OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Often the villain, fructose may play hero’s role in muscular dystrophy treatment

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A substance widely known as a villain for its role in causing obesity-related health problems has emerged as a possible hero in the fight against a debilitating genetic disorder.

Research suggests that fructose, a sugar found in honey, fruits and vegetables, makes a type of molecular treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy more effective.

Progressive muscle degeneration and weakness characterize Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is caused by the absence of a protein, dystrophin, that helps keep muscles intact.

Symptoms usually appear around age 4, first affecting the shoulders, upper arms, hips and thighs. Patients have a hard time rising from the floor, climbing stairs, keeping their balance and raising their arms.

Ultimately, they require use of a wheelchair, and most die in their 30s when their cardiac and respiratory systems fail. Duchenne primarily affects males, and about one boy in 3,500 will be born with it.

Hong Moulton of the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine was part of an international collaboration that looked at fructose’s ability to enhance the uptake and activity of antisense oligonucleotides, or AOs. Therapy with those molecules has been shown to restore some production of dystrophin, but efficiently delivering the molecules to the muscle cells has been a challenge.

This research, which addressed the delivery challenge, involved dystrophin-deficient rodents known as mdx mice. Findings suggest that when fructose is administered along with a type of AO known as a phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer, or PMO, the AO gets into muscle cells four times better. This results in more production of dystrophin and better recovery of some muscle use. Fructose also enhanced delivery of a PMO conjugated to a cell-penetrating peptide, a molecule known as a PPMO.

“We don’t yet understand the mechanism,” Moulton said. “Maybe it’s that the fructose is an energy source that enhances uptake, because uptake in muscle cells requires energy. But right now the mechanism is unknown.”

Compared with other delivery technologies, fructose has low toxicity, making it both safe and efficient. No weight gain or any abnormal behavior was observed in the mice in the study.

The findings by Moulton, HaiFang Yin’s research group at China’s Tianjin Medical University and collaborators at Singapore’s Agency for Science Technology and Research were recently published in the journal Molecular Therapy – Nucleic Acids. The results follow the Food and Drug Administration’s 2016 approval of Eteplirsen – the first drug approved for Duchenne muscular dystrophy in the United States.

Eteplirsen is also the first PMO to win FDA approval, as well as the first oligonucleotide that modulates gene splicing – which is how PMOs can promote the production of dystrophin.

Soon the delivery-enhanced PPMO, a drug type pioneered by Moulton, will enter clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“Currently the approved drug has minimal efficacy, and the underlying problem is the morpholino by itself has very limited muscle uptake,” Moulton said. “If you can get more material into the muscle, then you can have more dystrophin produced. The fructose approach we studied can do that.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Hong Moulton

Reducing pressure on predators, prey simultaneously is best for species’ recovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Reducing human pressure on exploited predators and prey at the same time is the best way to help their populations recover, a new study indicates.

The findings about synchronous recovery are important because historically about half the attempts at species restoration have amounted to a sequential, one-species-at-a-time tactic – usually the prey species first, then the predator.

This study suggests that a synchronous approach almost always produces a recovery that is more rapid and more direct – faster than predator-first recovery and less prone to volatile population fluctuations than prey-first recovery. Just as crucial, synchronous is also better for the humans who earn a living harvesting the two species.

Findings of the research were published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

“You might think the loss of income associated with reducing harvest on both species at the same time would be greater than reducing harvest on one species after another, but our work suggests that synchronous recovery is ultimately better for recovering the ecosystem, and better from an economic perspective as well,” said Mark Novak of the Oregon State University College of Science.

Because of overharvest, declines of multiple animal populations – including at least one species that consumes other harvested species – characterize many ecosystems, Novak notes.

Examples of paired population collapses wholly or partially attributable to trophy hunting, industrial fisheries or the fur trade are lions and wildebeest; Steller sea lions and Pacific herring; and mink and muskrat.

Novak, assistant professor of integrative biology, notes that in both terrestrial and marine resources management, population restoration and the setting of harvest quotas has long been a single-species endeavor.

