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Dr. Universe: How did people in ancient times filter water from rain?

Every day people around the world get their water in different ways. Some get water from a well, others turn on a tap, go to the store, and some walk many miles to a river. But no matter how we get our drinking water, it almost always starts with rain.

Julie Padowski.

Rainwater is really clean, said my friend Julie Padowski. She’s a scientist at the State of Washington Water Research Center at Washington State University and an affiliated faculty member in the School of the Environment.

In ancient times, some people harvested rain in big containers, but many more people used water that had collected naturally in streams, rivers, and in the ground.

They could find groundwater rushing by in rivers, or bubbling up from underground through a spring. They could also dig deep into the earth to find water.

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Ask Dr. Universe

$483,000 grant helps WSU Tri-Cities researcher reveal how bacteria, grasses fix nitrogen

Sarah Roley.

Reducing synthetic fertilizer use, pollution, and farming costs, while freeing up nitrogen, mark possible benefits of a research project by Sarah Roley, assistant professor with the School of the Environment, Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Roley and her two colleagues, recently landed a $483,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation, to pursue a more detailed understanding of how bacteria work with perennial grasses to fix nitrogen.

Every living organism requires nitrogen to survive, and nitrogen fixation is a critical step in biology. Fixation is the conversion of nitrogen in the atmosphere to ammonia, a form of nitrogen that can be used by plants and microbes, and subsequently move up the food web.

“Nitrogen goes into our protein and DNA,” Roley said. “From bacteria, to plants, to humans, we all need it, and we need a lot of it.”

Little is known, however, about nitrogen fixation in perennial grasses, Roley said. By better identifying how that process occurs, significant progress may be made in reducing the amount of synthetic nitrogen needed for fertilizing crops, as well as the amount of pollution that stems from the creation and use of synthetic fertilizers.

Roley’s research will focus on switchgrass. But, study findings may apply to other perennial grasses—ryegrass, bluegrass, and fescues. The research may potentially lead to discoveries about a variety of other plants and how nitrogen fixation occurs within them.

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Daily Sun

Bad News Bacteria for Bears

Infected salmon might be an obstacle to a planned grizzly bear recovery in the US northwest.

Charles Robbins.
Charles Robbins

Salmon poisoning disease (SPD), caused by a bacterium, is most commonly associated with dogs that have eaten raw salmon. Now, a newly arrived species of bacterium could have the same effect on grizzly bears once they’re moved to the North Cascades region in Washington. The threat was identified by Charles Robbins, a wildlife ecologist at Washington State University, and his colleagues who in recent experiments showed that any bears brought west to start a new population will be susceptible to a new form of SPD that’s taken hold in the region.

The bacterium that causes SPD infects grizzly bears in a devious way—by hitching a ride in a parasitic worm. The worm infests and destroys the gonads of stream snails. Unsatisfied with simply destroying the family-making dreams of the snails, the worm leaves this host and enters salmon or other fish. It finishes its life cycle in the guts of wolves, dogs, skunks, raccoons, or bears that have fed on the infected fish. When these predators defecate, they spread worm eggs to nearby streams, giving rise to a new generation of parasites to infest other snails.

Knowing this new bacterium was lurking in the environment, the researches wanted to see what effect it might have on planned grizzly recovery efforts. To do so, Robbins and his colleagues conducted an experiment over two consecutive years in which they fed salmon to captive bears and monitored them for signs of SPD, such as diarrhea, lethargy, or anorexia.

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Hakai Magazine

B.C. logging threatens ‘probably one of the most intact ecosystems’ in the Northwest

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, in a rare step earlier this month, wrote British Columbia Premier John Horgan with “grave concern,” admonishing his government for not consulting with the city on a B.C. logging project some 125 miles away from Seattle at the headwaters of the Skagit River.

Jennifer McIntyre.
Jennifer McIntyre

Among the host of problem issues raised by the project is introduction of metals, particularly copper, that are toxic to salmon. Copper dissolved in water can interact with the gills of salmon and prevent proper breathing or cause dangerous ion imbalances in their bodies, said Jen McIntyre, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s School of Environment.

Even low concentrations of dissolved copper can impair neurons, damaging salmons’ sense of touch and ability to smell. That can prevent them from finding food, evading predators or making their way to spawning ground, McIntyre said.

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Bellingham Herald

Blueberry Earth: The Delicious Thought Experiment That’s Roiling Planetary Scientists