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Genetics

First Words
Winter 2015

First Words

Forgotten fruits

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, William Jasper Spillman, one of Washington State’s first faculty members, recognized that eastern Washington farmers were committed to lucrative wheat as their primary crop. Spillman experimented by crossing wheat varieties to find traits desirable for the Inland Northwest.

Variations didn’t appear in the first generation, but Spillman soon observed that the second generation of plants had combinations of the parents’ traits. He then applied a mathematical formula to predict inherited traits, to the benefit of the wheat farmers.

Many of us know the basics of this research from high school science: Gregor Mendel’s laws of inheritance, … » More …

Bread loaves
Summer 2013

Let everyone eat bread

For the better part of four decades, Mark Wildung (’89 BS, ’92 MS) felt lousy.

He felt like he had a flu, but wrote it off, thinking everyone felt that way. He had a hollow leg, packing twice as much food as his friends on backpacking trips, but his body was withering away, his weight dropping to 138 pounds.

Finally, at a going-away party before a trip to Germany, a physician-assistant friend suggested he might have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to certain gluten proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. His symptoms got worse in Germany, a land of great bread and … » More …

New World Carniolan bee on lavender
Summer 2012

Raising queens

Few things are as mysterious and amazing as the life of the queen bee, says bee breeder Sue Cobey. Just a few days after she hatches from her cell, the queen’s fertility is optimal and she has just a brief time to mate for the rest of her four-year life.

The timing is critical, says Cobey, as she describes the process to a roomful of rapt Puget Sound-area beekeepers. If the weather is warm and mild, she leaves the hive, flying low at first to avoid her own colony’s drones before heading to a place where drones from other hives are waiting for a queen … » More …

Winter 2009

Video: Ancient DNA – bringing the past to life

Taking archeology a step beyond traditional pottery shards, Brian Kemp analyzes ancient DNA (aDNA) from bones, teeth, and desiccated feces (coprolites) to help bring prehistoric Native American cultures alive in ways never before possible. As a molecular anthropologist, Kemp compares archeological findings with genetic information to detect past demographic shifts, population interactions, and movements throughout the Americas.

By plotting aDNA together with artifacts in the ground, specific tribes in the Southwest can be seen to virtually travel across the high desert through the eons. The picture Kemp paints seems so real that one can almost hear the hunter-gatherer songs and shouts drifting in the air.

» More …

Summer 2011

What’s the catch?

The rainbow trout has evolved over millions of years to survive in varied but particular circumstances in the wild. The hatchery rainbow fl ourishes in its relatively new, artificial surroundings, but its acquired skill set compromises its evolution. The rainbow has so straddled the worlds of nature and nurture, says biologist Gary Thorgaard, that it has become “a world fish.” » More ...

Video: A new biofuel crop for Washington farmers?

Meet the WSU Researcher: Michael Neff

Part 2: A new biofuel crop for Washington farmers?

Washington State University botanist Michael Neff discusses how to transform camelina as a possible biofuel crop in Washington.

Neff’s lab works on camelina, an oilseed used for lamps from the Iron Age that can grow on marginal farmland and not compete with food crops.

Neff shows how his work uses transgenic seeds to make camelina a better fuel crop, complete with rose-colored glasses and green LEDs to see which seeds have been changed.

Read more about Neff’s work in “Seeing red (and far-red).”

Watch » More …

Winter 2002

What's protein got to do with it?

it is now possible to measure the activities of thousands of genes and corresponding proteins-all at once. The methods are reasonably straightforward technically, and all the necessary bits and pieces are available to anyone-for a price. A lot of razzle-dazzle and hype have accompanied this technological breakthrough. Certainly mountains of data will be generated, and many interesting insights will be gained in the next few years.

But then what? Ironically, we are blessed with almost too much of a good thing. University labs worldwide and dozens of newly spawned biotech companies are working day and night to devise methods for sorting out all this information. … » More …

Winter 2002

A bizarre, slimy animal shows its stuff

Without jaws, most vertebrates-including us-would be stuck hanging around in the ocean or on the ground, unable to bite and scooping up or filtering food. We’d also be smaller. Instead, we’re fearsome predators and herbivores, with big brains and an infinite range of food sources. We have evolution to thank for our fortune-and  Jon Mallatt to thank for helping us appreciate the fact.

“The evolution of jaws a half billion years ago was the single most important factor in the success of vertebrates,” says Mallatt, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and in basic medical sciences.

Mallatt began his study of the evolution … » More …