Even in the more holistic ecosystem-based rebuilding of food webs – the interconnected chains of who eats whom – the dominant strategy has been to release pressure at the bottom, letting prey populations return to the point where they ought to sustain the top predators more readily, Novak said.

Collaborators at the National Marine Fisheries Center, including Shannon Hennessey, now a graduate student at OSU, led the study, which points out the limitations of both of these philosophies. It also highlights the room for improvement in policy tools that synchronous recovery management could fill.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Steller sea lions

Scientists: Warming temperatures could trigger starvation, extinctions in deep oceans by 2100

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers from 20 of the world’s leading oceanographic research centers today warned that the world’s largest habitat – the deep ocean floor – may face starvation and sweeping ecological change by the year 2100.

Warming ocean temperatures, increased acidification and the spread of low-oxygen zones will drastically alter the biodiversity of the deep ocean floor from 200 to 6,000 meters below the surface. The impact of these ecosystems to society is just becoming appreciated, yet these environments and their role in the functioning of the planet may be altered by these sweeping impacts. 

Results of the study, which was supported by the Foundation Total and other organizations, were published this week in the journal Elementa.

“Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years – in certain parts of the world – that amount of food will be cut in half,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and co-author on the study. “We likely will see a shift in dominance to smaller organisms. Some species will thrive, some will migrate to other areas, and many will die. 

“Parts of the world will likely have more jellyfish and squid, for example, and fewer fish and cold water corals.”

The study used the projections from 31 earth system models developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict how the temperature, amount of oxygen, acidity (pH) and food supply to the deep-sea floor will change by the year 2100. The authors found these models predict that deep ocean temperatures in the “abyssal” seafloor (3,000 to 6,000 meters deep) will increase as much as 0.5 to 1.0 degrees (Celsius) in the North Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans by 2100 compared to what they are now. 

Temperatures in the “bathyal” depths (200 to 3,000 meters deep) will increase even more – parts of this deep-sea floor are predicted to see an increase of nearly 4 degrees (C) in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“While four degrees doesn’t seem like much on land, that is a massive temperature change in these environments,” Thurber said. “It is the equivalent of having summer for the first time in thousands to millions of years.” 

The over-arching lack of food will be exacerbated by warming temperatures, Thurber pointed out.

“The increase in temperature will increase the metabolism of organisms that live at the ocean floor, meaning they will require more food at a time when less is available.” 

Most of the deep sea already experiences a severe lack of food, but it is about to become a famine, according to Andrew Sweetman, a researcher at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and lead author on the study.

“Abyssal ocean environments, which are over 3,000 meters deep, are some of the most food-deprived regions on the planet,” Sweetman said. “These habitats currently rely on less carbon per meter-squared each year than is present in a single sugar cube. Large areas of the abyss will have this tiny amount of food halved and for a habitat that covers half the Earth, the impacts of this will be enormous.” 

The impacts on the deep ocean are unlikely to remain there, the researchers say. Warming ocean temperatures are expected to increase stratification in some areas yet increase upwelling in others. This can change the amount of nutrients and oxygen in the water that is brought back to the surface from the deep sea. This low-oxygen water can affect coastal communities, including commercial fishing industries, which harvest groundfish from the deep sea globally and especially in areas like the Pacific Coast of North America, Thurber said.

“A decade ago, we even saw low-oxygen water come shallow enough to kill vast numbers of Dungeness crabs,” Thurber pointed out. “The die-off was massive.” 

Areas most likely to be affected by the decline in food are the North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and North and South Indian oceans.

“The North Atlantic in particular will be affected by warmer temperatures, acidification, a lack of food and lower oxygen,” Thurber said. “Water in the region is soaking up the carbon from the atmosphere and then sending it on its path around the globe, so it likely will be the first to feel the brunt of the changes.” 

Thurber, who is a faculty member in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the OSU College of Science, has previously published on the “services” or benefits provided by the deep ocean environments. The deep sea is important to many of the processes affecting the Earth’s climate, including acting as a “sink” for greenhouse gases and helping to offset growing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

These habitats are not only threatened by warm temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide; they increasingly are being used by fishing and explored by mining industries for extraction of mineral resources. 

