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How Elk Hoof Disease Alters the Animal’s System

Elk treponeme-associated hoof disease, previously thought to be limited to deformations in elks’ hooves, appears to create molecular changes throughout the animal’s system, according to epigenetic research from Washington State University.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggest those changes may be heritable. It remains to be seen though whether this means subsequent generations of elk may be more, or less, prone to catching the devastating disease that severely impairs the elk’s ability to find food and escape predators.

“It’s not just the absence or presence of the infection. It’s affecting the animal’s entire physiology, all the cells,” said senior author Michael Skinner, a WSU biologist. “It shows that there’s a molecular impact by the presence of the disease organisms.”

Epigenetics are stable molecular processes that can influence how genes behave independent of the DNA sequence itself. Changes in an organism’s epigenetics can be caused by nutrition or environmental factors – and as this study shows, by an infectious disease.

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Big Country News

Is Utah a model for disagreeing respectfully?

The nation is in a period of ‘extended conflict, partisan conflict, deep division,’ which one Washington university professor says has been more the norm over the course of our nation’s history.

There’s ample evidence of the nation’s deep divisions.

Nicholas Lovrich.

“This is the situation we find ourselves in: People screaming at one another. People are wondering, ‘How is it that we got to this place?’ We’ve been experiencing a pretty long period of being able to get along, in the moderate middle really calling the shots. When that sort of goes away, then you start worrying about things even as deep down as civil war,” said Washington State University Regents and Emeritus Professor Nicholas P. Lovrich.

Lovrich, a panelist on a University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics forum titled “To Respectfully Disagree: Civility in Government,” said the nation has gone through long periods of bad conduct in the past.

“We’ve had a duel. We’ve had a caning on the floor of the Senate. We’ve had periods of time when we were so divided in (our) politics that it led to a lot of violence in the streets,” Lovrich said on Wednesday.

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Desert News


Washington is closing its first prison in 10 years. Are others next?

For the first time in more than a decade, Washington state is closing a prison. The Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt, Clark County will shut its gates for the last time next week. The state’s Department of Corrections says the population of the 240-bed minimum security prison is now down to about 60 people, all of whom will be relocated by Monday, Oct. 2.

The reason for the closure is a matter of falling demand — there are simply fewer people behind bars in the state. The department says these trends will likely accelerate in the coming years, potentially leading to more prison closures.

Mary Stohr

“We’ve had serious decarceration in this country now for the last 15 years, not in every state, but in most states and the federal government,” said Mary Stohr, a former corrections employee at Larch and current professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University.

Stohr said there are a myriad of reasons behind the closures — prisons are expensive, violent crime is down per capita, legalization and decriminalization of drugs have led to fewer arrests for nonviolent offenses, and a decrease in the percentage of young people may also be behind the dip.

In the short term, Stohr acknowledges there will be pain points as prisons close.

“There’s some unforeseen, unthought of effects in terms of economies and relationships, that will be harmed by closing this prison,” Stohr said. “But it’s also true that in our state, as in many states, we’ve been incarcerating far too many nonviolent people for many years, for minor drug offenses for all kinds of crimes where they could have been in the community.”

Read more and listen to the full conversation:
Soundside, KUOW (starts 10 minutes into the audio recording)

How the Post Office could decide the presidency in 2024

The result of the next US presidential election could be decided by the efficiency of the humble postal service.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, voting by mail has become the norm for millions of Americans, and the practice is now central to each political party’s path to the White House. As legislative battles rage across the country over laws governing the practice, new research suggests that the performance of the postal service can have a small but noticeable impact on election turnout.

Michael Ritter.

“Across the board, this study shows that having better postal administration makes it more likely there will be more positive voter turnout outcomes linked to all mail voting laws,” said researcher Michael Ritter, of Washington State University, who published the study in the Election Law Journal this summer.

“Postal service administration is important for shaping the ability of people to vote by mail,” Mr Ritter told The Independent. “For example, it can capture, you know, how easily or readily people are able to receive election mail at their homes, how quickly that mail is transported to distribution facilities and to election ballot counting sites,” he added.

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The Independent

Ask Dr. Universe: Why do whales use echolocation and what is it?

Toothed whales—like dolphins and belugas—might live in the ocean, but they have some big things in common with cave-dwelling bats. They’re all mammals that live in dark places and use echolocation.

Christine Portfors.

That’s why I talked about your question with my friend Christine Portfors. She’s a biologist at Washington State University. Her lab keeps a colony of bats.

Many bats sleep in caves and zoom around at night. Their world is dark, so they use sounds and their echoes to perceive the world around them, which is called echolocation. Toothed whales live in dark oceans or murky rivers and lakes. That’s why they use echolocation, too.

“Whenever there isn’t enough light for an animal to do the things that it needs to do like navigate, collect food and find mates, then it has to use some other sensory system besides vision,” Portfors said. “So, they send out sound. That sound bounces off objects in their environment and comes back as an echo. They use those echoes to identify objects and navigate.”

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Ask Dr. Universe