Tarah Sullivan is fiercely insistent that we are all interconnected. The Washington State University soil microbiologist and ecologist says that understanding those connections is key to a healthy future.
“I know it sounds a little hokey,” the mother of two daughters apologizes without backing down: “Microorganisms connect everything everyday in every way. We absolutely could not survive on the planet without active and healthy microbiomes, in humans and in the environment.”
Sullivan’s work focuses on how microbial communities in soil impact heavy metal biogeochemistry. Many metals are important micronutrients for both plants and animals—but too much of a good thing can make plants sick. … » More …
There are millions of microorganisms in a drop of pond water—but who are they? There are bacteria, protozoa, hydras, arthropods—all manner of critters are in that drop of water. Dividing them up by genera and species, though, is tricky because many bacteria look similar. That makes identifying the members of a microbial community difficult.
A new way of identifying microbes is with the tools of the genomicist. Just as we can sequence the genome of a single organism, so too can we now sequence a drop of pond water, kefir, milk, or fecal material to see who lives there.
It may be possible to use good bacteria to control bad bacteria and, in the process, reduce the use of chemicals currently employed for such control. Just look in a tick’s gut.
Kelly Brayton, a WSU veterinary microbiologist, and her colleagues study the pathogens in ticks that cause disease in livestock and humans. The pathogens infest ticks’ guts and salivary glands and, along with other non-pathogenic organisms, comprise the tiny arachnid’s microbiome.
They’ve recently been studying something fascinating: If a tick is infected by a non-disease causing strain of the bacteria Anaplasma marginale, its bite won’t transmit anaplasmosis to its human victim. This “exclusion process,” … » More …
The straggly plant is easy to dismiss. Narrow leaves and white, trumpet-like flowers, fade easily into Northwest fields and roadsides. But Nicotiana attenuata, commonly known as coyote tobacco, contains medicinal and ceremonial properties long revered by Native American cultures.
For thousands of years, coyote and other types of wild tobacco have provided what many consider a versatile healing remedy and meditative, spiritual channel to the Creator. Much of the botanical lore was muddled, however, with the arrival of Europeans and subsequent cultural upheaval.
At Washington State University, researchers Shannon Tushingham and David Gang ’99 PhD are using a combination of archeology and high-end molecular chemistry … » More …
The headlines paint a dire picture: By the 2030s, global warming could completely melt Arctic sea ice, imperiling the 19 known polar bear populations that range across the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway.
Could, as some fear, the trend spell extinction for Ursus martimus?
For two of the country’s premiere polar bear researchers—wildlife biologists KARYN RODE ’99 MS, ’05 PhD, and DAVID C. DOUGLAS ’86 MS, both of whom work for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center—the answer is a decided “No.”
But neither is the future rosy for the animals, according to Douglas, who uses satellite tracking to monitor their … » More …
Surviving the challenges of deep space exploration could rely as much on botany as astrophysics.
NASA sees plants not only as potential food sources aboard future spacecraft but as natural oxygen producers. The space agency is preparing for its first in-depth study of how growth and development of plants is affected by gravity, or more specifically the lack of it.
“The overall significance is what it could mean for space exploration,” says Norman G. Lewis, a Regents professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and principal investigator for the NASA-funded study. “Whether it’s colonizing planets, establishing a station, … » More …
“There he is!” I look up as tattered orange wings flutter above the sunflowers. A lone male monarch butterfly hovers near the milkweed patch, gallantly hoping, says wildlife ecologist Rod Sayler, for the arrival of a female.
The scene took place early last August at the Washington State University Arboretum and Wildlife Center, where for the first time in 25 years, Sayler documented the iconic butterflies living and breeding on campus. Weeks earlier, to his astonishment, he’d found a handful of monarch caterpillars devouring the leaves of recently restored showy milkweed plants.
“The monarchs were a big surprise for me,” he says. “It’s the first … » More …
Cancer, that malignant force that maims and kills as it rampages through bodies and lives, may have met its match in the person of James Wells ’79 PhD. Wells speaks quietly but with urgency. You have to lean in to not miss anything.
Wells is explaining that cancer’s derangement of our lives actually begins at the surface of individual cells. The complex chemical ecology of the cell membrane surface deserves its own term of art, so Wells dubs it the “surfaceome.” “The cell membrane is the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of a cell,” he says.
Cancer cells, in order to avoid detection by the … » More …
Washington State University’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center deploys half a dozen different microscopes in pursuit of the small. Researchers from a wide variety of academic fields use these tools to see and visualize their work, often producing beautiful micrographs of specimens with light microscopes, scanning electron microscopes (SEM), transmission electron microscopes (TEM), fluorescence microscopes, or confocal microscopes.
WSU molecular biologist Jonathan Jones discovered that skin cells “walk” during wound healing, a finding that could impact treatment options for injuries, skin cancer, and other disorders. Read more in “Your skin crawls.”