OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

New gonorrhea treatment targets enzyme needed for respiration

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have identified a possible new treatment for gonorrhea, using a peptide that thwarts the infection-causing bacterium by interfering with an enzyme the microbe needs to respirate.

The findings are especially important since Neisseria gonorrhoeae is considered a “superbug” due to its resistance to all classes of antibiotics available for treating infections.

Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease whose numbers grow by 78 million new cases worldwide each year, is highly damaging to reproductive and neonatal health if untreated or improperly treated.

It can lead to endometritis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, epididymitis and infertility. And babies born to infected mothers are at increased risk of blindness.

“The infections very often are silent,” said Oregon State University researcher Aleksandra Sikora. “Up to 50 percent of infected women don’t have symptoms, but those asymptomatic cases can still lead to some very severe consequences for the patient’s reproductive health, miscarriage or premature delivery.”

The need for better antibiotic therapy, and a vaccine, is pressing. N. gonorrhoeae strains resistant to the last effective treatment options have emerged, and failures in treatment are occurring.

Researchers led by Sikora, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy, have identified a new therapy target, an enzyme known as AniA. The bacteria need the surface-exposed enzyme to respirate without oxygen, or anaerobically, which is their preferred method of respiration in the biofilms of the genitourinary tract.

A biofilm is a group of one or more types of microorganisms that grow on a wet surface, such as dental plaque on teeth.

Sikora and her team identified a peptide – multiple amino acids linked in a chain – that inhibits the AniA enzyme’s nitrite reductase activity. That in turn damages the bacteria’s ability to grow in the oxygen-poor biofilm environment.

“Bacteria in biofilms display increased resistance to antimicrobials,” Sikora said. “The enzyme is only necessary for cell viability when these bacteria grow under anaerobic conditions, including when they grow in the biofilm. Most antibiotics target essential cell functions; this one doesn’t. It’s only at a certain stage of growth that the bacteria are affected, which means the development of resistance won’t be as fast.”

Through a technique known as biopanning, OSU scientists and collaborators at the University of Kentucky found 29 unique peptides that bound with the targeted enzyme. One of them, C7-3, was identified as most promising for inhibiting the protein’s interaction with nitrite, necessary for anaerobic respiration.

“Imagine this research approach as having a pond with a lot of fish, and you’re using the protein as the bait,” Sikora said. “The peptides bind with the protein, and you go through multiple rounds to identify the peptides that have the strongest binding ability. You start with a billion peptides and end up with one that strongly inhibits the enzyme and ultimately kills the bacteria.”

Findings were recently published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, and Sikora has applied for a provisional patent. The National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon partially supported this research.

The research team included five undergraduate students, four of whom were from Oregon State University.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Neisseria gonorrhoeae cells

Neisseria gonorrhoeae cells

New approach improves ability to predict metals’ reactions with water

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The wide reach of corrosion, a multitrillion-dollar global problem, may someday be narrowed considerably thanks to a new, better approach to predict how metals react with water.

Researchers at Oregon State University and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a new computational method that combines two techniques to make predictions faster, less costly and more effective.

The findings, published in Nature Communications, could have a wide range of applications, including in the design of bridges and aircraft engines, both of which are susceptible to corrosion.

Every metal except precious metals like gold and silver reacts with water, said Doug Keszler, distinguished professor of chemistry in Oregon State’s College of Science.

“We’d like to predict the specific reactions of metals and combinations of metals with water and what the products of those reactions are, by computational methods first as opposed to determining them experimentally,” said Keszler, who also serves as director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry at OSU.

Traditionally, Keszler noted, when looking at metals dissolved in water, the chemical assumption has been that a metal dissolves to form a simple salt. That’s not always what happens, however.

“In many cases, it initially dissolves to form a complex cluster that contains many metal atoms,” he said. “We can now predict the types of clusters that exist in solution, therefore furthering the understanding of metal dissolution from a computational point of view.”

Studying aqueous metal oxide and hydroxide clusters from Group 13 elements – aluminum, gallium, indium and thallium – scientists coupled quantum mechanical calculations with a “group additivity” approach to create Pourbaix diagrams, the gold standard for describing dissolved metal species in water. 

