonians have been selected to receive statewide awards for their work with the Oregon State University Master Gardener program, and 25 individuals have been recognized as county Master Gardeners of the year.

Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who share with the people of Oregon their knowledge of sustainable gardening and OSU resources in home horticulture, according to Gail Langellotto, OSU Extension urban and community horticulture specialist and statewide coordinator of the Master Gardener Program. More than 3,500 people across the state have become OSU Master Gardeners.

Betty Faller from Tumalo is the 2009 Oregon Master Gardener of the Year, awarded for her outstanding and unusual service to the program and her community as a volunteer. Faller has been a Master Gardener 11 years and coordinated the Hollinshead Community Garden for three years. She also established a garden at Healy Heights Transitional housing apartment complex for homeless and low-income families.

She has served as the central Oregon Master Gardener state representative to the Oregon Master Gardener Association and is first vice president.

Rocky Bessette of Redmond received the "Behind the Scenes" statewide award for quiet and unselfish support to the community and local chapter or the Oregon Master Gardener Association as a volunteer. Bessette has amassed more than 4,000 hours of volunteer service over 11 years. She has served as secretary of the Central Oregon Master Gardener Association for seven years, newsletter editor for three years and mentor to new trainees for 10 years.

The awards are sponsored by the Oregon Master Gardener Association in cooperation with OSU Extension's Master Gardener program.

County Master Gardeners of the Year are:

Benton County: Kathy Butler, Kathleen Coleman and Kathi Tucker Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson counties): Chris Miao Clackamas County: Herb Davis Clatsop County: Jane Donnelly Columbia County: Sheryl Putnam Coos County: Janne White Curry County: Tom Lewis Douglas County: Larry Sutton Central Gorge (Hood River County): Cindy Collins Jackson County: Clarence Wood Josephine County: Craig and Pattye Ingram Klamath County: Starr Cordy Lane County: Dianne Twete Lincoln County: Claudette Schroeder Linn County: Sheryl Casteen Marion County: Carol Horning Multonomah County: Sharon Baker Tillamook County: Jean Scholtz Umatilla County: Annette Frye Wasco County: Charlotte Link Washington County: Anna Stubbs and Carol Ross Yamhill County: Patti Gregory


Gail Langellotto

Risser-chaired panel recommends science "czar" for EPA

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A National Research Council committee chaired by Oregon State University President Paul Risser is recommending stronger scientific leadership and oversight at the Environmental Protection Agency.

In its report, the committee says that the EPA has become primarily a regulatory agency without a science mission, like the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.

Yet in its strategic plan, the EPA acknowledges that environmental protection efforts need to be "based on the best available scientific information." And, Risser points out, "sound science" is one of the agency's avowed goals.

"The EPA has a director and it has legal and operational directors, but it has no high-level research advisers," Risser said. "The creation of such a top-level science adviser, or 'research czar,' if you will, would provide some much-needed accountability. There is suspicion by some people that EPA rules are promulgated by regulations and convenience more than by the best available science."

Risser was chosen to chair the Committee on Research and Peer Review in the EPA by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Committee members included scientists, educators, and administrative leaders from top research universities, government agencies and private industry.

The committee's recommendation to establish a new position at EPA - deputy administrator for science and technology - would require authorization from Congress, appointment by the President, and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Risser said the deputy administrator would help identify and define important scientific issues for the EPA, develop and oversee strategies to both acquire and disseminate the best scientific information, improve the scientific outreach and communication efforts of the agency, and coordinate scientific quality control and peer-review efforts.

"The EPA has done a lot of good work for a long time, but it's path as a regulatory agency has, perhaps, diverged a bit too far from the scientific foundation that it needs," Risser said. "As we began the review, the agency understandably was a bit resistant, as are most people when asked to do things differently.

"But as they began to see the potential benefits of what the committee is proposing, they have been very supportive," he added.

The committee made a series of other recommendations as well. They include:

  • Require more independent peer-review for scientific research.


  • Empower the directors of individual research labs within EPA to have a higher degree of autonomy and decision-making ability, as well as accountability.


  • Continue to place a high priority on graduate fellowships and post-doctoral programs.


  • Create the equivalent of endowed academic research chairs in national laboratories.


  • Encourage more cooperation with - and awareness of - the scientific and research enterprises of universities, private industry and other government agencies.


  • Convert the position of assistant administrator for research and development to a statutory term of 4-6 years, and require more scientific, technological and academic qualifications.

The EPA has a lab in Corvallis on the OSU campus that may be affected by some of the recommendations. A program to provide national endowed research chairs could include one at the OSU lab, which Risser said earns high marks in its evaluation.

"The lab here is regarded as one of the best in terms of quality," Risser said.

Risser praised the EPA for its work in measuring air pollution and constructing long-term models of pollution patterns and their effects. He added that the agency needs more scientific exploration into chemical derivatives of pesticides, especially "endocrine disruptors"; global change issues; ecosystems; and disease vectors.

Story By: 

Paul Risser, 541-737-4133


CORVALLIS - The biggest new threat to America's drinking water supplies - nonpoint source pollution - is documented in a new half-hour educational video released by the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"We All Live Downstream" explores urban and rural runoff and the problems it creates for surface and groundwater.

Nonpoint source pollution is carried by rain and irrigation that runs off farms, forests and city streets. It flows from construction sites, mines and septic systems and just about everywhere, experts say. As a national problem, it has surpassed "point source pollution," which involved industry and sewage treatment waste entering rivers, lakes and streams at specific points.

After two decades of cleanup, America's point source pollution is largely under control.

"We All Live Downstream" was shot primarily in Oregon's Tualatin River basin, but Ron Miner, OSU Extension water quality specialist, says its subject matter has implications for most every watershed in the country.

"This video should interest anyone who is concerned about healthy watersheds and clean water supplies," said Miner. "It examines how Oregon residents and government officials are trying to reduce nonpoint source pollution, and offers a variety of tips that can help Americans protect their drinking water sources."

"We All Live Downstream" (VTP 021) costs $30 (including shipping) and may be ordered by mail from: Publications Orders, Agricultural Communications, Oregon State University, A422 Administrative Services Building, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119.


Ron Miner, 541-737-6295