Small Differences Have Big Consequences to Keep the Oceans Happy

Swimming away from the rocky shores out to sea Grace Klinges, a 2nd year PhD student in the Vega-Thurber Lab, is surrounded by short green sea grasses swaying in the waves, multi-colored brown sand and occasional dull grayish-brown corals dot the floor as she continues her research dive. However, the most interesting thing about this little island reef off the coast of Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea, is the forest of bubbles that envelopes Grace as she swims. Bubbles curiously squeak out everywhere along seafloor between sand grains and even eating their way through the corals themselves. It reminds one of how thick the fog can be in the Oregon hills, and like a passing cloud, the bubbles begin to dissipate the further away you swim from the shore, revealing an increasingly complex web of life wholly dependent on the corals that look more like color-shifting chameleons than their dull-colored cousins closer to the shore.

Grace took ~2,000 photos for each of 6 transects moving away from the carbon dioxide seeps. She is rendering these photos using a program called PhotoScan, which identifies areas of overlap between each photo to align them, and then generates a 3D model by calculating the depth of field of each image.

These bubbles emanating from the seafloor is part of a naturally occurring CO2 seep found in rare parts of the world. While seemingly harmless as they dance up the water column, they are changing ocean chemistry by decreasing pH or making the water more acidic. The balance of life in our oceans is so delicate – the entire reef ecosystem is changing in such a way that provides a grim time machine into the future of Earth’s oceans if humans continue emitting greenhouse gasses at our current rate.

Corals are the foundation of these ocean ecosystems that fish and indigenous island communities rely on for survival. In order for corals to survive they depend on a partnership with symbiotic algae; through photosynthesis, the algae provide amino acids and sugars to the corals, and in return, the coral provides a sheltered environment for the algae and the precursor molecules of photosynthesis. Algae lend corals their magnificent colors, but algae are less like colorful chameleons and more like generous Goldilocks that need specific water temperatures and a narrow range of acidity to survive. Recall those bubbles of CO2 rising from the seafloor? As the bubbles of CO2 move upward they react with water and make it slightly more acidic, too acidic in fact for the algae to survive. In an unfortunate cascade of effects, a small 0.5 pH unit change out of a 14 unit scale of pH, algae cannot help corals survive, fish lose their essential coral habitat and move elsewhere leaving these indigenous island inhabitants blaming bubbles for empty nets. On the grander scale, it’s humans to blame for our continuous emissions rapidly increasing global ocean temperatures and lowering ocean pH. The only real question is when we’ll realize the same thing the local fishermen see now, how can we limit the damage to come?

 

The lovely Tara Vessel anchored in Gizo, Solomon Islands.

Grace Klinges is a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Microbiology Department who is using these natural CO2 seeps as a proxy for what oceans could look like in the future, and she’s on the hunt for solutions. Her research area is highly publicized and is part of an international collaboration called Tara Expeditions as a representative of the Rebecca Vega Thurber Lab here at Oregon State, known for diving across the world seeking to better understand marine microbial ecology in this rapidly changing climate. Grace’s project is studying the areas directly affected by these water-acidifying CO2 seeps and the surrounding reefs that return to normal ocean pH levels and water temperatures. By focusing her observations in this localized area, about a 60-meter distance moving away from shore, Grace is able to see a gradient of reef health that directly correlates with changing water chemistry. Through a variety of techniques (GoPro camera footage, temperature sensors, pH, and samples from coral and their native microbial communities) Grace hopes to produce a 3D model of the physical reef structures at this site to relate changing chemistry with changes in community complexity.

Tara scientists spend much of the sailing time between sites labeling tubes for sampling. Each coral sample taken will be split into multiple pieces, labeled with a unique barcode, and sent to various labs across the world, who will study everything from coral taxonomy and algal symbiont diversity to coral telomere length and reproduction rates.

One of the main ideas is that as you move further away from the CO2 seeps the number of coral species, or coral diversity, increases which often is expressed in a huge variety of physical structures and colors. As the coral diversity increases so should the diversity of their microbiomes. Using genetic and molecular biology techniques, Grace and the Vega Thurber lab will seek to better understand which corals are the most robust at lower pH levels. However, this story gets even more complicated, because it’s not just the coral and algae that depend on each other, but ocean viruses, bacterial players, and a whole host of other microorganisms that interact to keep this ecological niche functioning. This network of complicated interactions between a variety of organisms in reef systems requires balance for the system to function. Affectionately named the “coral holobiont“, similar to a human’s microbiome, we are still far from understanding the relative importance of each player which is why Grace and her labmates have written a series of bioanalytic computer scripts to efficiently analyze the massive amounts of genetic information that is becoming more available in the field.