“Applying this new approach, we arrive at a quantitative evaluation of cluster stability as a function of pH and concentration,” said study co-author Paul Ha-Yeon Cheong, associate professor of chemistry at OSU.

Understanding clusters is critical because of the role they play in chemical processes ranging from biomineralization to solution-deposition of thin films for electronics applications. And characterizing corrosion stems from being able to depict metals’ stable phases in water.

“If you’re designing a new steel for a bridge, for example, you’d like to include the potential for corrosion in a computational design process,” Keszler said. “Or if you have a new metal for an aircraft engine, you’d like to be able to determine if it’s going to corrode.”

These examples are not merely hypothetical. Just last summer, a Japanese airline had to refurbish all 100 Rolls-Royce engines on its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners after a series of engine failures caused by the corrosion and cracking of turbine blades. The engines sell for $20 million each.

“Most Pourbaix diagrams do not include these metal clusters and hence our understanding of metal dissolution and reaction with water has been lacking,” said study co-author Kristin A. Persson, professor of materials science at UC Berkeley. “We have now uncovered a fast and accurate formalism for simulating these clusters in the computer, which will transform our abilities to predict how metals react in water.”

The National Science Foundation partially supported this research.

Lindsay Wills, I-Ya Chang and Thomas Mustard of the OSU Department of Chemistry were co-authors of the research, as was Xiaohui Qu of the University of California, Berkeley. 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Coos Bay bridge

Coastal bridge

Alloying materials of different structures offers new tool for controlling properties

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research into the largely unstudied area of heterostructural alloys could lead to greater materials control and in turn better semiconductors, advances in nanotechnology for pharmaceuticals and improved metallic glasses for industrial applications.

Heterostructural alloys are blends of compounds made from materials that don’t share the same atom arrangement. Conventional alloys are isostructural, meaning the compounds they consist of, known as the end members, have the same crystal structure.

“Alloys are all around us,” said study co-author Janet Tate, a physicist at Oregon State University. “An example of an istostructural alloy is an LED; you have a semiconductor like aluminum gallium arsenide, dope it with a particular material and make it emit light, and change the color of the light by changing the relative concentration of aluminum and gallium.”

Structure and composition are the two means of controlling the behavior of materials, Tate said. Combining materials gives the alloy properties between those that the end members have individually.

“If two materials have different structures, as you mix them together it’s not so clear which structure will win,” said Tate, the Dr. Russ and Dolores Gorman Faculty Scholar in the College of Science. “The two together want to take different structures, and so this is an extra way of tuning an alloy’s properties, a structural way. The transition between different crystal structures provides an additional degree of control.”

Tate and collaborators from around the world, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, published their findings in Science Advances.

“This is a very interesting piece of materials science that represents a somewhat uncharted area and it may be the beginning something quite important,” Tate said. “The heterostructural alloy concept had been known before, but it’s different enough that it hadn’t really been explored in a detailed phase diagram – the mapping of exactly how, at what temperature and what concentration, it goes from one structure to another.

“This paper is primarily the NERL’s theoretical work being supported by other collaborators’ experimental work,” Tate said. “Our involvement at OSU was in making one of the kinds of heterostructural alloys used in the research, the combination of tin sulfide and calcium sulfide.”

Tate and graduate student Bethany Matthews have been focusing on the semiconductor application.

“Tin sulfide is a solar cell absorber, and the addition of calcium sulfide changes the structure and therefore the electrical properties necessary for an absorber,” Tate said “Combining tin sulfide with calcium sulfide makes it more isotropic – properties being the same regardless of orientation – and that’s usually a useful thing in devices.”

In this study, thin-film synthesis confirmed the metastable phases of the alloys that had been predicted theoretically.

“Many alloys are metastable, not stable – if you gave them enough time and temperature, they’d eventually separate,” Tate said. “The way we make them, with pulsed laser deposition, we allow the unstable structure to form, then suppress the decomposition pathways that would allow them to separate; we don’t give them enough time to equilibrate.”

