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Biological sciences

Dem bones

The Conner has one of the biggest collections of bird skeletons in the nation. Kelly Cassidy opens a drawer and pulls out a box the size of a small microwave oven. It rattles. It contains a disarticulated golden eagle skeleton, each piece labeled with a number (except for the very smallest, which are about the size of a sesame seed).

“Our skeletons are literally boxes of bones,” she says. The Museum has a few dozen skeletons that have been fully assembled, which are useful for public display, but not for research that requires being able to look at the bones from all angles.

The most … » More …

Coping with Climate Change

Several years ago, scientists noticed that recent herbarium specimens had been collected earlier in the season than specimens from decades past. Since most plants are collected when they are in flower, that meant they were flowering earlier. The easy explanation was that they were responding to the warmer temperatures caused by climate change. The trouble with that, says Larry Hufford, is that it didn’t happen with every species.

He searched the Herbarium’s database for the first date of collection for several plants common in eastern Washington, and found that the habitat a species lives in may be a factor in whether the plant is now … » More …

Why do good eggs go bad?

 In 2004, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York produced a line of mice with an intriguing mutation. The mice make a defective form of a protein called SMC1beta that binds to chromosomes during the crossing-over stage. Pat Hunt and Terry Hassold, on the lookout for anything that might be involved in damage to chromosomes in the eggs of older women, recognized a hot prospect.

SMC1beta is part of a complex, or cluster, of four proteins called cohesins. The complex holds the two strands of each chromosome together while they break and recombine with the strands of their partner chromosome. Hunt and … » More …

Summer 2006

The worm turns: A Palouse native is found

A Palouse native, not seen in nearly two decades and feared extinct, has been rediscovered. While digging soil samples at the Washington State University botany department’s Smoot Hill preserve, University of Idaho graduate student Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon noticed a glimpse of white. Quick with her shovel, she captured the six-inch specimen of Driloreirus americanus, also known as the giant Palouse earthworm. Historically, specimens have been recorded as long as three feet. Although an observer reported it as “abundant” in the Palouse in 1897, tillage and competition from European earthworms seem to have taken their toll.

Smoot Hill contains the largest remnant of native Palouse prairie. … » More …

Summer 2006

Uncommon access: Gaylord Mink shifts his focus from viruses to wild horses

Gaylord Mink, hunched over and quiet as a mule deer, picks his way through rugged rangeland near the center of the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Mink stops, straightens, and scans toward Dry Creek Elbow in the distance. Much closer, five wild horses lift their own heads to meet his gaze. They are all well within range.

The small band’s stallion snorts a warning as the nervous mares and a colt seem anxious to bolt. Mink snorts back, and the stallion circles even closer to take up the challenge, dragging his wary entourage in his wake.

Mink is a hunter who doesn’t pack a gun. He shoots … » More …

Spring 2008

Clarence A. (Bud) Ryan: A scientist who catalyzed excellence

Clarence A. (Bud) Ryan, one of WSU’s preeminent scientists, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in October. Ryan pioneered the study of the innate immune response of plants. Prior to his work, plants were assumed to contain protease inhibitors all the time, as a deterrent to being eaten. Ryan discovered instead that plants make the inhibitors in response to an attack. He further showed that an attack on one part of a plant sets off chemical signals that spur production of inhibitors throughout the entire plant. Besides his scientific renown, Ryan was well known around campus for his graciousness—-and his ability on the … » More …

Spring 2008

Kathleen Sayce: Keeping a heritage alive

Wielding loppers, Kathleen Sayce cuts through brambles smothering a parcel in the heart of historic and otherwise tidy Oysterville on southwest Washington’s Willapa Bay.

Between a leaning red alder and a mangled Sitka spruce, Sayce (’78 M.S. Bot.) opens a narrow trail through native bittersweet, salmonberry, and red elderberry plants. With verve, she hacks invasive ivy and blackberry vines. In the center of the thicket she unveils shredded food wrappers, perhaps the plunder of black bears living on Long Beach Peninsula.

The science officer at ShoreBank Pacific, Sayce—-sporting a sheen of perspiration and bug repellant—-is no buttoned-down banker. She is the only working biologist or … » More …