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Prion protein
Winter 2017

Unraveling a curious killer

In the ghoulish world of infectious disease agents, prions might well be the zombies. Unlike bacteria and viruses, prions have no DNA, yet still manage to replicate. Nearly indestructible themselves, the tiny agents slowly ravage the brains of their victims in an infection that is always fatal.

Prions were the culprit behind the mad cow disease outbreak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And today, they’re driving the epidemic of chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreading rapidly through deer and elk across North America.

For nearly thirty years, Don Knowles ’88 PhD has bravely investigated these strange and elusive infectious particles. When asked if he … » More …

Winter 2017

Dog gone day

Our boy Mic’s symptoms were so subtle and their onset so gradual we didn’t initially see them. In fact, our other dogs noticed them first.

Mic, a Pembroke corgi then 12, had always embodied good “dog manners.” He’d never met a dog who didn’t like him. Suddenly, he was enraging his packmates. We sympathized; his nighttime barking was fraying our nerves, too.

A number of vet visits and lab tests revealed nothing, and Mic continued to decline. But when his spatial perception deteriorated, we realized he was acting like some elderly people and concluded, almost tongue-in-cheek, he had “doggy dementia.”

Turns out we were right.

» More …

Stethoscope on a doctor's neck
Winter 2017

Ethics and effectiveness in medicine

“Can you be an effective physician without also being an ethical physician?” That’s the question students in the inaugural class of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University faced for the first time on day two of classes. They’ll revisit it regularly as they make their way towards the MD degree and entry into a profession that has, many bioethicists and physicians believe, an ethic built right into it. To say that there is an ethic internal to medicine is to say that certain kinds of moral responsibilities are built right into what it means to be a part of … » More …

Winter 2017

A mother’s microbial gift

Old assumptions about human breast milk are giving way to new thinking about microbes in milk and their role in children’s health and our immune systems.

 

It happened again, most recently at a conference in Prague. After she gave her talk, a scientist came up to Shelley McGuire, a pioneer exploring the microbial communities found in human breast milk, and told her, You don’t know how to take a sample. Your samples must have been contaminated. Human milk is sterile.

McGuire, a professor of human nutrition at Washington State University, knows differently: She’s seen the microbes with her own eyes. But she understands … » More …

Matcha Tea Cakes
Winter 2017

At our table

“After you set the table with your best efforts, let your real pleasure come from looking around the table before breaking bread together and appreciating the similarities in your guests rather than the differences.”

Maya Angelou, 2011

Breaking bread, banquets, or potlucks—however and wherever we enjoy the delightful experience of sharing a meal, we can tell our stories, cross cultural boundaries, and begin to learn each other’s histories.

The holidays especially give us the opportunity to gather for food and talk, so important when it feels like we live in a time rife with incivility and torn by divisiveness.

» More …

Winter 2017

Going the distance. Really.

It is about the miles when you are an ultramarathoner.

 

TWO DAYS BEFORE THE START OF WSU’S FALL SEMESTER, Di Wu staggers down a rugged trail in the towering Sawatch Mountain Range in Colorado. He wheezes with every breath after loping, hiking, and toiling for nearly 50 miles—his training ground in Pullman had done little to prepare him for the suffocating, thin air.

Wu crosses 12,000-foot Hope Pass, a rigorous day’s hike by itself for most. Faced with the prospect of continuing back over the pass, and on to the finish of the Leadville Trail 100-miler, Wu realizes his weary legs are not … » More …

Winter 2017

Getting a new perspective on stress

Humans generally think of themselves as highly evolved creatures, but when it comes to stress, our fear response is as primitive as the tiny beasts that fled predators 500 million years ago. Though lifesaving, this fight-or-flight system is also triggered by modern concerns such as political Facebook posts or being stuck in traffic. Over time, psychological stress can build into an internal time bomb.

While some suggest humans have outgrown their stress system, studies show there are ways to teach that old brain new tricks, helping to calm the angst that comes with contemporary living.

Ryan McLaughlin, assistant professor in the Department of Integrative … » More …

Winter 2017

Going postal

While digital communication has made a lot of things easier—like video calling someone on the other side of the world—it has made collecting public opinion and behavior data more challenging.

Government agencies rely on that data from censuses, public opinion, and behavior surveys to make extensive policy and financial decisions that impact quality of life, such as healthcare measures that curb smoking.

Don Dillman, a Washington State University Regents Professor in sociology and internationally renowned survey methodologist, has dedicated his career to improving the design of surveys to collect that information.

When he started his career in the 1970s, he had to worry about … » More …

Winter 2017

Fighting infection a new, old way

Before antibiotics were invented, people often used silver, a known antimicrobial that can also be toxic, to tackle infections.

Researchers in the early 1900s also noticed a mysterious and inconsistent effect from using a mild electric current to kill nasty microbes.

Both methods were problematic, though, and were quickly abandoned with the advent of antibiotics, which killed bacteria so effectively throughout the twentieth century.

Now, as the efficacy of conventional antibiotics wanes, Washington State University researchers are reinventing old ideas to fight bacterial infection.

At their lab in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Amit Bandyopadhyay and Susmita Bose have developed a nontoxic … » More …

Fall 2017

Shifting waters

On the south end of Puget Sound, where I lived for a number of years, water surrounds Olympia: Black Lake, Budd Bay, Capitol Lake, inlets, rivers, and creeks. It’s part of the picturesque scenery that I enjoyed daily, until I saw a half-submerged SUV at an intersection. The storms of 2007 flooded some streets, not to mention covering I-5 just south in Centralia. Water had become an unexpected hazard.

We can expect even more heavy storms and major floods, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, as the climate changes. Floods that were once seen every 20 years are projected to happen as much as … » More …