Metastable materials – those that are thermodynamically stable provided they are not subjected to large disturbances – are in general understudied, Tate said.

“When theorists predict properties, they tend to work with materials that are stable,” she said. “In general the stable compounds are easier to attack. The idea here with heterostructural alloys is that they give us a new handle, a new knob to turn to change and control materials’ properties.”

In addition to scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the collaboration included researchers at the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Harvard University.

The U.S. Department of Energy supported this research.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Analyzing magma temperatures may help get closer to forecasting volcanic eruptions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although volcanic eruptions are often quite hazardous, scientists have been unable to pinpoint the processes leading up to major eruptions – and one important limitation has been a lack of knowledge about the temperature history of the magma.

A new study analyzed crystals of the mineral zircon – zirconium silicate – in magma from an eruption in the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand about 700 years ago to determine the magma’s history. The analysis shows the magma went through a comparatively “cool” period for thousands of years before heating up. Once magma temperatures reached 750 degrees Celsius, it was a short amount of time – decades or less – before an eruption occurred.

This pattern of long-term crystal storage in near-solid magma, punctuated by rapid heating, is applicable to many other volcanoes around the world, the researchers say, and may begin to help scientists recognize when a volcano is heading toward an eruptive phase.

Results of the research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, are being reported this week in Science.

“Mobility in magma is a function of temperature and most of the time when it’s sitting there in the Earth’s crust under the volcano it’s cool,” said Adam Kent, an Oregon State University geologist and co-author on the study. “Of course, cool is a relative description since it’s still some 650 degrees (Celsius). I wouldn’t put my finger on it.

“But to erupt onto the Earth’s surface magma needs to heat up so it can be runny enough to be squeezed along cracks in the Earth and pushed up to the surface. At lower temperatures, the magma is too crystal-rich and viscous to move. It’s like trying to spread cold peanut butter onto a piece of bread. It takes higher temperatures to get things moving – and then our data show it’s only a period of years or decades before it erupts.”

Kent said the Taupo magma system has similarities to many volcanoes around the world, including the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. A past study by Kent and his colleagues using a different approach found that Mount Hood in Oregon also spent most of its history in a cold, rigid state before moving rapidly into an eruptive phase.

This new study adds more certainty to the method and provides a new tool to apply this work to other volcanoes, the researchers say.

The key to honing in on these long-term geologic processes is understanding the volcanoes’ thermal or temperature history, according to the researchers. Past studies began making inroads into understanding the history of magma temperatures, but they relied on trying to reconcile data from a sample containing many thousands of individual crystals.

Using zircon crystals, which can be dated through analyzing the decay of uranium and thorium, adds more resolution, or precision, to the process. The crystals are like a “black box” flight recorder for studying volcanic eruptions, according to Kari Cooper of the University of California, Davis, corresponding author on the study.

“Instead of trying to piece together what happened from the wreckage,” Cooper said, “the crystals can tell us what was going on while they were below the surface, including the runup to an eruption.”

Zircon crystals occur in magma from many volcanoes and the new technique will have wide applications to volcanoes along the ring of fire – the belt of volcanoes that surround the Pacific Ocean – and elsewhere.

“It removes some uncertainty and gives us a great new tool to go back and look at other volcanoes,” Kent said.

The finding also suggests that if many volcanoes store their magma in this relatively cold state, recognizing volcanoes where warm and mobile magma is present may help researchers find volcanoes in the early throes of producing future eruptions. The technology to monitor volcanoes using seismic waves and other remote techniques is improving all the time, the researchers said.

The Science study was led by Allison Rubin and Cooper of the University of California at Davis. Other researchers included Christy Till and Maitrayee Bose of Arizona State University; Fidel Costa, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; Darren Gravley and Jim Cole of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand; and Chad Deering, Michigan Technological University.

Kent is on the faculty of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State.

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Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788

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Study sheds light on determining surgical margins for feline tumors

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University are paving the way for more precision in determining surgical margins for an aggressive tumor common in cats by analyzing tissue contraction at various stages of the post-operative examination process. 

