Many of us have taken to hiking trails and forests during this pandemic, in exchange for other types of vacations. We admire the rivers, towering firs, and flowers, but it’s easy to look over amazing fungi on the trees and rocks in front of us: the lichens.

Lichens are so much more than fungi. They aren’t even a single organism; lichens survive because of a symbiotic partnership with algae or cyanobacteria that provide carbon. Symbiotic relationships, a foundational part of the living world that we’re starting to understand even more, inspire the research of Stephanie Porter, a microbiologist at WSU Vancouver.

Porter studies the evolution of cooperation and plant-microbe symbiosis. In particular, she analyzes the symbiotic relationship between crops and their microbial community, which has transformed as humans domesticated plants. The work of Porter and her lab is motivated by the need to maintain a healthy food supply with fewer environmental costs.

On a larger level, a symbiotic relationship forms between farmers and those who eat their products. Small farmers, some of whom you’ll meet in this issue, need the support of their communities, who in turn get those delicious carrots or apples or beets. WSU plays a part, too, providing tools and training to many of those small farmers.

Connections happen at the smallest levels, even smaller than microbes, although those interactions get pretty strange. WSU researchers are digging into quantum mechanics, where many known rules become unpredictable. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around concepts like entanglement, where two particles are inextricably linked and affect each other no matter the distance. However, the results of quantum research will have a profound effect on our technology and understanding of the universe.

This magazine is also deeply linked to you, our readers. We provide stories and insight into WSU to keep you connected. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout has hit the University hard, with consequences for the magazine.

We will not be printing a spring issue next February due to budget cuts. We’re still producing an issue, available digitally around February 1. If you would like to read the Spring 2021 magazine, visit magazine.wsu.edu/connect to sign up for our email newsletter or to follow us on social media. We’ll have print-on-demand and other options, too.

The summer issue in May will also have reduced distribution, but we will have print and digital versions. The print magazine will be sent to WSU Alumni Association members and paid subscribers, so join the WSUAA if you haven’t already. We also welcome any support you can provide to the magazine.

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