Grace was overjoyed after taking a break from sampling to swim with some dolphins who were very curious about the boat.

With the combination of Grace’s field work taking direct observations of our changing oceans, and her computer programming that will help researchers around the world classify organisms of unknown ecosystem function, our knowledge of the oceans will get a little less murky. Be sure to listen to the interview Sunday January 14th at 7PM. You can learn more about the Vega Thurber lab here.

It’s a Bird Eat Bird World

Female sage-grouse in eastern Oregon, 2017. Photo credit: Hannah White

Over the last half century, populations of Greater Sage-grouse – a relative of pheasants and chickens – have declined throughout their range. Habitat loss and degradation from wildfires is regarded as a primary threat to the future of sage-grouse in Oregon. This threat is exacerbated by the spread of invasive annual grasses (read: fuel for fires). In addition, raven populations, a predator of sage-grouse nests, are exploding. But how does all of this relate? PhD student Terrah Owens of Dr. Jonathan Dinkins lab in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and her colleagues are trying to find out.

Specifically, Terrah’s research is focused on the impact of wildfire burn areas – the burn footprint and edge – on sage-grouse predation pressure and how this influences habitat selection,

Terrah Owens with a radio-collared female sage-grouse in Nevada, 2015.

survival, and reproductive success. To do this work Terrah is characterizing six sites in Baker and Malheur counties, Oregon, based on their burn history, abundance of avian predators, shrub and flowering plant cover, as well as invasive annual grasses. To monitor sage-grouse populations, Terrah captures and radio-marks female sage-grouse to identify where the birds are nesting and if they are producing offspring. Additionally, Terrah conducts point counts to determine the density and abundance of avian predators (ravens, hawks, and eagles) in the area. Burn areas generally provide less protective cover for prey, making it an ideal hunting location for predators. Ultimately, Terrah hopes her work will help determine the best ways to allocate restoration funds through proactive, rather than reactive measures.

An encounter with a Bengal tiger at a petting zoo as a young girl inspired Terrah’s lifelong interest in wildlife conservation. As an undergraduate, Terrah studied Zoology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. She then interned at Bonneville

Banding a juvenile California spotted owl, 2016.

Dam on the Columbia River for the California sea lion and salmon project. After this she went on to work for the U.S. Forest Service in northern California as a wildlife crew leader working with spotted owls, northern goshawk, fisher, and marten, among other species. She eventually moved on to work with sage-grouse in Nevada with the U.S Geological Survey.

After graduate school, Terrah would like to head a wildlife service research unit and apply her wealth of knowledge and government experience to bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers.

Join us on Sunday, December 10, at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Terrah’s research, how she captures sage-grouse, and her journey to graduate school.

Exploring a protein’s turf with TIRF

Investigating Otoferlin

Otoferlin is a protein required for hearing. Mutations in its gene sequence have been linked to hereditary deafness, affecting 360 million people globally, including 32 million children. Recently graduated PhD candidate Nicole Hams has spent the last few years working to characterize the activity of Otoferlin using TIRF microscopy. There are approximately 20,000 protein-coding genes in humans, and many of these proteins are integral to processes occurring in cells at all times. Proteins are encoded by genes, which are comprised of DNA; when mutations in the gene sequence occur, diseases can arise. Mutations in DNA that give rise to disease are the focus of critical biomedical research. “If DNA is the frame of the car, proteins are the engine,” explains Nicole. Studying proteins can provide insight into how diseases begin and progress, with the strategic design of therapies to treat disease founded on our understanding of protein structure and function.

Studying proteins

Proteins are difficult to study because they’re so small: at an average size of ~2 nanometers (0.000000002 meters!), specific tools are required for visualization. Enter TIRF. Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence is a form of microscopy enabling scientists like Nicole to observe proteins tagged with a fluorescent marker. One reason TIRF is so useful is that it permits visualization of samples at the single molecule level. Fluorescently-tagged proteins light up as bright dots against a dark background, indicating that you have your protein.

