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WSU students land three Goldwater Awards to support STEM research

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has announced that Washington State University students John Bussey, Kalli Stephens, and Thomas Ballinger have received $7,500 awards to support their education.

Prestigious, nationally competitive Goldwater distinguished scholarships are given to high-achieving undergraduates intending to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering (STEM). These latest awardees bring WSU’s total number of Goldwater recipients to 48 since the first in 1990.

John Bussey

Bussey, a sophomore from Olympia, is an Honors College student majoring in materials science and engineering, minoring in environmental and resource economics and mathematics, and seeking a nuclear materials certificate.

Ballinger, a junior from Reno, Nevada, is majoring in genetics and cell biology as well as music. He is in SMB’s Students Targeted Toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) program, which allows undergraduates to earn an accelerated Bachelor of Science degree in three years—including research rotations and mentorship–and move into a doctorate path. He envisions a career investigating aging as well as synthetic biology.

A National Merit Scholar, he said he chose WSU for his education because of its genetics and cell biology program, the SMB STARS program, and the music program in piano.

Thomas Ballinger

His mentors include SMB’s Cynthia Hazeltine, Vice Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Achievement William B. Davis, the Institute of Biological Chemistry’s Philip D. Bates, the School of  Music’s Yoon-Wha (Yuna) Roh, and his Reno piano teacher Jeff DePaoli.

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WSU Insider
Big Country News

Ozette: The US’ lost 2,000-year-old village

Richard Daugherty examining an artifact shaped like a whale fin.
Daugherty examining an artifact.

In 1970, a violent storm uncovered a Makah village that was buried by a mudslide more than 300 years earlier. A newly re-opened museum tells the fascinating story of the ancient site.

Due to the suddenness of the event and the exceptional levels of preservation, scientists hailed the find a “Western Pompeii” and the Washington Post called it “the most comprehensive collection of artefacts of a pre-European-contact Indian culture ever discovered in the United States.”

Anxious the material might be engulfed by the sea and lost, the tribe called in Richard Daugherty, an influential archaeologist at Washington State University who’d been involved in fieldwork in the area since the 1940s. Having good connections with Congress, Daugherty helped secure federal funding for an exhaustive excavation.

“Dr. Daugherty was instrumental in the excavation work,” recounted Rebekah Monette, a tribal member and historic preservation programme manager. “He was very progressive and interested in working alongside the tribe in the process. He worked to gain financing for 11 years.”

The Ozette dig lasted from 1970 until 1981 and ultimately unearthed around 55,000 artefacts from six beachside cedar houses covered by the slide. The Makah, like many indigenous groups, have a strong oral tradition, with much of their history passed down through storytelling, song and dance. The evidence unearthed at Ozette affirmed these stories and added important details.

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Barry named vice provost for graduate and professional education

Tammy Barry.

Psychology Professor and Graduate School Associate Dean Tammy Barry has been named vice provost for graduate and professional education at Washington State University. She will assume the new position, which was formerly titled Graduate School dean, effective July 1.

Barry, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, also has served as the director of WSU’s clinical psychology doctoral program. As associate dean, she oversaw the Graduate School function of program assessment and review, represented the Graduate School on the Committee on Institutional Accreditation and Program Assessment, and worked with the Provost’s Office to meet the needs of institutional accreditation processes.

“I am am thrilled to welcome Dr. Barry to the academic leadership team, and I know that she will bring a renewed energy to graduate and professional education across the WSU system,” said Elizabeth Chilton, WSU provost and executive vice president. “Dr. Barry’s commitment to collaboration and strong leadership was apparent throughout the interview process. It is clear that she has a firm understanding of graduate education at WSU and is well respected by the Graduate School’s staff and members of the University community.”

In her new role, Barry will be charged with creating a vision for dynamic growth and excellence in WSU’s graduate and professional education programs.

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WSU Insider

New research at WSU could help doctors stop patients’ diseases before they start

Wouldn’t it be great to find out years in advance if you were at risk of developing a disease later in life and be able to take steps to prevent it?

With some recent research findings from Washington State University, that reality may be closer than you think.

Michael Skinner.

Researchers from the university, which include Michael Skinner, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences, studied epigenetic biomarkers — factors that change how a gene is expressed without changing the DNA itself — that are connected to preterm birth, rheumatoid arthritis and autism spectrum disorder.

Epigenetics doesn’t research the DNA sequence, but instead the molecular entities around the DNA that affect how the genomes function. Those entities are called methyl groups, and they’re organic compounds which link to a DNA molecule that can turn genes within that DNA on and off and regulate how they’re expressed.

“We’ve been studying epigenetics for well over 20 years, but it’s only recently we’ve been looking at a human population to find these new associations,” Skinner says.

According to Skinner, epigenetic research has a much higher frequency at accurately identifying an individual’s likelihood of developing a disease than genetic research does.

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Breakthrough study examines evolution of snake venom genes

A new study from  an international team of collaborators, including biologists at Washington State University, provides the first comprehensive explanation of how snake venom regulatory systems evolved—an important example that illuminates the evolution of new complex traits.

Blair Perry.

“This work gives us a better understanding of how snake venom evolved and how venom production functions at a genomic level,” said Blair Perry, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Biological Sciences at WSU. He is lead author of the new paper.

“In addition to studying specific venom genes, we can now investigate parts of the genome involved in the regulation of these genes as well,” Perry said. “This opens up new opportunities to understand how variation in snake venom, both within and between snake species, corresponds to variation in the genome.”

In 2019, the World Health Organization declared snakebite a neglected tropical disease. The primary challenge for treating snakebite is the extreme variation in venom composition across populations and species of snakes.

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