OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

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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By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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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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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

Agility Robotics evolves from OSU research, aims to revolutionize robot mobility

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The rapidly expanding robotics program in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University has spun off one of its first businesses, a company focused on legged locomotion that may revolutionize robot mobility and enable robots to go anywhere people can go.

The firm, Agility Robotics, is based in Albany, Oregon, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; already has several of its first customers; will license some technologies first developed at OSU, and plans to build on this scientific foundation in their product research and development.

A leading application for this type of mobility is package delivery, company officials say. In the long term, advanced mobility will enable shipping so automated and inexpensive that its cost becomes inconsequential, opening vast new possibilities in retail trade while lowering costs for manufacturing and production.

“This technology will simply explode at some point, when we create vehicles so automated and robots so efficient that deliveries and shipments are almost free,” said Jonathan Hurst, an associate professor of robotics in the OSU College of Engineering, chief technology officer at Agility Robotics and an international leader in the development of legged locomotion.

“Quite simply, robots with legs can go a lot of places that wheels cannot. This will be the key to deliveries that can be made 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by a fleet of autonomous vans that pull up to your curb, and an onboard robot that delivers to your doorstep.

“This robot capability will free people from weekend shopping chores, reduce energy use, and give consumers more time to do the things they want to do. It effectively brings efficient automated logistics from state-of-the-art warehouses out and into the rest of the world.”

This long-term vision will take many steps, company officials said.

Some of Agility Robotics’ first sales will be to other academic and research institutions, to grow the research community and educate a new generation of engineers in this area, company officials said. What the firm now offers is a bipedal robot named “Cassie” – similar to the prototype version demonstrated Feb. 8 at OSU’s State of the University address in Portland, Oregon, by President Edward J. Ray.

Cassie the robot can stand, steer, and take a pretty good fall without breaking. It’s half the weight and much more capable than earlier robots developed at OSU.

“Our previous robot, ATRIAS, had motors that would work against either other, which was inefficient,” Hurst said. “With Cassie, we’ve fixed this problem and added steering, feet, and a sealed system, so it will work outdoors in the rain and snow as we continue with our controller testing.”

The particular issue of motors working against one another prompted some extensive theoretical research, to create the mathematical frameworks needed to solve the problem. The resulting leg configuration of Cassie looks much like an ostrich or other ground-running bird.

“We weren’t trying to duplicate the appearance of an animal, just the techniques it uses to be agile, efficient and robust in its movement,” Hurst said.

“We didn’t care what it looked like and were mostly just working to find out why Mother Nature did things a certain way. But even though we weren’t trying to mimic the form, what came out on the other end of our research looked remarkably like an animal leg.”

Cassie, built with a 16-month, $1 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, is already one of the leading innovations in the world of legged robotics.

Company officials say they plan to do all initial production in Oregon and will focus their business on the commercial applications of legged robots. Hiring is anticipated for research, production and development.

“The robotics revolution will bring with it enormous changes, perhaps sooner than many people realize,” Hurst said. “We hope for Agility Robotics to be a big part of that revolution. We want to change people’s lives and make them better.”

 

Company officials said that access to the research base and education of students at OSU will aid its growth, providing the needed expertise and trained work force. OSU has already been ranked by Grad School Hub as the best in the western United States and fourth leading program in the nation in robotics research and education.

Last month, OSU officials also announced that the university will be a founding academic partner in the newest Manufacturing USA Institute, the Advance Robotics Manufacturing Innovation Hub. This broad program with 14 institutes is a $3 billion federal and private company initiative designed to enhance U.S. competitiveness in advanced manufacturing.

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Jonathan Hurst, 541-737-7010

jonathan.hurst@oregonstate.edu

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Cassie the robot
Cassie the robot

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MRI brain scans may help identify risks, prevent adolescent substance abuse

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Neuroimaging of the brain using technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, increasingly is showing promise as a technique to predict adolescent vulnerability to substance abuse disorders, researchers conclude in a new analysis. 

A greater understanding of what such technologies offer and continued research to perfect the use of them may ultimately help identify youth at the highest risk for these problems and allow prevention approaches. These might include neuropsychological intervention exercises that can strengthen vulnerable cognitive networks in the brain.

The findings are of importance, researchers say, because underage alcohol and drug use is increasingly being recognized as a public health and social problem, with long-term consequences that include poorer academic performance, neurocognitive deficits and psychosocial problems.

Youth who begin drinking before age 15 have four to six times the rate of lifetime alcohol dependence than those who do not drink by age 21, researchers noted in this analysis, which was recently published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.