Another reason why proteins are hard to study is that in many cases, parts of the protein are not soluble in water (especially if part of the protein is embedded in the fatty cell membrane). Trying to purify protein out of a membrane is extremely challenging. Often, it’s more feasible for scientists to study smaller, soluble fragments of the larger protein. Targeted studies using truncated, soluble portions of protein offer valuable information about protein function, but they don’t tell the whole story. “Working with a portion of the protein gives great insight into binding or interaction partners, but some information about the function of the whole protein is lost when you study fragments.” By studying the whole protein, Nicole explains, “we can offer insight into mechanisms that lead to deafness as a result of mutations.”

Challenges and rewards of research

Nicole cites being the first person in her lab to pursue single molecule studies as a meaningful achievement in her graduate career. She became immersed in tinkering with the new TIRF instrument, learning from the ground up how to develop new experiments. Working with cells containing Otoferlin, in a process known as tissue culture, required Nicole to be in lab at unusual hours, often for long periods of time, to make sure that the cells wouldn’t die. “The cells do not wait on you,” she explains, adding, “even if they’re ready at 3am.” Sometimes Nicole worked nights in order to get time on the TIRF. “If you love it, it’s not a sacrifice.”

Why grad school?

As an undergraduate student studying Agricultural Biochemistry at the University of Missouri, Nicole worked in a soybean lab investigating nitrogen fixation, and knew she wanted to pursue research further. She had worked in a lab work since high school, but didn’t realize it was a path she could pursue, instead convinced that she wanted to go to medical school. Nicole’s mom encouraged her to pursue research, because she knew that it was something she enjoyed, and her undergraduate advisor (who completed his post-doc at OSU) suggested that she apply to OSU. She feels lucky to have found an advisor like Colin Johnson, and stresses the importance of finding a mentor who is personally vested in their graduate student’s success.

Besides lab work…

In addition to research, Nicole has been actively involved in outreach to the community, serving as Educational Chair of the local NAACP Chapter. Following completion of her PhD, Nicole intends to continue giving back to the community, by establishing a scholarship program for underrepresented students. Nicole remembers a time when she was told and believed that she wasn’t good enough, and while she was able to overcome this discouraging dialogue, she has observed that many students do not find the necessary support to pursue higher education. Her goal is to reach students who don’t realize they have potential, and provide them with resources for success.

Tune in on December 3rd  at 7pm to 88.7 KBVR Corvallis or stream the show live right here to hear more about Nicole’s journey through graduate school!

Thanks for reading!

Full Interview Here

Earlier in the show we discussed current events, specifically how the tax bill moving through the House and Senate impact students. Please see our references and sources for more information.

Ocean basins are like trumpets– no, really.

We’re all familiar with waves when we go to the coast and see them wash onto the beach. But since ocean waters are usually stratified by density, with warmer fresher waters on top of colder, saltier ones, waves can occur between water layers of different densities at depths up to hundreds of meters. These are called internal waves. They often have frequencies that are synched with the tides and can be pretty big–up to 200 meters in amplitude! Because of their immense size, these waves help transfer heat and nutrients from deep waters, meaning they have an impact on ocean current circulation and the growth of phytoplankton.

The line of foam on the surface of the ocean indicates the presence of an internal wave.

We still don’t understand a lot about how these waves work. Jenny Thomas is a PhD student working with Jim Lerczak in Physical Oceanography in CEOAS (OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences). Jenny studies the behavior of internal waves whose frequencies correspond with the tides (called internal tides) in ocean basins. This requires a bit of mathematical theory about how waves work, and some modeling of the dimensions of the basin and how it could affect the height of tides onshore.

Picture a bathtub with water in it. Say you push it back and forth at a certain rate until all the water sloshes up on one side while the water is low on the other side. In physics terms, you have pushed the water in the bathtub at one of its resonant frequencies to make all of it behave as a single wave. This is called being in a normal mode of motion. Jenny’s work on the normal modes of ocean basins suggests that the length-to-width ratio and the bathymetry of an ocean basin influence the structure of internal tides along the coast. Basically, if the tidal forcing and the shape of the basin coincide just right, they can excite a normal mode. The internal wave can then act like water in a bathtub sloshing up the side, pushing up on the lower-density water above it.

