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Toxins May Affect Epigenetics Through Multiple Generations

We already know that the life experiences of our mothers and fathers can influence the epigenetics in their children. Epigenetics may also be ‘remembered’ through the phenomena known as transgenerational inheritance; so the pesticides your great-granddad may have consumed could actually have influenced your epigenetics.

Michael Skinner portrait.
Michael Skinner

Michael K. Skinner, PhD, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, looked into this, focusing on a pesticide probably consumed by our great grandparents, DDT. Having already demonstrated that DDT exposure can promote the inheritance of obesity, Skinner and his colleagues looked into this further by analyzing a wide array of epigenetic modifications across the entire genome.

Focusing on the broad changes in epigenetic modifications, Skinner looked at the differential DNA methylation regions (DMRs) and non-coding RNA (ncRNA) to see if such epigenetic marks were altered between mice lineages exposed to DDT and those that were not.

The results show completely different and unique combinations between the generations when compared to control mice, indicating that exposure to DDT can affect the mouse epigenetic signatures.

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What Is Epigenetics

Shining a light on North America’s first electron microscope

In its day, a five-foot-tall golden microscope on the Washington State University campus was the most powerful imaging device on the continent. Despite its scientific significance, it has been largely lost from the pages of history.

Michael Knoblauch, biological sciences

Michael Knoblauch, a biology professor at Washington State University, wants to fix this.

“Europe’s first electron microscope earned its inventors a Nobel prize and is on display at the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology, while nobody really knows about our instrument.” said Knoblauch, who is also the director of WSU’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center. “Something of this significance should be in the Smithsonian.” » More …

WSU Tri-Cities team researching use of fungi to restore native plant populations

Transplanting fungi to restore native plant populations in the Midwest and Northwest is the focus of efforts by a team of WSU Tri-Cities researchers.

Tanya Cheeke.Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with many plant roots, which helps stabilize the soil, conserve water and provides a habitat for many birds and insects, said Tanya Cheeke, assistant professor of biology. Some native plant species are more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi than invasive plant species. So, when that fungi is disturbed, native plants may not be able to compete as well with invasive species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of the environment and inhibiting many natural processes, she said.

“One way to improve native plant survival and growth in disturbed environments may be to inoculate seedlings with native soil microbes, which are then transplanted into a restoration site,” Cheeke said. “We’ve been doing prairie restoration in Kansas for the past two years. Now, we’re also doing something similar in the Palouse area in Washington.”

Cheeke is working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to complete the research.

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WSU Insider


R&D Magazine

Restoring a musical relic

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Thomas LeClair is trying to fix a 91-year-old theatre organ he found languishing in the basement of Webster Physical Sciences building on the Pullman campus.

Thomas LeClair works on the old pipe organ.

A biology and music double-degree student, LeClair discovered the existence of the instrument while thumbing through old files in the WSU Libraries Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections.

“I was looking up information about the organ I practice on in Bryan Hall, and came across a couple of papers about a different and much older organ in Webster,” LeClair said. “I was like, ‘What? That’s the physics building, they don’t have an organ.’ So, I went to the office in Webster and asked about it, and they told me that, yes, they do in fact have an old theatre organ in the basement.”

In 1927, early Pullman developer P.W. Struppler purchased the organ now in Webster to accompany silent movies at the Spanish Colonial style Cordova Theatre, which opened on Grand Avenue in 1928.

The old pipe organ was donated to WSU in 1961 and installed in the physical sciences building in 1975 at the behest of then-chairman of physics Edward Donaldson for studying musical acoustics.

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WSU Insider

WSUV professor describes challenge of raising children in academia

WSU biologist Stephanie Porter’s first child was six months old in 2011 when she and her husband, a fellow scientist, first ventured to an academic conference together.

Stephanie PorterThe results, she said, were a disaster. On-site child care wouldn’t take her infant daughter, Hazel. There were no changing tables in the men’s room, and Porter’s husband was kicked out of the baby room for being a man. And while they did their best to pass Hazel back and forth, Porter usually ended up taking their still exclusively breastfed daughter when there were sessions she and her husband both wanted to attend.

“Honestly, I stopped going to conferences when I had young children,” Porter said.

Porter, an assistant biology professor at WSU Vancouver, is in a national group hoping to level the field for mothers in science, particularly at academic conferences. Under the name “A Working Group of Mothers in Science,” she and 45 other women wrote “How to tackle the childcare-conference conundrum,” an opinion piece published in scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The article offers a blueprint on ways to make conferences more accommodating to families, like offering adequate child care, providing comfortable lactation rooms and tolerating the presence of babies in conference sessions or at lectures.

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The Columbian