The findings are important because inaccuracy in feline injection-site sarcoma surgical margins – the tissue cut out along with the tumor to try to ensure all cancerous cells are removed – can have a negative effect on the patient’s health, whether the margin is bigger or smaller than necessary.

Understanding how margin length decreases from surgery to pathology – because of how the removed tissue shrinks and tumor cells invade surrounding tissues – can lead to better surgical margin planning and in turn a better prognosis, said corresponding author Milan Milovancev, a board-certified veterinary surgeon at OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“If we can understand the relationship between what the pathologist sees on a slide under a microscope and what the surgeon is taking out in the operating room, and what accounts for the differences between the two, then we can work backward and figure out how much surgical margin to take,” he said.

The pilot study looked at 35- to 55-millimeter surgical margins from five cats with feline injection site sarcoma, or FISS, and found the greatest margin decreases occurred right after excision. It also found the margins tended to be larger than necessary.

“Older studies showed that if you had bigger margins, cats would live longer,” Milovancev said. “The previous margin guidelines of 2 to 3 centimeters had been found to be inadequate, and the new guidelines were 5, which seemed like a big jump and in some of these cats may cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.

“The net take-home is that yes, 2 to 3 centimeters is indeed inadequate, but we didn’t find any tumors getting close to 5 centimeters. We can reduce morbidity by surgically removing what we need to take out and leaving what doesn’t need to be taken out.”

Milovancev notes that future, larger studies that categorize results by factors that might influence tumor-free margin length – such as tumor grade and location – are likely to lead to more refined preoperative surgical planning.

This pilot research builds on an earlier study by Milovancev and collaborators that examined the ability of MRIs and CT angiograms to detect cancerous lesions related to FISS, and another study that looked at three methods for assessing margins for canine mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas.

In the imaging study, neither method definitely determined cancerous lesions from noncancerous ones and, surprisingly to the researchers, more than half the lesions thought to be cancerous on imaging turned out to be benign changes.

In the margin assessment research that involved more than 70 dogs, there was little agreement between the three techniques: imprint cytology, shaved margin histopathology and radial section histopathology.

“We’ll follow up on the dogs and figure out which method best predicted tumor regrowth,” he said. “The methods weren’t aligned in their results, so one of them is better than the other two.”

Findings of the FISS margin length study were recently published in Veterinary Surgery. Collaborators included Jesse Terry, Sarah Nemanic and Christiane Löhr of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

An Intramural Resident Training grant from the college’s Department of Clinical Sciences funded this research.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

Public meeting set Thursday on Marine Studies Building at Hatfield Center

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University will host an informational public meeting this Thursday, June 15, to update local residents on plans for a new Marine Studies Building at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The meeting will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Hatfield’s Visitor Center. A 45-minute presentation and question-and-answer session will be followed by a reception and displays. The Hatfield Center is located at 2030 S.E. Marine Science Drive in Newport, just southeast of the Highway 101 bridge.

The presentation will also be streamed live over Adobe Connect at http://oregonstate.adobeconnect.com/hmsc-fw407/

Oregon State University has launched a Marine Studies Initiative – a new research and teaching model to help sustain healthy oceans and ensure wellness, environmental health and economic prosperity for coastal communities.

“A component of the Marine Studies Initiative includes the construction of a research and teaching facility – the Marine Studies Building on the HMSC campus – and student housing at another location in Newport,” said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing.

“This public meeting in Newport is an opportunity to hear how the university will ensure that the design, engineering and construction of the Marine Studies Building and student housing meet or exceed the earthquake and tsunami performance and safety commitments that OSU President Ed Ray has made.”

Presentations will be made by­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Bob Cowen, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, and Tom Robbins, project manager and architect with Yost Grube Hall Architecture.

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808, steve.clark@oregonstate.edu; Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211, Robert.Cowen@oregonstate.edu

OSU researcher part of $14 million NSF program for improved genomic tools

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coral researcher Virginia Weis of Oregon State University is one of eight researchers selected for a new $14 million National Science Foundation program aimed at helping scientists better understand the relationship between gene function and the physical and functional characteristics of organisms.