It turns out that water isn’t the only thing that can have normal modes. The air column in a wind instrument is another example. Jenny grew up a child of two musicians and earned a degree in trumpet performance from the University of Iowa, and she occasionally uses her trumpet to demonstrate the concept of normal modes. She can change pitches by buzzing her lips at different resonant frequencies of the trumpet–the pitch is not just controlled by the valves.

Jenny uses her trumpet to explain normal modes.

Near the end of her undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa, Jenny discovered that she had a condition called fibrous dysplasia that could potentially cause her mouth to become paralyzed. Deciding a career as a musician would be too risky, and realizing her aptitude for math and physics, she went back to school and earned a second undergraduate degree in physical oceanography at Old Dominion University. After a summer internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducting fieldwork for the US Geological Survey, she decided to pursue a graduate degree at OSU to further examine the behavior of internal waves.

Tune in to 88.7 KBVR Corvallis to hear more about Jenny’s research and background (with a trumpet demo!) or stream the show live right here.

Jenny helps prepare an instrument that will be lowered into the water to determine the density of ocean layers.

Jenny isn’t fishing. The instrument she is deploying is called a CTD for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth–the three things it measures when in the water.

GROWing Healthy Kids and Communities

Physical activity has many benefits for health and wellness. Physical activity can help us control our weight, reduce our risk of diseases including many cancers and type 2 diabetes, help to strengthen our bones and muscles, and improve our mental health. Yet despite the benefits, many don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity. Our guest this week, Evan Hilberg from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the Department of Kinesiology, is investigating factors that influence physical activity of children in rural communities. Research focused on physical activity in children disproportionally centers around children in urban communities. Children in rural communities may have different limitations to physical activity. For example, rural children are more likely to take the bus to school instead of walking and commutes may take up to two hours each way. This leaves little time for physical activity outside of school hours. With his advisors, John Schuna and Kathy Gunter, Evan is analyzing data collected as part of the Generating Rural Options for Weight- Healthy Kids and Communities (GROW HKC) to better understand when children are active during the school day and factors that might limit their physical activity.

Recess and Wellness

Evan taking blood samples for cholesterol and glucose testing at a Community Wellness Fair.

One area of interest for Evan and the GROW HKC project are the variables that may predict changes in Body Mass Index (BMI) over a three-year period. Through this longitudinal study that involves over 1000 rural Oregon elementary school children, Evan will identify correlates of BMI change such as physical activity levels, age, sex, teacher, and school. Additionally, Evan is analyzing data that will hopefully provide more insight into specifically what times during the school day children are active. By obtaining a classroom schedule from teachers and measuring activity with accelerometers and pedometers, Evan can infer if children are physically active during recess, P.E., classroom activity breaks, or other times during the school day. Finally, Evan’s data will examine the reliability of different objective measures of physical activity, such as pedometers and accelerometers. The ability to compare outputs from different devices is limited by changes in device hardware and software, as well as the ways in which data is processed within those devices. The examination of these devices may inform procedure for future physical activity research for children and adults to help comparability across different devices and different studies.

A School of Thought

A clear understanding of the factors effecting physical activity in rural school children will aid in structuring the school day to maximize each child’s opportunity to be physically active. Data generated through GROW HKC my reveal patterns that younger children are more active during unstructured play during recess, whereas older children prefer sports-focused activity in P.E.. This type of research could inform recommendations for state-mandated physical activity at schools such that school day structure and physical activity opportunities are tailored to the diverse needs of kids in rural communities.

Full Circle

Evan grew up as an active kid and selected a college where he could play baseball. He landed at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon where his interest in Exercise Science grew through volunteering in community health outreach and research with his advisor, Janet Peterson. Evan learned that his education went beyond the classroom through his interactions with the community. Evan decided to pursue graduate school and earned a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Eastern Washington University. During his Master’s, Evan gained more experience with community and public health research as an AmeriCorps employee with Let’s Move, Cheney”, a local coalition inspired by Michelle Obama’s national campaign. Thereafter, Evan volunteered with the GROW HKC project, and applied to graduate school at Oregon State. Since beginning his doctoral studies with a concentration in physical activity and public health, Evan has completed a Master’s in Public Health in Biostatistics and maintains a full-time job as a Medical Policy Research Analyst with Cambia Health Solutions.

