A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer corps is planting native flowering plants, most notably milkweed, which is crucial for the survival of monarch butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed, which provides essential nutrition for the larvae. Milkweed has disappeared across the nation—and with it, monarch populations have crashed since the 1990s, down 75 percent or more.
The situation is especially dire for Western monarchs. Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor at Washington State University in Vancouver, was the lead author of a study that found that compared to the 10 million monarchs that overwintered in coastal California in the 1980s, today there are barely 300,000. That’s a trajectory that points to extinction.
While pesticides, logging, development and climate change probably all play a role, key to the butterfly’s annihilation is the loss of milkweed habitat.
We already know that the life experiences of our mothers and fathers can influence the epigenetics in their children. Epigenetics may also be ‘remembered’ through the phenomena known as transgenerational inheritance; so the pesticides your great-granddad may have consumed could actually have influenced your epigenetics.
Michael K. Skinner, PhD, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, looked into this, focusing on a pesticide probably consumed by our great grandparents, DDT. Having already demonstrated that DDT exposure can promote the inheritance of obesity, Skinner and his colleagues looked into this further by analyzing a wide array of epigenetic modifications across the entire genome.
Focusing on the broad changes in epigenetic modifications, Skinner looked at the differential DNA methylation regions (DMRs) and non-coding RNA (ncRNA) to see if such epigenetic marks were altered between mice lineages exposed to DDT and those that were not.
The results show completely different and unique combinations between the generations when compared to control mice, indicating that exposure to DDT can affect the mouse epigenetic signatures.
In its day, 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.
Michael Knoblauch, a biology professor at Washington State University, wants to fix this.
“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 Knoblauch, who is also the director of WSU’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center. “Something of this significance should be in the Smithsonian.” » More …
Transplanting fungi to restore native plant populations in the Midwest and Northwest is the focus of efforts by a team of WSU Tri-Cities researchers.
Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with many plant roots, which helps stabilize the soil, conserve water and provides a habitat for many birds and insects, said Tanya Cheeke, assistant professor of biology. Some native plant species are more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi than invasive plant species. So, when that fungi is disturbed, native plants may not be able to compete as well with invasive species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of the environment and inhibiting many natural processes, she said.
“One way to improve native plant survival and growth in disturbed environments may be to inoculate seedlings with native soil microbes, which are then transplanted into a restoration site,” Cheeke said. “We’ve been doing prairie restoration in Kansas for the past two years. Now, we’re also doing something similar in the Palouse area in Washington.”
Cheeke is working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to complete the research.