“Structural and neural alterations in the brain from drug and alcohol abuse have now been well established,” said Anita Cservenka, an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study.

“It’s also becoming clear that some of these alterations can exist before any substance abuse, and often are found in youth who have a family history of alcohol and drug use disorders. These familial risk factors can play a role in future substance abuse, along with environmental risk factors such as peer influence, personality and psychosocial interactions.”

Family history of alcohol-use disorder is a strong predictor of substance abuse, Cservenka said, as it raises the risk for the development of alcohol-use disorder in adolescents by three to five times. Neuroimaging studies show significant overlap in brain scans between those with a family history of alcohol- and substance-use disorders and youth who begin using substances during adolescence.

Some of the findings in youth with family history of alcohol- and substance-use disorder include a smaller volume of limbic brain regions, sex-specific patterns of hippocampal volume, and a positive association of familial risk with “nucleus accumbens” volume in the brain. Other risk factors for adolescent substance use that have been identified include poorer performance on executive functioning tasks of inhibition and working memory, smaller brain volumes in reward and cognitive control regions, and heightened response to rewards.

A factor contributing to a peak in substance use during adolescence, researchers say, may be emotion and reward systems that develop before cognitive control systems, leaving youth more vulnerable to risk-taking behaviors.

Almost two thirds of 18-year-olds, for instance, support lifetime alcohol use; 45 percent marijuana use; and 31 percent smoking cigarettes.

Various studies, Cservenka said, are examining such issues, including the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence, which includes five sites across the U.S. following 800 youth ages 12-21.

“We’re just beginning to understand the risk factors for substance abuse and the consequences of adolescent substance use with these types of large, long-term studies,” she said. “Ultimately such information should help inform us about who might be at most risk and what brain areas are most vulnerable, so we can target them and work to prevent the problems.”

If an MRI showed weakness in working memory, for instance, computer games or behavioral tasks might help strengthen the area of the brain that is deficient. Similar approaches might also be used to help address issues such as stress and depression, Cservenka said.

The lead author on this review was Lindsay Squeglia at the Medical University of South Carolina. The work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Anita Cservenka, 541-737-1366

anita.cservenka@oregonstate.edu

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Brain scan
Brain scan

Vitamin E deficiency linked to embryo damage, death

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers for the first time have explained how deficient levels of vitamin E can cause neurologic damage to an embryo, failure to normally develop and ultimately death – a process that in women can be one cause of miscarriage.

The research was published by scientists from Oregon State University in Free Radical Biology and Medicine. It answers some questions about the biologic activities of vitamin E that have been debated since 1922, when this essential micronutrient was first discovered, in part for its role in preventing embryonic mortality.

The research also made clear the importance of vitamin E status for any woman who is planning to, or might become pregnant, scientists said.

The study, done with zebrafish embryos, showed that severe vitamin E deficiency causes the depletion of essential fatty acids, especially the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which has been shown to be of critical importance to health in multiple studies in recent years.

When this happens, cells use glucose to prevent or reduce damage. Lacking glucose for energy, many physical and neurologic features, especially the brain, simply don’t get built, and death can be the result. Restoration of glucose can repair some of the damage, but some physical deformities remain.

In the growing embryo of a zebrafish – which goes from a cell to a swimming fish in about five days – a severe vitamin E deficiency causes 70-80 percent mortality, the study showed.

“Vitamin E has many biologic roles, only one of which is to serve as an antioxidant,” said Maret Traber, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and Ava Helen Pauling Professor in the Linus Pauling Institute.

“In the growing embryo, vitamin E plays a major role in protecting essential fats such as DHA. Loss and oxidation of these fats can begin a chain reaction that involves glucose, depletes the cell of other antioxidants such as vitamin C, robs the cell of energy, and ultimately has a lethal outcome.”

When vitamin E is deficient, the embryonic brain is literally starved of necessary energy and nutrients, particularly DHA and choline, the researchers concluded in their study.

The neurological development of zebrafish is very similar to that of humans, Traber said, which make them a good model for this research.

“The importance of vitamin E in embryonic development, the very earliest days of vertebrate life, is part of what actually led to its discovery,” Traber said. “Since then we’ve learned much more about the need for this micronutrient in women. One study done in Bangladesh, for instance, showed that pregnant women with lower levels of vitamin E had double the risk of miscarriages as another group with adequate nutrition.”

Nutrition surveys suggest that about 96 percent of women in the U.S. have inadequate intakes of vitamin E in their diet, Traber said. The problem may be of even greater concern in young adult women who avoid high-fat foods and may not have a diet rich in oils, nuts and seeds, some of the foods with the highest levels of this micronutrient. The human body can create DHA from some foods, but not vitamin E.