Tune in to 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis this Sunday November, 12 at 7 pm to hear more about Evan’s research and background in Exercise Science. Click here to stream the show live.

Evan at the California-Oregon border on a self-supported bike trip to San Francisco down the coast.

Secrets of the Black Cottonwood

Ryan cultivated his interest in plants at a young age while checking wheat fields with his dad on the family farm near Beltrami, MN.

Growing up on a family farm in North Dakota, Ryan Lenz loved learning about wheat – specifically the things that made wheat varieties different. Why were some taller or shorter than others? Why did some have more protein? After gaining skills in molecular biology at North Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology, Ryan interned with a biotech company where he was finally able to make the connection between wheat varieties and the genes that make them different. This experience sparked his interest and led him to earn a Master’s degree in Plant Sciences at his alma mater and eventually brought him to OSU’s Department of Botany & Plant Pathology to study host-pathogen interactions as a PhD student with Dr. Jared LeBoldus.

Using black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) – a native tree to the western US – Ryan is working to reveal the genes responsible for making woody plants susceptible to fungal disease and those that give the fungus the ability to infect trees. The fungus of interest, Sphaerulina musiva, causes leaf spot and stem canker on cottonwood trees – the latter disease being more severe as it girdles the trees and causes the tops to break off.

Ryan tending to his tissue culture plants in the LeBoldus Lab.

The fungal pathogen was first found in the eastern United States in association with the more resistant eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), but has worked its way westward putting the susceptible black cottonwood at risk. This fast-growing cottonwood is a foundation species in riparian areas and provides erosion control. Not only are these trees important ecologically, they are also important in forest agriculture for their uses in making pulp for paper, biofuels, building materials, windbreaks, and for providing shade.

Ryan and his wife, Rebecca, enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

To learn how the tree and fungus interact, Ryan employs advanced molecular techniques like the CRISPR-Cas9 system to edit genes. To put it simply, he tries to find the important information in the plant and fungus by making changes in the genetic code and then seeing if it has a downstream effect. The implication of his work has two sides. On one hand, Ryan is trying to provide cottonwood breeders with insight to make a more resistant tree to be grown in the western US. While on the other hand, he is working to establish the black cottonwood as a model system for other woody hosts susceptible to necrotrophic fungi – those that feed on dead tissue. As a model system, the secrets of the black cottonwood would be unveiled, providing a blueprint of valuable information that could be applied to other woody trees.

 

One day, Ryan hopes to move back to the Midwest to be a plant researcher near his family’s farm.

Join us on Sunday, November 5, at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Ryan’s love for plant genetics and his journey to graduate school.

Tracing Goethe’s influence on botany and plant morphology

As a History of Science PhD student in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, Andy Hahn studies how botanists and plant morphologists in the 20th century were influenced by Goethe, a famed German writer and naturalist during the 19th century. Goethe is well known for his rendition of Faust, as well as his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Although historians and philosophers have studied Goethe extensively, his influence on subsequent generations of botanists and plant morphologists has not been fully explored. Goethe wrote a book called Metamorphosis of Plants, which provided early foundational insight into morphology, the study of plant structure and appearance of plant features such as leaves and petals. For his PhD work, Andy has visited institutional archives in Switzerland, England, and Scotland to study the letters and writings of 20th century botanists and other scientists influenced by Goethe’s science.

Goethe’s science was characterized by taking account appearance and structure of plants as a whole entity, as opposed to focusing only specific parts of the plant, a method employed in the taxonomy of Linnaeus, a prominent 18th century natural historian. As the 19th century progressed, Goethe’s approach towards morphology was well-integrated in botanical science in Germany, France, and England. However, the rise of Darwinism, genetics, and experimental methods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was accompanied by a decreased role for Goethe’s style of morphology. In the early 20th century, plant morphologist community split into two groups: new morphology based in Darwinian thought, and old morphology based in Goethe’s principles. The influence of Goethe’s writing can be seen among botanists in the 20th century, including Agnes Arber, a plant morphologist who translated Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants into English.