“If we look back in Earth’s history, we can see that small changes to the deep ocean caused massive shifts in biodiversity,” Thurber said. “These shifts were driven by those same impacts that our model predict are coming in the near future. We think of the deep ocean as incredibly stable and too vast to impact, but it doesn’t take much of a deviation to create a radically altered environment.

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Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500, athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu; Andrew Sweetman, +44 (0) 131 451 3993, a.sweetman@hw.ac.uk

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Sea pig (Image Courtesy of Ocean Networks Canada)

SeaPig

Methane seep (Image by Andrew Thurber, OSU)

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“Late-life” genes activated by biological clock to help protect against stress, aging

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that a subset of genes involved in daily circadian rhythms, or the “biological clock,” only become active late in life or during periods of intense stress when they are most needed to help protect critical life functions.

The findings, made in research done with fruit flies and published today in Nature Communications, are part of a unique stress response mechanism that was previously unknown.

These genes may help to combat serious stresses associated with age, disease or environmental challenges, and help explain why aging is often accelerated when the biological clock is disrupted.

This group of genes, whose rhythmic activity late in life had not previously been understood, were named “late-life cyclers,” or LLCs, by former OSU graduate student and lead author of the study, Rachael Kuintzle. At least 25 such genes become rhythmic with age, and the function of some of them remains unclear.

“This class of LLC genes appear to become active and respond to some of the stresses most common in aging, such as cellular and molecular damage, oxidative stress, or even some disease states,” said Jadwiga Giebultowicz, a professor in the OSU College of Science, co-senior author on the study and international expert on the mechanisms and function of the biological clock.

“Aging is associated with neural degeneration, loss of memory and other problems, which are exacerbated if clock function is experimentally disrupted. The LLC genes are part of the natural response to that, and do what they can to help protect the nervous system.”

The increased, rhythmic expression of these genes during times of stress, scientists said, are another example of just how biologically important circadian rhythms are, as they help to regulate the activity of hundreds of genes essential to the processes of life. And as aging brings with it a host of new problems, the LLC genes become more and more active.

According to David Hendrix, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Science and College of Engineering, and co-senior author on the study, some LLC genes are known to play roles in sequestering improperly “folded” proteins or helping them refold. This could help prevent formation of protein aggregates that can lead to age-related neurodegeneration.

“Discovery of LLC genes may provide a missing link, the answer to why the disruption of circadian clocks accelerates aging symptoms,” Hendrix said.

The study also showed that intense stress at any point in life can cause some of the LLC genes to spring into action.

“In experiments where we created artificial oxidative stress in young fruit flies, the LLC genes were rhythmically activated,” said Eileen Chow, an OSU faculty research assistant and co-author. “Some of these same genes are known to be more active in people who have cancer. They appear to be a double-edged sword, necessary during times of stress but possibly harmful if activated all the time.”

Circadian rhythms, which are natural to an organism but synchronized by the light/dark cycle of a 24-hour day, are so important to life that the same genes controlling biological processes have been traced from fruit flies to humans, retained through millions of years of evolution.

These genes are found throughout the nervous system and peripheral organs, and affect everything from sleep to stress reaction, feeding patterns, DNA repair, fertility and even the effectiveness of medications.

People with routine disruptions of their circadian rhythms and sleep patterns have been found to have a shorter lifespan and be more prone to cancer.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Jadwiga Giebultowicz, 541-737-5530

giebultj@science.oregonstate.edu

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More active with age
Rhythms change with age

New hydronium-ion battery presents opportunity for more sustainable energy storage

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new type of battery developed by scientists at Oregon State University shows promise for sustainable, high-power energy storage.

It’s the world’s first battery to use only hydronium ions as the charge carrier.

The new battery provides an additional option for researchers, particularly in the area of stationary storage.

Stationary storage refers to batteries in a permanent location that store grid power – including power generated from alternative energy sources such as wind turbines or solar cells – for use on a standby or emergency basis.

