We eat food to keep ourselves happy and healthy. While the foods we eat are degraded in our gut, it’s actually little microbes that do most of the work to break down our food. Many many microbes. It is well known that our diet controls our health. But until recently, we have not appreciated the intermediate step that relies on microbes in our gut, and their influence on our health. What if our gut microbes are just as important for human health as the food we eat? The so-called gut microbiome, the unique community of microbes living in our digestive tract that influences how we break down food, is the quickly evolving research area that our guest is interested in. Michael Sieler is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in the Microbiology Department and is interested in better understanding how environmental factors, like rising temperatures and pathogens to name just a few, influence our gut microbiome and thus our health.
There are hundreds of different microbial species living in human guts. These microbes work together to support human health by helping us digest our food and fight off pathogenic microbes. Because humans eat a multitude of diets, it can be tricky to figure out how human health is influenced by our gut microbes if the things we eat are not consistent. Instead of forcing humans to undergo rigorous eating and environmental trials – that may even be unethical given how much we’d need to control a human life – researchers like Michael use different organisms that are similar to humans to help understand some of the fundamental drivers of health. While you may be thinking of mice trials to see how toxic a substance is, or if we’ve successfully created a non-hallucinogenic version of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes, mice still have plenty of limitations.
Instead of using mice to run experiments, researchers are increasingly using zebrafish because they’re well studied, easy to grow and maintain, fast to reproduce, and 70% of their genes overlap with human genes so we can generally use these little fish as models of larger humans. For example, we’ve interviewed previous guests like Grace Deitzler researching how the gut microbiome can influence anxiety disorders and the connections to autism spectrum disorder. We’ve also interviewed Sarah Alto who researched how different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide are connected to stress responses. Finally, Delia Shelton is actively researching how cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, is influencing behavioral patterns. You can imagine these studies would be tricky to perform on humans, that’s why all of these researchers use zebrafish as their model organism.
Michael’s work focuses on how environmental factors impact our gut microbiome to influence our health. For example, exposure to antibiotics or pathogens can dramatically affect the microbes living in our guts, but so can our diet. Surprisingly, unlike other model organisms such as mice, zebrafish are not fed a consistent diet across research studies and facilities. Given the importance of the gut microbiome to digest food and support our health, inconsistent use of diets in zebrafish microbiome studies could lead to inconsistency in study results. It’s like trying to compare race times for a five-mile race, except some people get to use cars and bikes and unicycles. Without a standard way to compare people, how comparable are the race results? Michael’s current work seeks to address this conundrum by feeding zebrafish one of three commonly used research diets and comparing their microbiomes. He finds that type of diet has an overwhelming effect on their gut microbiome, and these effects may overwhelm the effects of other environmental factors, like pathogen exposure.
What does this mean for the mountain of research built on zebrafish? We’ll answer that, and so much more with our guest Michael Sieler. We’ll also discuss his non-traditional route to graduate school, his love of travel, a side project using a tamagotchi-style video game to teach students about fish health, and how a year in the Guatemalan countryside helped him rethink his relationship to food and how he could have a greater impact in our world. Tune in live on Sunday at 7pm PT on 88.7FM, or check out the podcast if you missed the interview.
The overlap between environmental science and social justice are rare, but it has been around since at least the early 1990’s and is becoming more well-known today. The framework of Environmental Justice was popularized by Robert Bullard when his wife, a lawyer, asked him to help her with a case where he was mapping all the landfills in the state of Texas and cross reference the demographics of the people who lived there. Landfills are not the most pleasant places to live next to, especially if you never had the opportunity to choose otherwise. Bullard found that even though Houston has a 75% white population, every single city-owned landfill was built in predominantly black neighborhoods. The environmental hazards of landfills, their emissions and contaminated effluent, were systematically placed in communities that had been – and continue to be – disenfranchised citizens who lacked political power. Black people were forced to endure a disproportionate burden of the environmental hazards, and procedural justice was lacking in the decision making process that created these realities. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation to Houston, or Texas, because this pattern continues today.
