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Early warning system for deadly amphibian pathogen

Caren Goldberg
Caren Goldberg

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a new technology that detects telltale bits of genetic material that living creatures shed into their environment. It enables wildlife scientists to confirm the presence of a wide variety of aquatic organisms without the hassle of finding them.

Colleen Kamoroff, a former WSU natural resources graduate student, and her advisor Caren Goldberg, an assistant professor in the WSU School of the Environment, used eDNA to detect the deadly fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd one month before it impacted populations of mountain yellowed-legged frogs in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park in California.

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Life always finds a way

Dirk Schulze-Makuch
Dirk Schulze-Makuch

For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world’s driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars.

Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America’s Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Schulze-Makuch and his collaborators reveal that even the hyper-arid Atacama Desert can provide a habitable environment for microorganisms.

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At Columbia River’s doorstep, an uneasy lookout for invasive mussels

Fish influence mountain ranges

Alexander Fremier
Alexander Fremier

When asked if he would like water in his whisky W.C Fields famously remarked that he didn’t drink water because fish procreate in it (his actual words were somewhat racier). Migratory salmon do so in their millions with a great deal of energy, specifically in the gravel beds of high-energy streams.

As well as discouraging bibulous old men from diluting their liquor, it occurred to Alexander Fremier of Washington State University and other American colleagues that here was a noteworthy example of an active part of the biosphere physically intervening in the rock cycle. Not that it comes even close to what humans have become capable of since the Industrial Revolution, but it might be an object lesson in the fragility of what are otherwise the robust processes of erosion.

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Dear Dr. Universe: What can you tell me about parasites?

Lisa Shipley

A parasite is an organism that steals resources from another organism in order to survive. Our planet is home to all kinds of parasites and organisms that host them.

While some parasites live off plants, other parasites need animals. Lisa Shipley, a WSU professor who works with animals in the deer family, said some reindeers are host to a parasite that is so small we’d need a microscope to see it. It’s a kind of nematode more commonly called a brain worm.

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Ask Dr. Universe