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Ask Dr. Universe: Why do we humans get sunburns when we are out in the sun too long?

Humans need sunlight to help keep their bones, blood and other body systems healthy, but too much time in the Sun can sometimes leave people with a sunburn.

Cynthia Cooper.

A big part of the answer to your question also has to do with human cells. My friend Cynthia Cooper, associate professor of molecular genetics in the College of Arts and Sciences at WSU Vancouver, knows a lot about cells and how they work.

“The melanin almost acts like a little flying-saucer that hovers over the nucleus,” Cooper said. “It reflects the ultraviolet rays to protect the DNA from damage.”

In the lab at WSU, Cooper and her team are investigating the innerworkings of cells to learn more about new treatments for people with cell diseases like albinism as well as treatments for the most serious types of skin cancer. When we understand more about how cells work, we can continue help improve human health for everyone.

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Ask Dr. Universe

‘Superplant’ seminar marks growing WSU‑Germany research collaboration

Plant scientists at Washington State University and in Germany will launch a new research collaboration through a series of virtual talks about advances that help feed and sustain our world, starting Tuesday, May 4.

Mechthild Tegeder.

WSU scientists Mechthild Tegeder, Herbert L. Eastlick Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Helmut Kirchhoff, professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, are leading efforts to exchange graduate students with CEPLAS members, including the University of Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, and Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program, the European Union student exchange Erasmus Program, and the German Research Foundation.

“Direct cooperation between German and U.S. scientists and collaborative education of our scholars helps expand society’s knowledge about beneficial crops,” Tegeder said. “Interdisciplinary research experiences in Germany can also train WSU students on how to start, establish, and cultivate scientific collaboration, which will benefit them in their professional careers, make them more marketable for research occupations, and sustain our regional and national agricultural industries and economies.”

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WSU Insider

Two CAS projects among 6 to receive funding during inaugural Cougar Cage event

Realistic 3D printed heart components and a tool that can rapidly grow cancer-fighting T cells are among the projects being supported by a group of passionate Washington State University graduates.

While initially agreeing to fund at least half of the projects, the Palouse Club members opted to support all six projects presented to them during Cougar Cage last month. Their total support for the first round of projects totals nearly $300,000.

Fighting hearing loss:

WSU Vancouver’s Allison Coffin and John Harkness will use machine learning to develop a predictive tool to combat drug-induced hearing loss. The approach is similar to processes used to predict drug toxicity for other organs like the heart and liver.

Bear research to benefit humans:

Joanna Kelley.

Joanna Kelley, an associate professor within the School of Biological Sciences, is working to advance researchers’ understanding of obesity and its metabolic complications by looking to bears. Specifically, Kelley will study hibernating grizzly bears to better understand their naturally reversible obesity and insulin resistance and how it might apply to humans.

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WSU Insider

15 CAS undergraduates win 10 SURCA research awards

More than a quarter of Washington State University students who delivered virtual presentations won monetary awards at the annual Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) on March 29 in Pullman.

SURCA is the unique WSU-wide venue for students from all majors, years in college, and from all WSU campuses. Nearly 150 students from the Pullman, Vancouver, Spokane, and Global campuses delivered presentations detailing their research, scholarship, and creative activities conducted with a mentor.

Faculty, postdoctoral students, and community experts used a common rubric to judge and score all presentations in nine SURCA categories that are designed to cover all disciplines at the university.

Fifteen CAS students won 10 different awards across seven categories at the 2021 event held online.

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WSU Insider

Human hiking trails custom built for sauntering grizzlies

Anthony Carnahan.

In the run up to hibernation, grizzly bears go on a colossal binge, consuming as many calories as possible to get them through the long winter. Yet, little was known about how much energy the massive mammals use as they shamble around their rugged territories. “Moving across the landscape in search of food can be a huge energetic expense for some animals,” says Anthony Carnahan, a graduate student in the School of Biological Sciences.

Charles Robbins.

Fortunately, the Washington State University Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center (WSU BREC), where Carnahan is based, is home to 11 bears, including four that formerly lived in Yellowstone National Park, so he and Charles Robbins (also at WSU BREC) decided to measure the animals’ metabolic rates as they sauntered on the flat, and up and down gradients to find out how much energy they use on a daily basis. The team publishes their discovery that grizzly bears prefer to walk on shallow paths to save energy in Journal of Experimental Biology, explaining why the animals often appear on human hiking trails.

After months of patiently measuring the bears’ oxygen consumption at speeds ranging from 0.4 to 1.3m/s on the level and gradients up to 20deg to calculate how much energy they used, it was clear that ascending and descending the slopes was quite costly, although the bears used less energy bowling downhill at higher speeds. Most surprisingly, the bears didn’t seem to have much spare gas in the tank to maintain long high-speed pursuits. They consume similar amounts of energy to climbing humans, wolves and wild cats, in contrast to fleeing elk and deer, which use 46% less energy than grizzlies over mountainous terrain.

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