Andy was introduced to Goethe’s scientific work as he continued to follow his interests that arose from his as an undergraduate in philosophy. He appreciated Goethe’s and current Goethean scientists’ approach to plant morphology as a means to understand the natural world. By visualizing a plant through the course of its life, he was able to develop a stronger connection to the natural world, awakening his own senses by meditating on the form of plants. Andy found himself wondering what happened to the ideas of Goethe, and why Goethe’s ideas weren’t recognized more commonly in biological education. He became interested in philosophical questions surrounding why we think the way we do, as well as the accumulation of knowledge; in particular, how we produce scientific knowledge, and how we can be certain about it. During his Masters studies at OSU, Andy first began researching the botanical work of Goethe, and has continued to study the influence of Goethe on 20th century botanists for his PhD work. Following completion of his graduate studies, Andy would like to teach history of science at the university level and pursue science writing.

To hear more from Andy about the influence of Goethe’s science on botany and plant morphologists, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination on Sunday, October 22 at 7pm on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis. Or stream it online here!

The Breathing Seafloor

In the cold, dark depths of the seafloor across the world, microbes living in sediments and on rocks are quietly breaking down organic material and sucking dissolved oxygen out of the seawater. The continental shelf off of Oregon’s coasts, home to a fishing industry that brings in over a hundred million dollars of revenue per year, is no exception. Does oxygen consumption, and therefore carbon cycling, vary by location, or across seasons? Setting a baseline to investigate these patterns of oxygen drawdown is crucial to understanding habitats and distributions of fish stocks, but will also establish what “normal” oxygen consumption looks like off our shores. Measurements like these are also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to estimate global patterns of carbon burial. If any forces were to shift these patterns in the future, we’d at least have a baseline to allow us to diagnose any “abnormal” conditions.

Peter Chace is a third-year PhD student of Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS). Peter’s research focuses on developing a technique of measuring fluxes of oxygen across the seafloor called Eddy covariance. This technique takes high-resolution time measurements of three-dimensional velocities of water moving in turbulent whorls, or random circular patterns, within the boundary layer of a fluid like air or water. Eddy covariance has been employed to measure fluxes across air layers on land for decades, but has only recently been applied in marine systems. A point-source oxygen measurement within this turbulent layer is measured with a microelectrode and combined with the velocity data to develop a flux. Why go through all this trouble? Other ways to measure oxygen fluxes, like putting chambers over an area of seafloor and waiting to measure an oxygen drawdown, require a lot of work and give little temporal resolution.

Workers on the RV Oceanus, Oregon State’s largest research vessel, deploy a benthic (seafloor) oxygen sensor.

Peter can calibrate his microelectrodes to measure other chemicals and obtain their fluxes across the seabed, but he is mainly focused on oxygen. To measure fluxes off the Oregon coast, Pete and his advisor, Dr. Clare Reimers, will head to sea on the RV Oceanus several times this fall and winter to deploy their sensor on the seafloor for days at a time. The desk-sized seafloor lander and the microelectrode attached to it are fragile, and the rough seas offshore Oregon in fall and winter will make it a challenging endeavor. We hope they pack enough seasickness medication and barf bags!

You get right up close and personal with the ocean when you send down these instruments… and this is on a clear day with calm seas!

Since growing up as a child in New Jersey, Peter has always wanted to learn about the ocean. While studying chemistry and marine biology at Monmouth University (in New Jersey) as an undergraduate, he completed a summer REU (Research Experience as an Undergraduate) with his current advisor, Clare Reimers, here at Oregon State University. He also interned for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), analyzing the chemistry of hydrothermal vent fluids with Dr. David Butterfield. Pete revisited a hydrothermal system on a cruise to the East Pacific Rise off of Central America where he got a remarkable opportunity to dive in Alvin, the submersible that discovered the wreckage of the Titanic.

Here’s Pete in the submersible Alvin just before the dive, checking his microelectrodes.

To hear more about Peter’s research on sensor development and his seafaring expeditions, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination on Sunday, October 15th at 7pm on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis. Or stream it online here!