Weis, head of the Department of Integrative Biology in OSU’s College of Science, will use her $1.875 million EDGE program award to further study the microscale cellular, molecular and genetic mechanisms that underpin the symbiosis between corals and algae.

EDGE stands for Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools. The NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate administers the program, which funds projects that seek to develop new tools and teach researchers how to use them.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be selected for this important new program,” Weis said.

Corals are made up of interconnected animal hosts called polyps that house microscopic algae inside their cells, Weis said. The coral-algal symbiosis, or partnership, is the foundation of the entire coral reef ecosystem; the polyps receive food from the algae, and the polyps in turn provide nutrients and protection to the algae.

“Coral reefs are profoundly important, diverse ecosystems that are threatened worldwide by environmental variation and stress,” Weis said. “While a great deal of attention has been focused on the environmental threats to corals, there remains only a partial understanding of the regulation of the symbiosis, and more knowledge will provide a stronger foundation for studies of coral health and coral stress, such as coral bleaching, in which the host polyps lose their symbiotic algae.”

Weis’ project will bring together coral biologists, cell biologists and geneticists from Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution and Florida International University to study a small sea anemone that serves as a proxy for corals. Corals do not survive well in a laboratory setting, are slow growing and are difficult to collect.

The fast-growing, weedy sea anemone Aiptasia will allow researchers to make quick progress on the study of coral symbiosis.

“This award is focused on technique development and swift dissemination of results through online communication platforms to both the scientific community and the public,” Weis said. “A variety of genetic techniques will be developed, including gene editing in both partners, to be able to test hypotheses about the involvement of specific genes in coral health and stress. This award will contribute to the training of scientists and expose school-aged children and others in the general public to coral reef and symbiosis science.”

Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Texas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Boyce Thompson Institute are the home institutions of the other EDGE award recipients.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Virginia Weis

Virginia Weis

Northwest researchers map out regional approach to studying food, energy, water nexus

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Natural resource researchers at Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho are gearing up for a late-summer summit aimed at addressing food, energy and water challenges as interconnected, regional issues.

The August meeting in Hermiston, Ore. – centrally located to many National Science Foundation-funded research projects – represents the second step of a collaboration that began with an April workshop in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Research offices at the three universities hosted the gathering, where scientists explored ways to partner with each other and with industry to address issues that affect regional economies as well as environmental and human health.

Stephanie Hampton from WSU and Andrew Kliskey from Idaho led the planning of the workshop, at which six teams combined to start five U.S. Department of Agriculture and NSF grant proposals on issues ranging from water conservation to energy infrastructure.

“We’re really building a critical mass of researchers and research experience in the region,” said Chad Higgins, an agricultural engineering professor leading OSU’s role in the partnership. “The workshop was awesome. It exceeded all expectations with mind-blowing scientific discussions, new collaborations formed and new proposals floated. And now we have to keep it going because that was just the opening salvo, not the crescendo.”

Topics for future exploration might be broad – such as, will the region have enough food in 2050? – or narrow, like tracing the impact of a single technology. For example, a more efficient system for irrigation could lead to less energy used for pumping and also result in more food being produced.

“The food, energy, water nexus is so huge that it’s scary, but it’s also exciting,” Higgins said. “There are so many opportunities to look at things either in detail or to try to be broad and think about how the region will be influenced. We can bring each person’s expertise together to predict pain points, like are we going to be scarce in any one resource in the future, and where?”

Janet Nelson, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Idaho, said the tri-state collaboration “will poise us to build relationships among researchers from all three universities with many areas of expertise in order to work toward solutions that improve communities, economies and lives.”

“The University of Idaho is committed to examining issues that are critical not only to the people of Idaho, but also to the entire Northwest region, with rippling effects around the world,” she said.

Those issues include how to best update aging hydropower plants and food production infrastructure.

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at Oregon State, notes that when it comes to food, energy and water challenges, a solution in one location can lead to problems hundreds of miles away.

“That’s why this demands regional cooperation,” she said. “I am proud that our three land grant institutions are working together on these issues for a healthy Pacific Northwest." 

Christopher Keane, vice president of research at WSU, echoed the sentiment and said he “looks forward to seeing the results of continued collaboration.”

