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3 CAS faculty awarded WSU seed grants

Washington State University has awarded 10 New Faculty Seed Grants (NFSG) to encourage the development of research, scholarly, or creative programs. The program supports projects that will significantly contribute to the researchers’ long range goals by kick-starting a more complex project or idea. The seed funding to junior faculty helps build the foundation for their research programs, allowing recipients to gather preliminary data, build collaborations, or establish creative programs. The funding also effectively provides a basis for faculty to seek extramural funding as well as opportunities for professional growth.

The Office of Research, the Office of the President, and the Office of the Provost fund the NFSG program. The 10 proposals selected this year represent the range of scholarly activity taking place at WSU. The total amount of grant funding is $212,524.

Awarded faculty and their projects include:

  • Deepti Singh, School of the Environment, will analyze the influence of multiple climate factors that govern the extent, severity, and duration of the impacts wildfires have on air quality and water resources.
  • Joe Hedges, Department of Fine Arts, will create and exhibit a new body of innovative intermedia art works that combine oil painting and new media objects, such as flatscreen televisions and tablets.
  • Rock Mancini, Department of Chemistry, will develop a new type of reaction to generate synthetic-biologic hybrids, enabling the synthesis of many new biomolecule therapeutics.

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WSU Insider


Mapping manure resources may lead to better phosphorus utilization

Farmers rely on phosphorus fertilizers to enrich the soil and ensure bountiful harvests, but the world’s recoverable reserves of phosphate rocks — from which such fertilizers are produced — are finite and unevenly distributed.

The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., is spearheading an international effort to map the global flow of phosphorus, much of which will be absorbed by crops, then eaten and excreted as waste by animals and people — and jump-start efforts to recapture and recycle the vital nutrient.

Stephen Steve Powers.

The team showed that there are significant untapped opportunities for recycling phosphorus. First-author Steve Powers, an associate researcher at Washington State University who conceived of the study, is now trying to figure out exactly how much phosphorus can be recaptured from animal and human waste and hopes to identify other opportunities for more efficient phosphorus use.

“If we can recycle more of this locally available waste phosphorus back into agriculture, we might be able to keep it away from leak points while reducing our dependence on future fertilizer imports and mining,” Powers said.

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Lancaster Farming

Environmental DNA helps researchers track pythons and other stealthy creatures

It’s no secret that Florida has a snake problem. The Burmese python, which can reach up to 200 pounds and stretch to more than 20 feet, first became common in the Everglades in the late 1990s, likely as escaped pets. The snake quickly settled into its new home, breeding and taking down rabbits, bobcats, and other native animals in its path.

Biologists thought the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was one place that was safe. But from 2014 through 2016, scientists combed the waters in and around the refuge for environmental DNA (eDNA) — the trail of DNA left behind by an organism in sources such as feces, mucus, gametes, and shed skin or hair. The results suggested that the python’s DNA was, in fact, widespread throughout the refuge.

Caren Goldberg.

But interpreting eDNA results can be tricky. Tiny amounts of cross contamination in the field and lab could result in positive detections where animals aren’t present. “You can get these low signals that are either critically important or not reflecting the truth,” says ecologist Caren Goldberg of Washington State University, whose team has developed eDNA tests to monitor for a wide range of amphibians, including the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. In those cases, the eDNA is there, Goldberg says, but the interpretation of what that means can be wrong. Goldberg, for example, cannot control for moose that carry water in their coats from one pond to another, potentially transferring DNA of fish and other species.

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Around 42% India’s Land Area Under Drought, Worsening Farm Distress In Election Year

About 42 percent of India’s land area is facing drought, with 6 percent exceptionally dry–four times the spatial extent of drought last year, according to data for the week ending March 26, 2019, from the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), a real-time drought monitoring platform.

“Before monsoon, which is still far away, the next two or three months are going to be difficult in many of these regions,” Vimal Mishra, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, and the developer of DEWS, told IndiaSpend.

Failed monsoon rains are the primary reason for the current situation. The North-East monsoon, also known as ‘post-monsoon rainfall’ (October-December) that provides 10-20 percent of India’s rainfall, was deficient by 44 percent in 2018 from the long-term normal of 127.2 mm, as per data from the India Meteorological Department.

Deepti Singh.

“Today, we live in a much warmer world than we did in the 1870s. So, a warmer climate can have adverse effects on droughts making it more extreme,” said Deepti Singh, assistant professor at the School of the Environment at Washington State University, U.S., She said droughts during 1876-77 and 2015-16 were triggered by extremely strong and long-lasting El Ninos. “However, droughts have continued to persist in India post-2016 despite a change from El Nino conditions, which to me is an indication of the effect of global warming,” she said.

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Bloomberg Quint
Daily Evergreen

Canadian company applies for permit for exploratory mining in headwaters of Skagit River

A Canadian company has applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River, which flows from British Columbia and through northwest Washington state to Puget Sound.

The Skagit River is one of the premier salmon-producing rivers for Puget Sound, and its waters churn through hydropower dams to bring the city of Seattle much of its electricity. Its upper waters are home to endangered bull trout.

“The City of Seattle is very concerned about the proposed actions to allow mining in the Silverdaisy area in the Upper Skagit Watershed,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement Thursday. “As with potential logging, mining in this area would threaten the environment, undermine our investments in salmon and bull trout recovery, and harm the integrity of a watershed that is critical to millions of people in Seattle and our region.”

The possibility of a mining spill worries some conservationists.

Jennifer McIntyre.

Metals, particularly copper, are toxic to salmon. Even low concentrations of dissolved copper in water can damage salmons’ sense of touch and smell, said Jen McIntyre, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s School of Environment. That can prevent them from finding food, evading predators or making their way to spawning ground.

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Seattle Times