Clean Meat, Clean Conscience

Some may say, “there is nothing like a juicy hamburger,” and here is the USA we are fortunate to have access to affordable meat. While the cost of your next hamburger may not weigh too heavily on your pocket, the quantity resources required to produce one pound of beef may surprise you. One pound of meat is fed by nearly 7 pounds of grain, 53 gallons of water, 70 square acres of land, and 1,000 BTU of energy(The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Additionally, animal agriculture produces 5 times the amount of greenhouse gasses than other food sources (Smithsonian Mag). Finally, 56 billion land animals are killed every year solely for food. The impacts on marine animals are high as well but difficult to estimate. More information about the impacts of animal agriculture. But what can be done? Is there a better way to grow meat that uses less resources and reduces animal suffering?

From the petri dish to the plate

Bjørn on the Oregon State University campus

Yes, our guest this week, Bjørn Kristensen from the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, studies the ethics behind cultured meat or clean meat. Similar scientific advances in muscle tissue culture that have led to lab grown human organs are now being harnessed to grow animal muscle for human consumption. Clean meat is made from cells that can be obtained with no harm to the animal donor. One company, Hampton Creek Foods, has cultured chicken muscle with cells from a chicken feather. Hampton Creek Foods and Finless Foods are focused on producing clean meat with zero animal suffering. Clean meat is literally clean because it is grow under 100% sterile conditions. This means no natural parasites or other infections, and no need for antibiotics nor artificial growth hormones. While Bjorn maintains that the best option for the both purposes of sustainability and reduction in animal suffering is eliminating animal products from one’s diet, within the next year or two, companies such as Hampton Creek and Finless Foods will be introducing clean meat which is structurally identical to meat coming from mainstream animal agriculture. This means that even those who choose not to stop eating meat will have options that do not require an animal to be killed for their food.

The best part: by some estimates a few animal cells can be used to grow 10,000 kg of meat (The Meat Revolution- Mark Post). Practically speaking, clean meat could reduce the number of cows in animal agriculture from half a billion to thirty thousand. This reduction animal agriculture would free up land and resources for other food sources such as vegetable crops, lessen the amount of greenhouse gasses being emitted by animal agriculture, and it would lower animal suffering.

When practicality meets ethics

Bjørn with a resident of Green Acres Farm Sanctuary in Silverton, Oregon where he volunteers.

Animal agriculture is an ethical issue. The intersection occurs when humans act as mediator and place the needs of one species over the needs of another. Bjorn studies this ethical conundrum. In the case of animal agriculture,we have placed our desire for meat over the needs of the individual animals within the current food system. For these animals, their entire life is planned for their death, process, and consumption, and this planned “life” comes with emotional consequences for the animals. Check out this video about chickens, considered one of the most abused animals. Clean meat could alleviate the need for so much animal suffering to feed humans and other non-human animals.

Not convinced?

Bjørn with his dog, Thor.

Consider this: humans are not the only animals on the planet that consume meat from animal agriculture. While humans can actually survive and thrive on a plant-based diet, other carnivorous animals must consume flesh to survive. Pets, zoo animals, and wildlife in rehabilitation also require animal proteins, and the animals that are harvested to produce pet food are at the bottom of the food chain. Removing small fish or small rodents from natural ecosystems means that animals in the wild have to get energy from other sources. For some wild animals, such as marine mammals, this is simply not possible. Few have considered that clean meat could become an alternative protein source for pets and other wildlife that have been removed from their natural habitat. Bjørn explored the ethics of “captive predation” or feeding captive animals with other animal protein sources in a recent paper that he presented at the International Conference on Cultured Meat in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Because it’s who you are

Receiving the award for outstanding philosophical essay from his undergrad professor, Antony Aumann.

Bjørn’s “when I grow up” career choice was a veterinarian, and although not a vet now, his concern for animals has not dwindled. During college, Bjørn started out as a Human Services major at Finlandia University, but switched his focus after taking some philosophy and religious studies classes. Eventually, he transferred to Northern Michigan University and found a connection between concern for animals and philosophical study, particularly in animal ethics.  Bjørn began to consider graduate school after his professor in existentialism, Anthony Aumann, encouraged him to apply. Bjørn applied toOregon State University, and began to develope his thesis concerning inter-species justice with Robert Figueroa his major advisor.

Hear more about clean meat and Bjørn’s work and journey to graduate school this Sunday October, 8 at 7pm on 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis. Listen live online anywhere!

Continue the conversation with Bjørn and learn more about clean meat ethics and research:

 on twitter

kristenb@oregonstate.edu