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Biology

Genetically modified pig. Photo Luke Hollister
Winter 2018

Pork futures

Pig 135 snuffles and grunts inside his pen. Jon Oatley reaches through the bars to pet the more than 500-pound genetically modified animal.

“People have this image in their head of a pig with deformities, but they’re just normal pigs,” says molecular biologist Oatley ’01 MS, ’04 PhD as he rubs the pig’s ears.

The enormous, three-year-old pig is one of a handful bred by Oatley, director of WSU’s Center for Reproductive Biology, and his team to be surrogate fathers. Through genetic tinkering, Pig 135 is able to produce sperm that contains the genetic material of another pig rather than his own. This … » More …

Winter 2018

Build a bee hotel

Help some local pollinators by building your own bee hotel.

There are plenty of tutorials and guides out there. Below are a few easy steps to quickly building a home for solitary bees, followed by links to some other guides.

With a craft knife, cut both ends off the plastic bottle to create a cylinder.
Make your lengths of bamboo, grass or reeds 3 cm shorter than the bottle to protect them from rain – use sharp garden clippers to trim them. Bees can’t burrow through the knots in bamboo, so avoid lengths with too many knots.
Use sandpaper to smooth the … » More …

Doug Walsh
Winter 2018

Gallery: Bee beds and hotels

A unique look at the interplay between wild North American bees, European bees, and Washington farmers.

Photographer Zach Mazur ’06 highlights the apian stars of Southeast Washington’s thriving alfalfa seed industry. The spare yet stunning landscape is home to millions of native alkali bees which, together with leafcutter bees, make Walla Walla County one of the nation’s top producers.

Read more about wild bees and pollinators in “Plan Bee.

micrograph of a tissue matrix scaffold
Winter 2018

A new dimension to fighting cancer

Any good strategist knows that an accurate map can win a battle. If your enemy is cancer, a chaotic and elusive foe that changes its environment, finding a new dimension to examine a tumor can make all the difference when developing treatments.

Like all scientists and doctors looking for ways to defeat cancer, Weimin Li wants to better understand how cancerous tumors grow and adapt. His innovative technology using 3-D tissue culture “scaffolds” delivers a far more relevant environment to research the deadly disease.

It’s a fight that Li has fought on many fronts. He spent seven years practicing oncology in China and witnessed … » More …

Black jacobin hummingbird
Fall 2018

Higher calling

For decades, scientists have been intrigued by a black hummingbird that appears to be singing, its throat and jaw moving in all earnestness, but without making any obvious sound. Augusto Ruschi, a naturalist who catalogued dozens of hummingbirds in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, first noticed it in 1959.

The bird, called a black Jacobin, appeared to have portions of its song that were ultrasonic, “inaudible to humans,” said Ruschi, “and while one would only perceive it with special equipment, one can notice the moment in which the bird emits it, as its guttural region makes characteristic movements, commonly observed when a bird sings.”

It would be … » More …

Cover of The Book of Caterpillars
Summer 2018

The Book of Caterpillars

Cover of The Book of Caterpillars

Edited by David G. James

The University of Chicago Press: 2017

 

Meet some of the world’s most wild, weird, and beautiful caterpillars. Using its own hairs, the lichen moth builds a basket around itself to stay protected during metamorphosis.

As the Red Helen caterpillar develops, its body starts to resemble a snake’s head. When threatened a red, forked appendage inflates from behind its own head, giving off an unpleasant … » More …

Darwin's finches illustration
Summer 2018

Another look at Darwin’s finches

Darwin developed key aspects of his theory of evolution while pondering finches from the Galapagos Islands. It’s only fitting that reproductive biologist Michael Skinner would choose those same islands to propose a Lamarckian idea—that environment can directly impact inheritance of physical traits.

In this case, the process is driven by epigenetics, he says. “If we think about evolution, we can’t simply think of genetics. We also need to think about epigenetics.”

According to Skinner, epigenetic mutations occur 1,000 times more frequently than do genetic mutations and could help explain why new species emerge more often than expected.

“The reason epimutations exist might be to dramatically … » More …

Summer 2018

Evolution evolution

In a word, Michael Skinner is tenacious. Growing up on a ranch outside Pendleton, the former Eagle Scout and college wrestler learned early on that you don’t back down from a little head-butting or controversy. It’s all just part of the game.

The trait has served Skinner ’82 PhD well over the years and enabled him to persevere through the fallout of a chance discovery in his reproductive biology lab in the 1990s. The unexpected findings threw 200 years of scientific ideology into question and initiated a paradigm shift in the understanding of inheritance and evolution. They also sparked a wave of outrage and … » More …