In a world that’s beset with huge changes, it is sometimes hard to appreciate small things.
Consider the mouse-ear cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, which grows by roads and sidewalks. Not much to see, the little weed has a very small genome and in 2000 was the first plant to be completely sequenced. Its very simplicity has made Arabidopsis a powerful research tool for plant scientists at Washington State University and around the world.
WSU scientists have used it to identify a gene that allows the elimination of trans fats from many cooking oils and fats, find ways to help plants adapt to climate change, and investigate many other areas of plant research that make a big difference in Pacific Northwest agriculture.
Another often overlooked group of organisms, fungi, also seems deceptively simple. Yet different types of fungus could help save honeybees from parasites, assist crops in taking up nutrients from soil, and can provide a model to break down plant waste for biofuels. Plus, the thready rootlike structures of fungi, mycelium, can grow robustly into almost any shape and be hardened for a biodegradable material. One WSU student even made a canoe of the stuff.
Sometimes, though, the smallest things feel so hard. Feeding your child, particularly if the child has Down syndrome, can turn into a difficult activity. WSU food scientist Carolyn Ross faced that situation, and it led her to research food textures. Her findings might give relief to many parents who struggle with feeding their children.
Simple pleasures also enhance our lives. For some, that means shopping and the dopamine rush of a serendipitous find at places like WSU’s surplus store. Check out that wonderland of oddities and treasures in this issue.
As the pandemic gradually decreases, we begin to enjoy events again, such as the thrills of a fair. WSU and its connections to agriculture have long been entwined with fairs, and all their nostalgic, fun, and even futuristic features.
We can receive such wonderful, uncomplicated joy from fair food, rides, entertainment, or the smile on a 4-H kid who just showed a prize goat. As Bilbo Baggins says in J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous novel, “It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.”