Environmental justice is an umbrella term that we cannot fully unpack in a blogpost or a single podcast, but it is fundamentally about the injustices of environmental hazards being forced upon disadvantaged communities who had little to no role in creating those hazards. This is not a United States-specific issue although we do focus on state-side issues in this episode. In fact, some of the most egregious examples occur in smaller and lesser known countries (see our episode with Michael Johnson, where his motivation for pursuing marine sciences in graduate school is because the islands of micronesia where he grew up are literally being submerged by the rising seas of global warming). The issues we discuss are multifaceted and can seem impossible to fix. But before we can fix the issues we need to really understand the socio-political-economic ecosystem that has placed us exactly where we are today.
To begin to discuss all of this, we have Chris Hughbanks who is a graduate student at Oregon State and one of the Vice Presidents of the local Linn-Benton NAACP branch and a member of their Environmental and Climate Justice committee (Disclaimer: Adrian is also a branch member and part of the committee). We begin the discussion with a flood in Chris’ hometown of Detroit. Chris describes how they never really had floods because when precipitation occurs it’s usually either not that much rain or cold enough for it to snow instead. Because it hardly rains that much, very few people have flood insurance. But that pesky climate change is making temperatures warmer and precipitation events more intense than ever before causing flooding to occur in 2014, 2016, 2019, and 2020. As you might guess, the effects of this natural disaster were not equally shared by all citizens of Detroit. We discuss the overlap between housing discrimination and flood areas, how the recovery effort left so many out to [not] dry.
We end the episode with ways to get involved at the local level. First, consider learning more about the Linn-Benton NAACP branch, and the initiatives they focus on to empower local communities. Vote, vote, vote, and vote. Make sure you’re registered, and everyone else you know is registered to vote. And recognize these problems are generations in the making, and it will take just as long to fully rectify them. Finally, I am reminded of an episode interviewing millennial writers about what it means to be born when global warming was a niche research topic, but to come of age when climate change has become a global catastrophe. They rightfully point out that there are a myriad of possibilities for human salvation and sacrifice for every tenth of a degree between 1.5 and 3.0°C of warming that is predicted by the most recent 6th edition of the IPCC report. As grim as our future seems, what an awesome task for our generations to embark upon to try and “create a polity and economy that actually treats everybody with dignity, I cannot think of a more meaningful way to spend a human life.”
If you missed the show, you can listen to this episode on the podcast feed!
Additional Reading & Podcast Notes
The Detroit Flood – We mentioned the NPR article reporting that 40% of people living in Detroit experienced flooding, how black neighborhoods were at higher risk to flooding, and that renters (who are disproportionately black) were nearly twice as likely to experience flooding compared to those who owned their homes. We also mentioned a map of Detroit, showing which areas are more at risk of flooding. Another local article described how abnormal that summer in Detroit and the surrounding areas were compared to other years.
We listed a number of Environmental Justice links that include:
Dumping in Dixie, the 1990 book written by Robert Bullard which is considered essential reading for many law school courses on environmental justice.
We listed the organizing principles of the modern environmental justice movement, first codified in 1991 at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit
A story near Los Angeles where mixed-use city zoning laws allowed industrial businesses to operate near residential areas, causing soil lead pollution that was unknown until Yvette Cabrera wrote her own grant to study the issue. Read her story in Grist: Ghost of Polluter’s Past that describes the immense efforts she and researchers had to go through to map soil lead contamination, and how the community has used that information to generate positive change for the community.
Environmental [in]justice afflicts the global south as well, where a majority of forest loss since the 1960’s has occurred in the tropical regions of the world.
Adrian mentioned a number of podcasts for further listening:
Two past Inspiration Dissemination episodes with Holly Horan on maternal infant stress in Puerto Rico and her experience conducting research after Hurricane Maria, and Michael Johnson who one of his motivation to go to graduate school was because where he grew up – Micronesia – has been feeling the rising seas of climate change long before other countries.
A deep investigative journalism podcast calledFloodlines about the events leading up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and what happened after (or, what should have happened).
We returned to the fact that housing is central to so many injustices for generations. The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America by Richard Rothstein is a historical analysis of the laws and policies that shaped today’s housing patterns. One example Rothstein often cites is the construction of freeways purposefully routed through black communities; recently one developer accidentally said the quiet part out loud in explaining where a gas pipeline was routed because they choose “the path of least resistance“. We also mentioned that in 2019 and in 2020, Corvallis has ~37% of its residents being rent burdened (meaning households spend more than 50% of their income on rent), which is the worst city in the state over both years. You can also read about a California Delta assessment that focuses on agricultural shifts in the region due to land erosion and flooding, but they mention how current flood risk is tied to historical redlining.
