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College of Arts and Sciences Biological Sciences

$3M interdisciplinary grant to pursue epigenetic biomarkers

Michael Skinner in his laboratoryWashington State University researchers have received nearly $3 million from the John Templeton Foundation, the second such grant in four years, to see if they can anticipate and prevent diseases by developing epigenetic biomarkers that could provide early stage diagnostics for disease susceptibility. Their approach would be a departure from traditional “reactionary medicine,” which treats diseases after they develop, as well as from diagnoses based on an individual’s genetic profile. » More …

Cacao analysis dates domesticated trees back 3,600 years

Theobroma cacao tree fruitsResearchers analyzing the genomes of cultivated cacao trees have traced their origin to a “single domestication event” some 3,600 years ago. The discovery opens a new front in a long-running argument regarding when and where humans started growing the source of chocolate.

“This evidence increases our understanding of how humans moved and established in America,” said Omar Cornejo, a Washington State University population geneticist and lead author of an article on the study in » More …

Dr. Universe: What would happen if we had three hearts and one of them stopped?

Dr. UniverseIt’s hard to say exactly what would happen if you had three hearts and one of them stopped. Humans, and cats, have just one heart, so we have no experience with this. Octopuses, on the other hand, do have three hearts.

When I called my friend Kirt Onthank, a professor at Walla Walla University who studies how octopus bodies work, he told me all about the three hearts. Before becoming a professor, he also studied biology here at Washington State University.

Onthank says the answer to your question depends on which of an octopus’s three hearts stops working. » More …

Big data on big animals

Work at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center goes well beyond important things like enrichment programs and energy-monitoring collars. WSU scientists are looking at the genomic level to try and determine the myriad ways that bears adapt to their climate.

Joanna Kelley, an evolutionary geneticist and assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences, said for the last two years, her lab has collected three different samples from six of the bears three times a year. Each sample has over 200 million pieces of data, giving them 10.8 billion pieces of data to wade through each » More …

Biology professor serves as lead editor for Encyclopedia of Reproduction

Illustration of a sperm connecting with an eggFun fact: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek witnessed the “presence and vigor” of his own spermatozoa, which he called “animalcules,” in one of the first uses of the single-lens microscope.

This observation is among thousands in the second edition of the “Encyclopedia of Reproduction,” a magnum opus involving more than 1,000 authors, nearly 600 cross-referenced chapters, and edited by WSU biologist Michael Skinner and eight associate editors. At 3,868 pages » More …

Scholarships for faculty-mentored research

College of Arts and SciencesSeven students and six faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences are among this year’s 27 recipients of two selective scholarships offered by the WSU Office of Undergraduate Research for students pursuing mentored research, scholarly activity or creative projects at WSU.

“Our ability to support students in their research is made possible thanks to generous donors who envision the contributions these students will make in the future to Washington, the United States, and » More …

Student projects earn Summer Scholars awards

Students working in a labFour student projects mentored by College of Arts and Sciences faculty were selected to receive $3,000 each as part of the 2018 WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor’s Summer Scholars program. The projects span environmental and biological sciences, mechanical and electrical engineering, and fine arts.

The Chancellor’s Summer Scholars Program offers students the opportunity to develop skills to » More …

Dr. Universe: How do cacti survive in hot, dry environments?

Dr. Universe. A cartoon cat in a lab coatAll plants need water to survive. Those that live in places where water is scarce use some interesting strategies to stay alive.

That’s what I found out from my friend Charles Cody, who manages one of the greenhouses at Washington State University. When I went to visit the greenhouse, he pointed out a few different cacti. One was tall and cylindrical with big spines. Another was » More …

North America’s first electron microscope

Composite image of the restored microscope and the researchers' notebookEarly in the 20th century, a five-foot-tall golden microscope on the Washington State University campus was the most powerful imaging device on the continent. Despite its scientific significance, it has been largely lost from the pages of history.

“Europe’s first electron microscope earned its inventors a Nobel prize and is on display at the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology, while nobody really knows about our instrument.” said Michael Knoblauch, biology professor and director of WSU’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center. “Something of this significance should be in the Smithsonian.” » More …

Dr. Universe: Why are animals symmetrical?

Dr. Universe: a cat in a lab coatIf we drew an imaginary line straight down the middle of the human body, it would look pretty similar on each side.

We see this kind of symmetry in lots of animals, from cats and birds to worms and frogs. In fact, about 99 percent of animals have bilateral or two-sided symmetry, says my friend Erica Crespi, a biologist at Washington State University who studies frogs and asks a lot of big questions about how animals develop.

Imagine if animals like frogs, birds, cats, or humans didn’t have their two-sided symmetry. Birds might have a hard time flying with one wing. Frogs might hop in circles » More …