Hydronium, also known as H3O+, is a positively charged ion produced when a proton is added to a water molecule. Researchers in the OSU College of Science have demonstrated that hydronium ions can be reversibly stored in an electrode material consisting of perylenetetracarboxylic dianhydridem, or PTCDA.

This material is an organic, crystalline, molecular solid. The battery, created in the Department of Chemistry at Oregon State, uses dilute sulfuric acid as the electrolyte.

Graduate student Xingfeng Wang was the first author on the study, which has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a publication of the German Chemical Society.

“This may provide a paradigm-shifting opportunity for more sustainable batteries,” said Xiulei Ji, assistant professor of chemistry at OSU and the corresponding author on the research. “It doesn’t use lithium or sodium or potassium to carry the charge, and just uses acid as the electrolyte. There’s a huge natural abundance of acid so it’s highly renewable and sustainable.”

Ji points out that until now, cations – ions with a positive charge – that have been used in batteries have been alkali metal, alkaline earth metals or aluminum.

“No nonmetal cations were being considered seriously for batteries,” he said.

The study observed a big dilation of the PTCDA lattice structure during intercalation – the process of its receiving ions between the layers of its structure. That meant the electrode was being charged, and the PTCDA structure expanded, by hydronium ions, rather than extremely tiny protons, which are already used in some batteries.

“Organic solids are not typically contemplated as crystalline electrode materials, but many are very crystalline, arranged in a very ordered structure,” Ji said. “This PTCDA material has a lot of internal space between its molecule constituents so it provides an opportunity for storing big ions and good capacity.”

The hydronium ions also migrate through the electrode structure with comparatively low “friction,” which translates to high power.

“It’s not going to power electric cars,” Ji said. “But it does provide an opportunity for battery researchers to go in a new direction as they look for new alternatives for energy storage, particularly for stationary grid storage.”

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By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Simulated PTCDA unit cell

Marine ecologist offers suggestions for achieving a strong, lasting ‘blue economy’

BOSTON – Incentive-based solutions offer significant hope for addressing the myriad environmental challenges facing the world’s oceans – that’s the central message a leading marine ecologist delivered today in during a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Jane Lubchenco, a distinguished professor in the Oregon State University College of Science, shared lessons from around the world about ways “to use the ocean without using it up” as nations look to the ocean for new economic opportunities, food security or poverty alleviation.

Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, a former postdoctoral scholar under Lubchenco who’s now a Knauss Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, co-authored the presentation, titled “Getting Incentives Right for Sustained Blue Growth: Science and Opportunities.”

In her presentation, Lubchenco pointed out that achieving the long-term potential of blue growth will require aligning short- and long-term economic incentives to achieve a diverse mix of benefits. Blue growth refers to long-term strategies for supporting sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.

“If we harness human ingenuity and recognize that a healthy ocean is essential for long-term prosperity, we can tackle the enormous threats facing the ocean,” Lubchenco says, “and we can make a transition from vicious cycles to virtuous cycles.”

Lubchenco and her collaborators note that the world’s oceans are the main source of protein production for 3 billion people; are directly or indirectly responsible for the employment of more than 200 million people; and contribute $270 billion to the planet’s gross domestic product.

“The right incentives can drive behavior that aligns with both desired environmental outcomes and desirable social outcomes,” Lubchenco says.

The first step in building increased support for truly sustainable blue growth, she says, is highlighting its potential. That means working with decision-makers to promote win-win solutions with clear short-term environmental and economic benefits. Governments, industry and communities all have important roles to play, Lubchenco notes.

“Another key step is transforming the social norms that drive the behavior of the different actors, particularly in industry,” Lubchenco says. “Finally, it will be critical to take a cross-sector approach.

“Some nations, like the Seychelles, Belize and South Africa, are doing integrated, smart planning to deconflict use by different sectors while also growing their economies in ways that value the health of the ocean, which is essential to jobs and food security. They are figuring out how to be smarter about ocean uses, not just to use the ocean more intensively.”

Prior to her presentation, Lubchenco gave a related press briefing on how to create the right incentives for sustainable uses of the ocean.

