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Biological sciences

Summer 2008

What a dive

The Washington State University biologist, who retired in 2001 after decades of studying marine worms, was shorebound when the stubby little submarine called Alvin first carried humans to the bottom of the sea.

Schroeder remembers the excitement in his lab when scientists aboard Alvin discovered vents in the ocean floor, where three-foot-long tube worms and other weird-looking animals lived on the mineral exhalations of the earth’s interior.

“I had a graduate student working on worms then,” he recalls, “and it was in Time magazine, these guys with these giant worms, and [my student] came running into my office and said, ‘What the hell are these … » More …

Summer 2005

Genes and DNA: A Beginner's Guide to Genetics and Its Applications

Evelyn Fox Keller, a well-known social critic and professor of philosophy of science at MIT, termed the 20th century the “Century of the Gene.” Five years into the 21st century, it can be easily argued that we are in for another century full of genetic wonder, hope, frustration, and fear.

It is impossible to read a newspaper or watch the news without hearing about the discovery of a gene that will affect all of our lives. Recently, genes have been reported to be responsible for problems ranging from compulsive shopping, obesity, and alcoholism to breast and prostate cancer. How do nonscientists wade through the hype … » More …

Fall 2008

Seeing red (and far-red)

Ask crop scientist Michael Neff about plant growth, and he won’t talk about rainfall or fertilizer. He’ll talk about what the plants see.

“What I’ve been interested in forever is how plants use light as a source of information,” says Neff. “Plants have photoreceptors that are completely independent of photosynthesis and chloroplasts, that read their environment and say, ‘I am in full sunlight, I’m in the shade of another plant, I’ve got plants that are growing too close to me,’” and so on. The photoreceptors then trigger a host of hormonal reactions that influence how tall the plant will grow.

Neff thinks it’s possible to … » More …

Fall 2008

To Err is Human

The older a woman is when she conceives, the more likely it is her eggs will have abnormal chromosomes. But beyond the fact of the biological clock, we often overlook a bigger story. Even with young mothers, chromosome abnormalities are the single most frequent cause of miscarriage and birth defects. Between 25 and 30 percent of all fertilized human eggs have the wrong number of chromosomes, a rate that seems peculiar to humans. » More ...
Summer 2008

Northwest Trees: Identifying and Understanding the Region’s Native Trees

Stephen F. Arno ’65 and Ramona P. Hammerly
The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, 2007

Trees recall memories. Both thicken through the years, become storm-roughened, and may persist despite broken branches. We look at trees the way we look to memories as familiar waymarks in our personal landscapes. The new edition of Stephen Arno (’65 Forestry) and Ramona Hammerly’s Northwest Trees offers to enlarge one’s landscape of trees. The beauty of this book, with its insights and … » More …

Fall 2008

Return to Warden's Grove: Science, Desire and the Lives of Sparrows

Spying on birds in the far north

Warden’s Grove is a tiny cluster of spruce trees in the generally treeless expanse of the north Canadian tundra, and Christopher Norment – who received his master’s degree from WSU in 1982 – spent three long summers there studying sparrows; this excellent little book is his account of those summers. Readers expecting a tale of high arctic adventure will be disappointed – there are no attacks by ferocious grizzlies, no horrifying acts perpetrated by men made desperate by starvation, and no daring escapades by intrepid explorers of the last frontier. Instead, Norment delivers a tale of patient waiting … » More …

Spring 2006

See Shells Far From the Sea Shore

If the winter grays have you hankering for a glimpse of beach life, head to the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus at Richland. There, more than 200 miles from Washington’s coast—or just a few clicks down the Internet road—you’ll find the Gladys Archerd Shell Collection. Looking at the incredible variety of whorls, spikes, and splashes of color, you can almost hear the gulls calling and feel the sand between your toes.

The collection was the lifelong passion of Gladys Doy Archerd, whose fascination with shells began in the early 1900s with childhood walks along the shores of the Olympic Peninsula. Over the years she became … » More …