Our climate in the next thirty years will not look the same as today, and that’s exactly why our energy systems will also soon look completely different. Energy systems are the big umbrella of how and where we create electricity, how we transport that electricity, and how we use electricity. We’re discussing the past and the future of our energy environment with Emily Richardson, a Masters of Engineering student in the Energy Systems Program.
When our energy infrastructure was originally built, energy generation, transport, and usage was a one-way street. Utility companies made or acquired the electricity, built poles and wires to transport that electricity to then be used in homes and businesses. Although that infrastructure was only made to last 50 years, many are pushing 100 years of operation.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” some might say, but we’re not living in the same energy reality when the infrastructure was originally built. For in-depth visuals of our energy generation and usage, we recommend viewing Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Now we have a different energy portfolio (e.g. wind and solar) but there’s also a two-way street of electricity movement that is required. Rooftop solar helps power individual homes, but when zero to little energy is being used in-house and it’s sunny outside, that excess energy generation on your rooftop moves back upstream and can fulfill energy needs in other places. A two-way street is quickly being paved. It’s worth remembering that energy is on demand, meaning we only make exactly as much energy as what’s being used. If there is excess generation in a highly distributed way (i.e. home solar panels) it adds another level of complexity to our energy systems because there is no “overflow” valve for electricity.
Imagine if your toilet, that slowly moves water in one direction, was suddenly expected to move water in the other direction and back and forth as quick as the speed of light? Yikes indeed. City-wide plumbing infrastructure was bult to accommodate the most extreme events like the Super Bowl flush (when everyone in the city/state/country runs to the bathroom at halftime). While it’s an extreme circumstance, the infrastructure was built to prepare for it, and it works! But our energy systems were hardly made for this kind of reverse movement of energy, especially on a large scale as more people install rooftop solar.
Beyond the two-way street, there’s also rush hour to worry about. The UK is known for their tea; at a specific time after a popular TV show ends about one-million teakettles get turned on simultaneously. Without planning and foresight this would lead to an electricity shortage and people losing power. But the UK government imports 200-600 megawatts of energy, sometimes coming from a hydroelectric dam and/or nuclear energy, to accommodate their hot tea requirements. It’s surprisingly complicated to move this much power all at once, but with strategic planning there are solutions!
Everything in the energy world is physically connected. Even if the poles and wires and outlets are hidden behind walls there’s an immense amount of planning and design that you will never see because if infrastructure is working well, you can accidently forget its existence. When it fails, it can fail catastrophically. The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire in Oregon was initiated by downed powerlines, and the 2018 Paradise Fire in California was also initiated by malfunctioning powerlines. There are a multitude of reasons why those fires were especially damaging (location of ignition, exceptionally dry fuels, extreme wind events, drought and insect stressed trees, too many trees per acre, etc.), and why wildfires will get worse in the future (rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns).
But our collective future requires energy, a lot of it, to be efficiently distributed and stored that requires a radical shift in our hardware, software, and maybe even our philosophy of energy usage. You don’t want to miss the discussion with Emily who will give us the deep dive on how we arrived at our energy reality and what our energy future will need to look like. This conversation is happening at 7pm on KBVR 88.7 FM, but you can also listen via the podcast feed.
Additional Notes On air we mentioned a few resources that can provide more deep dives! The first is the Energy Gang Podcast that focuses on energy, clean technology, and the environment. The Big Switch Podcast is a five-part series on how the power grid works and how upcoming changes to the gird can help society. The Volts Podcast is an interview based show untangling our messy climate future and hopeful energy transitions. Emily mentioned a presentation titled Imagining a Zero Emissions Energy System.
Water resources in the western United States are at a turning point. Droughts are becoming more common and as temperatures rise due to climate change more water will be needed to sustain the current landscape. The ongoing issues in the Klamath River Basin, a watershed crossing southern Oregon and northern California, are a case-study of how the West will handle future water scarcity. Aside from the limited supply of water, deciding how to manage this dwindling resource is no easy feat. Too much water has been promised to too many stakeholder groups, resulting in interpersonal conflict, distrust, and litigation. Our guest this week is Hannah Whitley, a PhD Candidate of Rural Sociology at Pennsylvania State University and a Visiting Scholar in the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University. Hannah grew up on a beef ranch in a small southwestern Oregon town, so she knows some of these issues all too well. Hannah is investigating how governance organizations work together to allocate water in the Upper Klamath Basin and how to tell the story of what water means to different stakeholder groups. By observing countless hours of public meetings, having one-on-one conversations with community members, and incorporating a novel research method called photovoice, she hopes to understand what can make water governance processes successful because the current situation is untenable for everyone involved.
How we got here
Prior to the 1800s-era Manifest Destiny movement, the area known today as the Upper Klamath Basin was solely inhabited by the Klamath Tribes (including the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin-Paiute people). At the time, Upper Klamath Lake was at least four times its original size, and c’waam (Lost River suckers) and koptu (shortnose suckers) thrived in abundance. The 1864 Klamath Treaty, ratified in 1870, officially recognized the Klamath Tribes as sovereigns in the eyes of the federal government. Treaties are especially powerful arrangements with the federal government, akin to international agreements between nations. These agreements are generally considered to be permanent laws, or at least that’s what the tribes were told.
As part of the conditions of the Klamath Tribes Treaty, tribes retained hunting, fishing, and water rights on 1.5 million acres of land, but ceded control of 22 million acres to the federal government. Those expropriated lands were given to westward settlers who took advantage of 1862 Homestead Act. The 1906 Reclamation Project drained much of Upper Klamath Lake, leaving behind soils that are nutrient dense and thus highly valuable. An additional homesteading program associated with the 1902 Reclamation Act prioritized the allocation of reclaimed federal land to veterans following World War I (there is ongoing litigation on whether these settlers have water rights as well, or just land rights). These land deeds have been passed onto families over time, though many mid-twentieth-century homesteaders opted to sell their land during the 1980 Farm Crisis.
The Klamath Tribes’ unceded lands were not contested during the intervening years. In the mid-1950s, however, the U.S. government used the 1954 Termination Act to nullify the Klamath Tribes’ 1864 Treaty. Although the Klamath tribes were “one of the strongest and wealthiest tribal nations in the US,” one result was the loss of the tribes’ remaining land and management rights. In 1986, their status as a federally-recognized tribe was restored, however, no land was returned. Soon after the Klamath Tribes were federally recognized (again), two species of fish that only spawn in the Upper Klamath Lake area were listed as endangered species. This provided both the c’waam and koptu fish species new legal protections, though they have always had significant cultural significance for the Klamath Tribes.
Where are we now
The Klamath River Basin is said to be one of the most complicated areas in the world due to the watershed’s transboundary location and the more than 60 different parties who have some interest in the Basin’s water allocation, including federal agencies, the states of California and Oregon, counties, irrigation districts, small farmers, large farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities. The Klamath Tribes play an active role in the management of water Basin-wide, although final governance decisions are made by state and federal agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and state departments of environmental quality.
Currently, the Upper Klamath Basin is occupied by multi-generation farmers and ranchers on lands that are exceedingly favorable for agricultural production. Some families have accumulated significant portions of land since the 1900s while others are still small-acreage farmers. As a result of farm consolidations that resulted from economic distress during the twentieth-century, many families had overwhelming success in purchasing adjacent and nearby land parcels as they were sold over the last hundred years. The result is that these few well-resourced families have disproportionate control of the area’s agricultural and natural resources compared to smaller-scale farms.
There are a variety of crops under production such as potatoes for Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods and In-N-Out Burger, as well as peppermint for European teas, and alfalfa used to feed cattle in China and the Willamette Valley. Regardless of the crop, as temperatures have risen and drought conditions worsen, Basin farmers and ranchers need more water each and every season. And it’s typically the more established farms who have a bigger say in how Upper Basin water (or lack thereof) and drought support programs are managed, regularly leaving smaller farms frustrated with decision-making processes. In addition to the seasonal droughts keeping lake levels low, stagnant water, summer sunshine, and nutrient runoff contribute to algae proliferation in the Upper Basin that decreases the survival rate of the endangered fish. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough water to continue with the status quo.
How are we moving forward
How do you balance all* of these competing interests through a collaborative governance model? (*We haven’t even mentioned the dams, or the downstream Yurok and Karuk tribes relying on water for salmon populations, the Ammon Bundy connection, or the State of Jefferson connection, read the multi-part series in The Herald for a deeper dive.) There needs to be a process where everyone is able to contribute and understand how these decisions will be made so they will be accepted in the future. Unfortunately, little research has been done in this area even though the need for new climate adaptation policies are increasingly in demand.
This is ongoing work that Hannah Whitley is conducting for her dissertation; how are stakeholders engaged in water governance? What are the different effects of these processes on factors like interpersonal trust, perceptions of power, and participation in state-led programs? The theory of the case is that if everyone’s voice is heard, and their concerns are addressed as best they can given limited resources, the final agreement may not completely satisfy all parties, but it’s an arrangement that is workable across all stakeholders.
Hannah has been conducting field work since September that includes observing public meetings, interviewing stakeholders, and diving into archives. Hannah attended an in-person farm tour in September. During lunch, one Upper Basin stakeholder inquired about the feasibility of conducting a photovoice project similar to what Hannah did for her Masters thesis work with a group of women farmers and gardeners in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The photovoice project allows individuals to tell their own stories through provided cameras with further input through collaborative focus groups. We will talk about this and so much more. Be sure to listen live on Sunday January 23rd at 7PM on 88.7FM or download the podcast if you missed it! Follow along with Hannah’s fieldwork on Instagram at @myrsocdissertation or visit her website.
This post was written by Adrian Gallo and edited by Hannah Whitely
How could an equation developed by a German mathematician in 1909 help Micronesian conservation networks plan for the future in the face of climate change?
In this week’s episode, we interview Dr. Steven Johnson, a graduate of Oregon State University’s Geography graduate program. Steven completed his doctorate earlier in 2021, under the guidance of Dr. James Watson, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. He’s now a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University. During his time at Oregon State, the focus of his work was oceans. “I study the ocean – in particular, people’s relationship with the ocean. The condition of the ocean has implications for people all over the world and millions depend on it for their livelihood,” he explains.
“There used to be this idea that the ocean was ‘too big to fail’, but Oregon State University Distinguished Professor and White House Deputy Director for Climate and the Environment Jane Lubchenco made the point that ‘the ocean is too big to fail, but too big to ignore,’” Steven recounts. “Not a single part of the ocean has not been impacted by people.” Plastic waste, rising temperatures, increasing acidification, and other byproducts of human activity have been changing the ocean as we know it, and it will continue to worsen if the problem can’t be solved. One challenge that arises as a result of these changes is the future of aquatic resource management and conservation programs, which are designed to work in current ocean and climate conditions.
So how does Steven’s research tackle these problems? In the first chapter of his thesis, he developed a novel model for predicting the way the ocean will change due to climate change. This approach is titled the Ocean Novelty Index, or the ONo Index. The Ocean Novelty Index quantifies the relative impact of climate change across all parts of the ocean, using a statistical metric applied to six different ocean surface variables (chlorophyll, O2, pH, sea surface temperature, silica, and zooplankton.) The metric is derived from the Hellinger distance, developed by a German mathematician in 1909, which is a nonparametric analysis that measures the similarity and dissimilarity between two distributions and their overlap. The baseline, or ‘normal’, conditions are derived from the period between 1970-2014, a 50 year period which recognizes 1970 as the birth of the modern Western climate movement. The model can then be used to assess and predict what climate change will do to one part of the ocean, and compare it to how that part of the ocean looked previously. The model better encapsulates the dynamic and unpredictable changes of the ocean resulting from climate change, as opposed to just rising temperatures.
In addition to the development of this climate change index, Steven’s research also focused on conservation networks and initiatives across Micronesia, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. These networks and cooperatives are collaborative efforts between regional governments to meet certain conservation goals, taking into account the differing social, cultural, and economic needs of the different countries involved. Part of Steven’s work has focused on applying the ONo index on a local scale, to help determine what changes may occur in the regions as well as where. What will the regions of these networks look like at different points as the climate changes, and how can we create strong policies and political relationships in these cooperatives and their respective countries to ameliorate potential issues in the future? Steven discusses these topics and more with us on this week’s ID podcast.