In November 2016, Lubchenco, Cerny-Chipman, OSU graduate student Jessica Reimer and Simon Levin, the distinguished university professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, co-authored a paper on a related topic for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Catch share

"Catch share" fisheries program

Women in Oregon fishing industry have important, but sometimes invisible role

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Women have always played an important role in Oregon’s commercial fishing industry, even if they don’t actually fish or work on boats - but a new study indicates their roles are changing.

The research, funded by Oregon Sea Grant and published in the journal Marine Policy, was based on a series of oral-history interviews conducted mainly with fishermen and their wives.

The findings could help government agencies set policies that take into account their potential impacts on the well-being of entire fishing communities, said Flaxen Conway, a community outreach specialist with Oregon Sea Grant Extension and a co-author of the paper.

Conway, who is also a professor in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, noted that a federal law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, requires policymakers to consider how management policies could affect the economic and social well-being of fishing communities.

Women’s contributions to the fishing industry are not always visible and are continually evolving, Conway said. They have traditionally performed onshore legwork roles, such as provisioning vessels and taking care of the financial side of the business, she said. But some of those interviewed noted an increase in the number of women involved in research or management – such as serving on task forces and commissions – sometimes because of increasingly complex regulations and markets.

Sarah Calhoun, a former OSU master’s student, conducted interviews with 15 women and 10 men from the coastal Oregon towns of Astoria, Warrenton, Garibaldi, Newport and Port Orford; and Morro Bay, Calif., as part of this project.

One fisherman’s wife said she entered the “politics of fishing” when fishing quotas were starting to be implemented.

“It was really obvious that our boat and our community was going to be entirely left off it [if] we weren’t at the table to participate in the really finer details of the design of the [catch shares] program, and so that’s when I got involved,” she said.

Another fisherman’s wife noted, “. . . more women and fishermen’s wives are much more aware of the regulatory issues than they were 20 years ago, and are much more active . . . self-educating or attending the meetings, or pushing their husbands out the door [to a meeting] and telling them, ‘You need to go to this.’”

The increasing complexities of the fishing industry have increased women’s need to turn to social support groups such as Newport Fishermen’s Wives and to adapt by learning new skills, said Conway. For example, one fisherman’s wife described the challenge of understanding fishing quotas: “How do I open a quota share account, how do I trade quota, how do I transfer it from account to account?” she asked. “That’s the kind of constant learning [that’s necessary] as regulations change. And I think that the learning curve – as opposed to 20 years ago – [has] grown exponentially.”

As one fisherman’s wife put it: “Fishing isn't what it used to be. It isn't the same. So I think you have to be able to adapt to change.”

Conway agreed. “I’ve always been really impressed with the resilience of the fishing community, and this work has showed us that adaptation has actually resulted in a major change in the roles women play in the family business.”

The interviews form part of the Voices from the West Coast oral history project. Suzanne Russell, a social scientist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, was a co-author of the paper, and the center also provided funding.

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Rick Cooper, 541-737-0793

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Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339

fconway@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Michele Longo Eder


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Coastal discussion


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Sara Skamser

New protein could be key in fighting debilitating parasitic disease

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A naturally occurring protein has been discovered that shows promise as a biocontrol weapon against schistosomiasis, one of the world’s most prevalent parasitic diseases, Oregon State University researchers reported today in a new study.

Schistosomiasis is transmitted via flatworms shed by the freshwater snails that serve as the parasite’s non-human host. It’s a potentially life-threatening illness that affects more than 250 million people annually in tropical and subtropical countries, according to the World Health Organization.

The disease can cause frequent, painful or bloody urine; abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea; anemia; fever, chills and muscle aches; inflammation and scarring of the bladder; and enlargement of lymph nodes, the liver and the spleen.

While a drug called praziquantel is an effective treatment, there is no vaccination for schistosomiasis, and those who’ve had it develop no immunity.

But researchers in OSU’s College of Science have discovered a key new protein in a snail, Biomphalaria glabrata, that hosts and releases Schistosoma mansoni parasites that infect humans. Findings were published today in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Known as Grctm6, the protein seems to prevent the snails from shedding at least some of the parasites that could go on to infect people working or playing in the water where the snails live.