In a human fetus, some of the most critical periods for neurologic and brain development are in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Given the difficulty of obtaining vitamin E in the diet, this would suggest that any woman who is planning to or may become pregnant should take a multivitamin with the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E and some other micronutrients, Traber said.

Collaborators on this research were from the Catholic University of Korea and the University of Southern California. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Helen P. Rumbel endowment to the Linus Pauling Institute.

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Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

maret.traber@oregonstate.edu

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Vitamin E
Vitamin E supplements

Third Oregon climate assessment report shows state still warming, despite frigid winter

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Don’t let this winter fool you. Oregon’s climate continues to warm; there are impacts on the state’s physical, biological and human-managed systems; and more studies are pointing to greenhouse gas emissions as the reason for these climate trends and events.

That is the conclusion of the third Oregon Climate Assessment Report, a synthesis of peer-reviewed scientific studies over the past three years. The legislatively mandated report was produced by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and is being presented this month to key Oregon political leaders.

“Oregonians shouldn’t be swayed by this winter, which is colder than any of the ones we’ve had since 1990,” noted Philip Mote, director of the OSU center and a co-author on the report. “Overall, temperatures are still getting warmer – in Oregon, throughout the United States, and globally – and the impacts are very real.

“For Oregonians, it means warmer temperatures, lower snowpack and less water during the summer. And more and more studies are confirming greenhouse gas emissions as the cause.”

Kathie Dello, associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, points out that although December of 2016 was the 11th coldest December on record in Oregon in 122 years of monitoring, the year was still among the top 10 warmest years on record for the state.

The climate assessment report, led by Meghan Dalton, a research assistant with the institute in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, looked at more than 300 studies published from 2013-16 by researchers at universities, state and federal agencies, and elsewhere. Dalton led a team of researchers who synthesized the literature and developed the report.

“The year 2015 has been described as foreshadowing what we can expect as normal conditions by the mid-21st century,” Dalton said. “There were warmer temperatures that led to drought, low snowpack, and greater wildfire risk, with less water in the summer. That appears to be our future.”

Snowpack in the past three years has varied greatly, according to Dello.

“In 2015, we basically had no snow to speak of,” Dello said. “In 2016, we had a lot of snow, but most of it got wiped out by warm temperatures in late winter and early spring. So far this year, we have had a lot of snow, but warmer temperatures are moving in, and we still have a lot of winter left. We’re cautiously optimistic. Large year-to-year changes like that are still expected, even in a warming climate.”

The report notes that a warming climate and earlier spring may have a few beneficial results. Farmers, for example, may benefit from a longer growing season, though water could be an issue for some crops.

The report analyzes potential impacts of climate change for Oregon’s many regions. Among the findings:

  • The Oregon Coast: Sea level rise will increase the risk of erosion and flooding and higher estuary temperatures will challenge migrating salmon and steelhead. One study estimated that warming of Yaquina Bay by 1.3 to 2.9 degrees (F) would result in 40 additional days of temperatures not meeting the criteria for protecting salmonids.
  • The Willamette Valley: Heat waves are expected to become longer, more common and more intense; operating rules for reservoirs may have to change to balance flood risk and summer water supply; air quality will decline, and wildfire risk will increase. A study of fire activity concluded that there will be a three-fold to nine-fold increase in the amount of area burned in the basin by the year 2100.
  • The Cascade Mountains: More precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, with elevations between 3,000 feet and 6,000 feet being the most sensitive. In addition to potential impacts on ski resorts, there likely will be a change in when water is available. Cascades forests will probably be subject to more wildfire, drought, insect damage and disease, and some studies suggest that woodlands will shift from predominantly conifer to mixed conifer forests. The risk of increased incidence of respiratory illness from wildfire smoke is a top public health risk in Jackson County.
  • Eastern Oregon: Water will be a huge issue in the east with snowpack decline, and the same forest issues face the Blue Mountains as the Cascades. Increased wildfire risk may create more days of heavy smoke affecting public health, and fires will threaten the forests. Salmon in the John Day basin and other river systems will be challenged with warmer temperatures, and rangeland and sagebrush habitat is threatened by non-native weeds and grasses.

“A lot of the studies we cited focus on the physical aspects of warming, from snowpack to wildfire, but there are a lot of people who will be affected,” Dello said. “We can’t forget that Oregonians, their families, their jobs and their resources are at risk. There is still time to do something, but time is running short.”

A copy of the report is available at http://occri.net/

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Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu; Phil Mote, 541-913-2274, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu