Author Archives: Lauri Lutes

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.

Seeing live animal exhibits can be a powerful experience, but do they change our behaviors?

Imagine you’re at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park cheetah run. You hear the sounds of awe and wonder as the cheetah demonstrates its amazing speed. The zookeeper tells you more about the cheetah and its ecosystem – an ecosystem that is being negatively impacted by humans. You walk away with tangible ways that you can do your part to reduce your impact – recycling, using less plastic. But when you exit the zoo gates and enter back into the hustle and bustle of life, do you actually make those changes?

Nicolette and Ebony, the raven, at Moorpark College in 2007.

Working under the advisership of Dr. Shawn Rowe in OSU’s College of Education, Nicolette Canzoneri is passionately pursing a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences with research centered around the idea of free-choice learning – or, the education that happens outside of a formal school environment. The menagerie of animals that zoos and aquariums have historically been known for has transitioned in recent years to conservation efforts. Instead of a spectacle, the animals – often rescued and unable to be re-entered into their natural environment – act as ambassadors for their ecosystems. This summer, Nicolette will be conducting a three-part project to get to the heart of human behavior changes based on interactions with live animal exhibits at zoos and aquariums.

First, Nicolette will be interviewing education directors and animal care supervisors to understand how the education programs are designed to target pro-environmental behavior. She will then observe the programs to determine the degree to which they align with the intended educational and behavioral goals. Despite the nuances of evaluation, Nicolette then plans to discover the if, how and why of evaluations being used to determine effectiveness of these educational programs. Ultimately, she hopes that her research can help to fill the knowledge gaps between theories and principles in applied behavioral studies and their implementation in free-choice learning.

Nicolette with her Animal Behavior students at Moorpark College in 2015.

Nicolette brings a wealth of experience in animal training and applied behavioral psychology to her research. As a teenager Nicolette knew that she wanted to work with animals, but it wasn’t until she found herself watching the Animal Planet reality TV show Moorpark 24/7 that she realized animal training was part of her calling. Nicolette went on to pursue her dream by obtaining her Exotic Animal Training & Management degree at the prestigious Moorpark College near Los Angeles, CA. Through the twists and turns of her career, Nicolette has since obtained a bachelor’s degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis at California State University, Sacramento and volunteered, interned, and worked in some interesting places along the way including as a dog trainer in Austria, an animal trainer at the Playboy Mansion, and most recently training dolphins for reconnaissance for the United States Navy.

Nicolette with her two dogs in San Diego, 2016.

Join us on Sunday, June 17 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to dive deeper into Nicolette’s free-choice learning research and journey to graduate school.