“Shedding none would be great, but shedding fewer could still feasibly make a difference,” said the study’s corresponding author, Euan Allan, a postdoctoral scholar in the college’s Department of Integrative Biology. “If snails are releasing a smaller number of parasites into the environment, people are less likely to be infected.”

Three variants of Grctm6 naturally occur, Allan said, and one of them confers more resistance to Schistosoma than the others.

“What’s interesting about that, from kind of an eye in the sky look, is that in the future we might be able to increase prevalence of the more resistant version and create a new population of more resistant snails without actually interfering with their biological function,” Allan said. “That’s the next step.”

Attempts to control schistosomiasis by focusing on the snail hosts date to the 1950s, but earlier efforts involved either molluscicides – poisons – or the introduction of non-host snail species to eat or compete with the hosts.

 “Those approaches bring their own slew of problems,” Allan said. “We’d anticipate far fewer ecological consequences from gene-driving one of these naturally occurring proteins into a population of snails, because they’d remain natural in pretty much every other way – just instead of being more susceptible to Schistosoma, they’d be more resistant.”

Allan says it’s not yet clear if the protein makes snails less likely to pick up the parasite in the first place, more likely to have their immune system kill it, or less likely to shed it.

“It’s speculative, but our best guess is the protein helps a snail’s immune system better recognize the parasite,” he said.

“The real take-home of the work is that we’ve discovered a completely new protein that’s never been discovered in any other species. And this protein is involved in the extent of infection in an intermediate species, and potentially involved in the extent of human infection.” 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Euan Allan, 541-737-2993

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Schistosome mansoni Schistosome mansoni, center

2015-16 weather event took toll on California beaches; not so much for Oregon, Washington

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest climate events in recent history with extraordinary winter wave energy, a new study shows, though its impact on beaches was greater in California than in Oregon and Washington.

The reason, researchers say, is that the Pacific Northwest had experienced comparatively mild wave conditions in the years prior to the onset of the El Niño, while California was experiencing a severe drought and “sediment starvation.”

Results of the study are being published this week in Nature Communications.

“Rivers still supply the primary source of sand to California beaches, despite long-term reductions due to extensive dam construction,” said Patrick Barnard, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author on the study. “But as California was in the midst of a major drought, the resulting lower river flows equated to even less sand being carried to the coast to help sustain beaches.

“Therefore, many of the beaches in California were in a depleted state prior to the El Niño winters, and thereby were subjected to extreme and unprecedented landward erosion due to the highly energetic winter storm season of 2015-16.”

The West Coast, on average, experienced a “shoreline retreat” – or degree of beach erosion – that was 76 percent above normal and 27 percent higher than any other winter on record, eclipsing the El Niño events of 2009-10 and 1997-98. Coastal erosion was greatest in California, where 11 of the 18 beaches surveyed experienced historical levels of erosion.

Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards expert and co-author on the study, said Oregon and Washington were not affected to the same extent.

“You would have thought that there would be massive damage associated with erosion in Oregon and Washington with the strength of this El Niño,” said Ruggiero, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But the previous three years had mild winters and therefore the sand buildup was much higher than in California. It helped the Northwest offset the potential erosion from the El Niño.”

Oregon and Washington also have broader beaches than in California, Ruggiero pointed out, which also eases the erosion of sand dunes and impacts to development.

The 2015-16 El Niño, in some ways, was stronger than the 1982-83 event, which caused an estimated $11.5 billion in damages, the researchers say in the study. Only a portion of the damage was directly related to coastal erosion, with damage to houses and roads, they note. Most of the impact was from related storms, flooding and other damage that occurred inland.

The Nature Communications study is important, the authors say, because it is one of the first attempts to document the oceanographic “forcing” directly related to beach impacts created by El Niño. The study documents the amount of power created by winter storm waves, using height and “period” – or the length of time between waves. It is the level of forcing, along with relative beach health, that dictates the amount of erosion that occurs and the associated impacts from that erosion.

“During an El Niño, the nearshore experiences higher water levels because of the storms and the fact that the water is warmer and expands,” Ruggiero said. “In Oregon, the water was about 15-17 centimeters (roughly 6-7 inches) higher than average, which led to higher storm tides.”

Although Northwest beaches were buffered from catastrophic damage, Ruggiero said, they did experience significant retreat. And it may take a while for the beaches to rebuild.

“We’re not completely recovered yet, and it may take years for some beaches to build back up,” he said. “After the 1997-98 El Niño, it took some beaches a decade to recover.”

Ruggiero, his students and colleagues have been monitoring Northwest beaches since 1997, and in 2015, they received a National Science Foundation rapid response grant to study the impact of El Niño on beaches. Ruggiero also receives support from the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for additional monitoring.

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Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239, pruggier@coas.oregonstate.edu; Patrick Barnard, 831-460-7556, pbarnard@usgs.gov

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South Beach, Oregon
Oregon's South Beach

 

(Left: Crescent Beach in Callifornia. Photos by Nick Cohn, Oregon State University. https://flic.kr/p/RwDLsb)

Disease “superspreaders” were driving cause of 2014 Ebola epidemic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study about the overwhelming importance of “superspreaders” in some infectious disease epidemics has shown that in the catastrophic 2014-15 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, about 3 percent of the people infected were ultimately responsible for infecting 61 percent of all cases.

The issue of superspreaders is so significant, scientists say, that it’s important to put a better face on just who these people are. It might then be possible to better reach them with public health measures designed to control the spread of infectious disease during epidemics.

Findings were reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers concluded that Ebola superspreaders often fit into certain age groups and were based more in the community than in health care facilities. They also continued to spread the disease after many of the people first infected had been placed in care facilities, where transmission was much better controlled.

If superspreading had been completely controlled, almost two thirds of the infections might have been prevented, scientists said in the study. The researchers also noted that their findings were conservative, since they only focused on people who had been buried safely.

This suggests that the role of superspreaders may have been even more profound than this research indicates.

The research was led by Princeton University, in collaboration with scientists from Oregon State University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Imperial College London, and the National Institutes of Health.

The concept of superspreaders is not new, researchers say, and it has evolved during the 2000s as scientists increasingly appreciate that not all individuals play an equal role in spreading an infectious disease.

Superspreaders, for instance, have also been implicated in the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003; and the more recent Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012.

But there’s less understanding of who and how important these superspreaders are.

“In the recent Ebola outbreak it’s now clear that superspreaders were an important component in driving the epidemic,” said Benjamin Dalziel, an assistant professor of population biology in two departments of the College of Science at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study.

“We now see the role of superspreaders as larger than initially suspected. There wasn’t a lot of transmission once people reached hospitals and care centers. Because case counts during the epidemic relied heavily on hospital data, those hospitalized cases tended to be the cases we ‘saw.’

“However, it was the cases you didn’t see that really drove the epidemic, particularly people who died at home, without making it to a care center. In our analysis we were able to see a web of transmission that would often track back to a community-based superspreader.”

Superspreading has already been cited in many first-hand narratives of Ebola transmission. This study, however, created a new statistical framework that allowed scientists to measure how important the phenomenon was in driving the epidemic. It also allowed them to measure how superspreading changed over time, as the epidemic progressed, and as control measures were implemented.

The outbreak size of the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Africa was unprecedented, and early control measures failed. Scientists believe that a better understanding of superspreading might allow more targeted and effective interventions instead of focusing on whole populations.

“As we can learn more about these infection pathways, we should be better able to focus on the types of individual behavior and demographics that are at highest risk for becoming infected, and transmitting infection,” Dalziel said.

Researchers pointed out, for instance, that millions of dollars were spent implementing message strategies about Ebola prevention and control across entire countries. They suggest that messages tailored to individuals with higher risk and certain types of behavior may have been more successful, and prevented the epidemic from being so persistent.

Lead author on the study was Max Lau, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University focused on applying statistical methodology in epidemiological and ecological modelling. at Princeton University. Support and funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the UK Medical Research Council.

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Benjamin Dalziel, 541-737-1979

benjamin.dalziel@oregonstate.edu