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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.
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.
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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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.
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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Future student-exchange to Germany explores resilient, high-yielding crops

Students from Washington State University will travel to Germany next summer for a new research exchange program exploring complex plant traits underlying resilience and yield.

Funded by a $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) initiative, the 10-week program expands WSU’s partnership with Germany’s CEPLAS — the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences, which integrates the resources of the Universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, and the Forschungszentrum Jülich research institute.

Mechthild Tegeder.
Tegeder

“Bridging the U.S. with Germany, this new program offers students an unmatched opportunity to learn how crop research advances happen through international cooperation,” added Mechthild Tegeder, co-lead and professor in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences. “The new perspectives our students will gain from this program will be critical to their future success in the increasingly global world of plant science.”

Knowledge gained by this fundamental research could pave the way for new crop plants that are more productive and robust against environmental challenges, leading to sustainable, efficient cultivation of crops for food, fodder, and energy.

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Self-pollinating plant shows rapid loss of genetic variation

Without bumble bees, a flowering plant that can self-pollinate lost substantial genetic variation within only nine generations, an experimental study found.

A group of “selfing” monkeyflower plants lost 13% to 24% of their genetic variation compared to another group that were propagated by bumble bees. This loss could rob the plants of their ability to adapt to environmental challenges, according to the study published in the journal Evolution. With bee populations on the decline in nature, the findings point to serious issues for wild plants and crops that rely on these pollinators.

Jeremiah Busch.
Busch

“We found that in a very short amount of time, there were major consequences on the genomes of the plants when they had to adopt selfing,” said Jeremiah Busch, a Washington State University evolutionary biologist and lead author on the study.

Pollinators like bees are important to biodiversity in their own right, Busch added, but the study indicates that their decline will also have potentially devastating impacts on plants, and quickly.

“If pollinators are lost, it’s not just going to be a problem for the pollinators: plant populations will lose genetic variation in tens of generations—not thousands, but tens,” said Busch.

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Hundreds of endangered northern leopard frogs to be released in Grant County wildlife refuge

The state department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently announced its intention to release hundreds of northern leopard frogs at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Grant County this August.

WSU researchers will also fit a couple dozen of the frogs with small radio transmitters to help track the frogs’ movements and monitor their survival.

The species has been listed as endangered in Washington since 1999, and with only one known wild population remaining in the wild in the state, there is still a long path to recovery for the frogs.

Likely causes of the frogs’ decline in the Pacific Northwest include habitat loss and degradation, disease, non-native species, and climate change.

Erica Crespi.
Crespi

“The Washington state population of northern leopard frogs has a unique genetic variation relative to the rest of the species range, and they are part of the natural diversity of amphibians of the region,” said Erica Crespi, WSU associate professor of biology. “We are working to keep them here!”

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