“Working across disciplines and institutions to ensure a sustainable supply of food, energy and water for future generations is a top research priority for WSU,” he said.

In addition to the August event, the planning team is applying for external funding to support ongoing meetings to help sustain momentum. 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Sunflowers

Sunflower crop

International science team: Marine reserves can help mitigate climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of scientists has concluded that “highly protected” marine reserves can help mitigate the effects of climate change and suggests that these areas be expanded and better managed throughout the world.

Globally, coastal nations have committed to protecting 10 percent of their waters by 2020, but thus far only 3.5 percent of the ocean has been set aside for protection – and less than half of that (1.6 percent) is strongly protected from exploitation. Some scientists have argued that as much as 30 percent of the ocean should be set aside as reserves to safeguard marine ecosystems in the long-term. 

Results of the study, which evaluated 145 peer-reviewed studies on the impact of marine reserves, is being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Marine reserves cannot halt or completely offset the growing impacts of climate change,” said Oregon State University’s Jane Lubchenco, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator and co-author on the study. “But they can make marine ecosystems more resilient to changes and, in some cases, help slow down the rate of climate change. 

“Protecting a portion of our oceans and coastal wetlands will help sequester carbon, limit the consequences of poor management, protect habitats and biodiversity that are key to healthy oceans of the future, and buffer coastal populations from extreme events,” Lubchenco said. “Marine reserves are climate reserves.”

The scientists say marine reserves can help protect ecosystems – and people – from five impacts of climate change that already are taking place: ocean acidification, rising sea levels, an increase in the severity of storms, shifts in the distribution of species, and decreased ocean productivity and availability of oxygen.

Lead author Callum Roberts, from the University of York, said that many studies already have shown that marine reserves can protect wildlife and support productive fisheries. The goal of this peer-reviewed literature-study was to see whether the benefits of marine reserves could ameliorate or slow the impacts of climate change. 

“It was soon quite clear that they can offer the ocean ecosystem and people critical resilience benefits to rapid climate change,” Roberts said.

The benefits are greatest, the authors say, in large, long-established and well-managed reserves that have full protection from fishing and mineral extraction, and isolation from other damaging human activities. 

The study notes that ocean surface waters have become on average 26 percent more acidic since pre-industrial times, and by the year 2100 under a “business-as-usual” scenario they will be 150 percent more acidic. The authors say coastal wetlands – including mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – have demonstrated a capacity for reducing local carbon dioxide concentrations because many contain plants with high rates of photosynthesis.

“Unfortunately,” Lubchenco said, “these ecosystems are some of the most threatened coastal areas and have experienced substantial reductions in the past several decades. Wetland protection should be seen as a key element in achieving greater resilience for coast communities.” 

Coastal wetlands, along with coral and oyster reefs, kelp forests and mud flats, can help ameliorate impacts of rising sea levels and storm surge. The average global sea level has risen about seven inches since 1900, and is expected to increase nearly three feet by the year 2100, threatening many low-lying cities and nations. The dense vegetation in coastal wetlands can also provide protection against severe storms, which are increasing in intensity in many parts of the world.

Climate change already is having a major impact on the abundance and distribution of marine species. Phytoplankton communities are changing in response to warming, acidification and stratifying oceans, and upper trophic level species are being affected, threatening global food security. Climate change interacts with and exacerbates other stressors like overfishing and pollution, the researchers say.

Reducing some stressors can increase the resilience of species and ecosystems to impacts of other stressors. 

“We have seen how marine reserves can be a haven for some species that are under duress from over-fishing or habitat loss, and as a ‘stepping-stone’ for other species that are recolonizing or moving into new areas,” Lubchenco said. “Reserves also promote genetic diversity and provide protection for older fish and other marine organisms. In short, reserves are one of the most powerful tools in our adaptation toolbox. Reserves enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems, and thus our resilience.”

Lubchenco, who recently completed a two-year term as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, has been involved in research at Oregon State on the interactions between people and marine ecosystems. She has led pioneering studies on coastal hypoxia (so-called “dead zones”) and innovative ways to achieve sustainable fishing and other uses of the ocean. 

