Just the right combination of cold and moist conditions last winter blanketed the trees, buildings, and grounds of the WSU Pullman campus with a layer of hoarfrost. The tiny, icy spikes added a new and beautiful dimension, even drawing my eyes to a fresh look at the cougar statue outside the Lewis Alumni Centre. I walk past that leaping figure nearly every workday, and yet rarely look at it like I did that day.
Sometimes we need a new way to perceive the world around us, even those parts that are invisible. For example, cancerous tumors notoriously adapt and resist treatment as they invade our cells. To fight them, we must identify their growth patterns within and around human cells, an effort that WSU biochemist Weimin Li has undertaken as both an oncologist and a research scientist. His solution: build a 3-D tissue “scaffold” out of organic material that matches the cancer’s location (like mammary tissue), and grow tumors in a realistic setting. Watching the tumors’ responses could then help develop better drugs and treatments.
A new look at infectious bacteria and other agents, which are growing more resistant to medical treatments like antibiotics, is also the approach of researchers at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. Antimicrobial resistance looms over all of us as a complex and dangerous problem. But rather than get discouraged, say the WSU scientists and public health experts, a change in our patterns of behavior can help stave off the unnecessary overuse of antibiotics—often through simple habits, like washing your hands the right way.
The behavior of other animals, their habits and instincts, are certainly crucial to our survival. Bees, with their ubiquitous summer buzzing, pollinate the plants that provide a lot of our food. As wild bees face threats from loss of habitats or chemicals, we can, in turn, provide them with homes so they’ll thrive in the Northwest.
Much of the beauty of the natural and human-made world, like the hoarfrost last winter, can be seen in the repetition of shapes and colors. Even though the universe tends toward entropy, humans are pattern-seeking animals and we appreciate the appeal of hexagonal beehives (which, I learned from an “Ask Dr. Universe” video, have a very logical reason), long rows of loblolly pines in Georgia, or the furry brown humps of bison against a snow-covered field.