Spring carefully raises its leafy head each year, including the first emerald sprouts of wheat and other crops across the hills of eastern Washington. The serene greening of the Palouse hills belies the frantic activity in the soil beneath, though.
Microbes, both hostile and helpful, swarm around the roots of the growing plants. This is a world explored by plant pathologist and soil health expert Jim Cook, who spent 40 years at Washington State as both a faculty member and a USDA scientist, and recently received an honorary doctorate from WSU. Cook, fellow researchers, and farmers learned ways to manage the root diseases of wheat and the result is evident every year.
A struggle wages inside other key Northwest plants, too: grapes face leafroll viruses, fire blight antagonizes apple and pear trees, and rust affects wheat. As these diseases affect our top crops, WSU researchers and Extension specialists race to find new methods of resisting the diseases through knowledge, treatment, and genetics.
Human health benefits from the rapid expansion of genomic data as well. WSU’s new doctors-in-training at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, along with other health-care practitioners, are getting a personal introduction to the huge amounts of data gathered from inside individuals. That information can better inform care from medical teams and promote wellness in those individuals.
People can also use smartphone technology—sometimes developed by health-care professionals and WSU alumni—to improve their lives, whether that means learning new patterns of speech from moving x-rays or reducing daily stress for nurses with an efficient scheduling app.
However, I know that smartphones can push us to retreat inside ourselves too much. As we stare at our little screens, it becomes too easy to ignore the world outside of us. Biophilia, the joy of the natural world, offers an antidote. Increasing numbers of programs, like No Child Left Inside, promote the thrill of getting out in the woods and fields, and can build appreciation of our planet.
The Arctic, with its rapidly diminishing ice, certainly needs appreciation. WSU English professor Debbie Lee sailed on a tall ship with other artists in the high Arctic around Svalbard, documenting and archiving the stunning land- and ice-scapes of the region. Through Lee’s writing, the artistry of others, and the work of scientists drilling in the ice, the secrets inside the dwindling Arctic become visible and undeniable.