The authors point out that effectiveness of marine reserves is often challenged by lack of staff, equipment and funding; inconsistent management; lack of communication with industry and local communities; and concerns about displacing fishing activities. But, they point out, these challenges can be resolved. Their findings that reserves enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems suggests that reserves may offer the best hope to adapt to a changing climate.

“Marine reserves will not halt, change or stop many of the threats associated with climate change affecting communities within their boundaries,” they write. “We contend, however, that existing and emerging evidence suggests that (marine reserves) can serve as a powerful tool to help ameliorate some problems resulting from climate change, slow the development of others, and improve the outlook for continued ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem services.”

Lubchenco is a distinguished professor in the College of Science at Oregon State and marine studies adviser to OSU President Ed Ray.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337, lubchenco@oregonstate.edu

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Photo at left: Marine life around Palau. Photo by Richard Brooks

Patients nearing end of life receptive to having cholesterol medicine ‘deprescribed’

PORTLAND, Ore. – New research suggests patients nearing the end of their lives because of a “life-limiting illness” such as cancer or heart disease may not feel medically abandoned if their doctor wants to take them off the statins that control their cholesterol.

The findings are important because little is known about the best way to manage chronic medications for patients with a life-limiting condition, including data regarding patient attitudes toward “deprescribing.”

Deprescribing medications has the potential to improve outcomes in some cases, but patient concerns over being taken off statin drugs have not been reported.

Statins are a class of drugs that work by blocking the liver enzyme responsible for cholesterol production, thus reducing the buildup of plaque on artery walls that can lead to a stroke or heart attack. The drugs are highly effective but not without side effects for some patients, the most common being muscle pain that ranges from mild to severe.

Jon Furuno, an associate professor in of the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy, joined collaborators from around the United States in a study that included nearly 300 patients whose average age was 72 and whose life expectancy was one to 12 months. The patients were participants in a clinical trial to determine the safety and benefit of discontinuing statin therapy.

Fifty-eight percent were cancer patients, 8 percent had cardiovascular disease, and 30 percent had some other life-limiting diagnosis. The patients gave responses to a nine-item questionnaire designed to quantify potential benefits and concerns associated with discontinuing statins.

“We know these patients are on a lot of medications,” Furuno said. “There’s a lot of concern that patients will feel like doctors are giving up on them if they start to discontinue some of their medications, that there’s something comforting about continuing to take their medications, and this gives us some indication of what patients feel about the risks and benefits of deprescribing.”

Less than 5 percent of study participants expressed concern that deprescribing statins indicated being abandoned by their doctor, and many could see benefits of going off their statin, including spending less on medications (63 percent); the potential for being able to stop taking other meds also (34 percent); and having a better overall quality of life (25 percent).

Cardiovascular patients were particularly likely to envision quality-of-life benefits arising from statin discontinuation.

“Hopefully this will help inform prescribers who might be tentative to address this topic with their patients,” Furuno said. “As a patient’s prognosis changes and we think they have a relatively short lifespan left, it really requires risk/benefit re-examination of everything we’re doing for them, medications and everything else. There may still be benefits, but have the benefits changed or has the risk/benefit ratio changed?

“A lot of our work is trying to better inform the evidence base for medication use at the end of life, and patient perceptions are really important in trying to honor what the patient wants and what the family wants.”

Furuno notes that the primary limitation of this study is that all of the questionnaire respondents had also agreed to participate in a trial that involved possibly being chosen at random to go off statins – thus, they were all at least somewhat open to the idea of deprescribing.

“So this group is likely not completely representative of all people, because they might be foreseeing some benefits to stopping that other people hadn’t considered,” he said. “But while we don’t want to overlook that limitation, given the lack of information about patient perceptions regarding deprescribing, these data are important and useful as a stepping stone.”

The Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, supported this study. Collaborators included researchers from the University of Massachusetts, the University of Colorado, Case Western Reserve University, Duke University, the University of Maryland, the University of California-San Francisco, Mayo Clinic, and Flatiron Health, a health care technology company.

Findings were recently published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

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