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WSU scientists to study how pathogens spread through live animal trade

In the wake of a pandemic that has ties to the wildlife trade, a research team from five universities recently received a $2.75 million grant to study how biological, social, and economic factors influence the pathogen spread through animal trade networks.

The project is being funded by the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program, a joint program of the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The goal of the study is to identify how socio-economic decisions and pathogen dynamics impact each other in the wildlife trade network, focusing on the amphibian pet trade. The study aims to inform policies that support biodiversity conservation and prevent future pandemics.

Jonah Piovia-Scott.

“The global wildlife trade is a major pathway for the spread of diseases that affect both humans and wildlife”, said Jonah Piovia‑Scott, associate professor at Washington State University Vancouver. “Our research focuses on the amphibian pet trade, but we expect it to yield insights about the biological and socioeconomic factors that influence the movement of pathogens through other kinds of wildlife trade networks.”

Jesse Brunner.

Piovia‑Scott is a co‑principal investigator from WSU on the project along with Jesse Brunner, associate professor at WSU Pullman. Both are from WSU’s School of Biological Sciences.

The evolution, emergence, and spread of novel pathogens has been widely discussed even before the first case of COVID‑19 was reported in 2019. Many infectious disease outbreaks, like that of monkeypox, chronic wasting disease, and COVID‑19, have been linked to the wildlife trade.

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WSU Insider

Expert: Over-promising, under-delivering likely to continue

Regardless of which party wins a majority in Congress this year, Frances Lee doesn’t see much chance of a landslide victory or clear mandate emerging from the ballot box.

If that’s the case, then voters should be prepared for more broken promises.

Lee, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, said “over-promising and under-delivering” has become a common theme in Congress over the past 40 years, partly because neither party has enjoyed a sustained majority.

“Parties continue to message their disagreement with one another, and they promise supporters the moon and the stars, but their record of accomplishment is underwhelming, even in unified governments,” she said Tuesday, during a talk at Washington State University’s Foley Institute.

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Lewiston Tribune

With a few cups of water, scientists use eDNA to study reclusive, rare creatures off West Coast

Some critters in the ocean are reclusive, hiding from human probes and trawls. Other critters are rare, driven close to extinction from warming and increasingly acidic waters.

Studying rare and reclusive creatures has posed problems for scientists in the past. In recent years, environmental DNA, or eDNA, has helped. To isolate eDNA, scientists scoop water from the ocean.

Meghan Parsley.

Meghan Parsley has collected eDNA samples for her doctoral work at WSU Pullman, one part of which involves using the quantity of eDNA to estimate the population size of wood frog tadpoles in Connecticut.

“This is where the magic happens,” Parsley said, walking into a sparse, clean lab at Washington State University.

Keeping unwanted DNA out of the lab is tough and involves a lot of bleach. “I have lots of bleach-stained clothes,” Parsley said.

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Why Winnie the Pooh Could Hold Key to Beating Diabetes

Winnie the Pooh could hold the key to beating diabetes, according to new research. Every year, bears gain an enormous amount of weight, then barely move for months.

A sugar-rich diet is the main trigger for the metabolic disorder in humans. It’s caused by resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls glucose.

Bears can turn it on and off, almost like a switch, but scientists have found their secret: a particular set of hibernation proteins. Thousands of changes in gene expression were narrowed down to eight, specifically.

A Washington State University (WSU) team made the discovery by feeding honey, Pooh’s favorite food, to hibernating bears.

Joanna Kelley.

“There seem to be eight proteins that are working either independently or together to modulate the insulin sensitivity and resistance that is seen in hibernating bears,” said School of Biological Sciences Professor Joanna Kelley, lead author of the study. “All of these eight proteins have human homologs. They are not unique to bears. The same genes are in humans, so that means maybe there is a direct opportunity for translation.”

The scientists looked at changes in cell cultures exposed to blood serum drawn from grizzlies housed at the WSU Bear Centre.

Samples were collected during active and hibernating seasons – including one that was interrupted by being given water laced with honey.

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National Geographic
WSU Insider


Ask Dr. Universe: What is octopus ink?

An octopus has three hearts and long arms with suction cups. It probably seems very different from you. But you have the main ingredients of octopus ink in your body, too!

Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens.

I talked about octopus ink with my friend Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. She told me that ink isn’t just an octopus thing. Most animals called cephalopods (sef-uh-luh-pods) make it. These include octopus, squid and cuttlefish.

Cephalopods including octopuses use color a lot. They have sacs of colored pigments all over their bodies. They use those sacs to change their body color. That helps them blend into their environment.

They also make and store a dark pigment in special ink sacs.

“Squid ink looks dark because it contains molecules of melanin, which is a pigment,” Rollwagen-Bollens said. “It’s the same pigment that you find in human skin. The more melanin skin cells contain, the darker they are.”

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Dr. Universe