If you are interested in learning more about the ONo index and Steven’s work, you can read his paper here.
This week we have on the show Dr. Bo Wu – he recently graduated from Oregon State University with a Ph.D. from the Electrical Engineering department where he developed new sensors to monitor three different neurotransmitters that are correlated with our stress, mood, and happiness. Even though so much of our bodily functions rely on these neurotransmitters (cortisol, serotonin, dopamine), there are no current commercial or rapid techniques to monitor these tiny molecules. Since the majority of innovations in University settings never gets beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower, Bo wanted to design sensors with functionality and scalability in mind. Those basic principles are why Bo was attracted to joining the lab of Dr. Larry Cheng; instead of innovations sitting on university shelves their innovations must be designed to bring to market. Using nano-fabrications technology, Bo developed sensors that are about the size of a thumbnail to provide rapid and accurate measures of different neurotransmitters to be used outside the hospital setting. The promise of having these mini-molecules be measured as a point of care diagnostic (i.e. measured by the patient) is an exciting advancement in the medical field.
This innovation is not the only one coming from Bo; with the help of a colleague, they designed a product for researchers to easily reformat academic research papers for submission to other journals. If you didn’t know, submitting manuscripts to different journals takes an immense amount of time because of the formatting changes required. But these are tedious and can take a week or longer that can be used for crucial research experiments. While this service was originally designed for Engineering publications, the COVID-19 pandemic showed them there was a greater and more immediate need. With so many people losing their jobs, they re-designed the software to help people create and re-imagine their resumes for job applications. Their website, WiseDoc.net is now geared toward helping job seekers build stronger resumes, but Bo and his team expects to return to the original idea of re-formatting papers for academic publications but will expand to those beyond just Engineering journals. Thanks to Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator Program, Bo and his co-founder were able to refine their product and acquire seed money to get the website off the ground, which now employs a small international team to maintain and improve its services. If you have questions for Bo about starting your own business, being an international student, or the Advantage Accelerator program, you can contact him by email wubo[at]oregonstate[dot]edu.
Did you miss the show on Sunday, you can listen to Bo’s episode on Apple Podcasts!
Hospitals can provide a wide variety of lab tests to better understand our ailments. But have you ever wondered what happens to the sample after it’s in your doctor’s test-tube but before you get results? The answer is usually complicated and slow lab work; requiring lots of individual little steps to isolate and measure some specific molecule in your body. (Think of PCR-based COVID-19 tests). But not all tests require lab work.
You’re probably familiar with some paper-based diagnostic tools like checking the chlorine or pH level of your swimming pool. These are “dipsticks” of special papers and suitable for large volume samples. But what if you only have a couple drops to spare? For example, a diabetic is usually monitoring their blood’s glucose molecules with only a few drops of blood on special paper, then adding that paper to a measuring device. But you still need that small electronic device to know your blood glucose levels! This device requirement makes testing and diagnosis less accessible to people around the world. What if you could make a paper-based diagnostic tool, that works with tiny volumes, but doesn’t need any other equipment, or fancy software, or a trip to the hospital to get your answer? This is exactly why researchers are excited about paper-based microfluidic devices.
Pregnancy tests are one of the best examples (See Figure 2.4) of how researchers have automated a complex laboratory test onto a single device someone can purchase from any local pharmacy, at a relatively low cost, to get an answer within minutes, inside their own home. These tests actually measure a specific hormone, but it’s presented as a color indicator. Inside the device is porous media, to help move the sample, and a few different reagents in a specific order that generate the chemical reactions so you can see your test result as an easy to interpret color. No extra fancy machines, no hospital visit, rapid results, and relatively affordable disposable devices make pregnancy tests a success story. But this was commercialized in 1988, and urine samples are generally thought to be larger volume samples. There are still many more potential uses of paper-based diagnostic tools, using small-volume blood samples, yet to be developed.
This evening we have Lael Wentland, a PhD candidate in the College of Engineering, who is discussing her ongoing research on developing paper-based microfluidic tests for rare diseases. A central pillar of her work is to make healthcare more sustainable and accessible for a greater number of people, but especially those in more remote settings. The World Health Organization has an ASSURED criteria for the development of more paper based diagnostics to help guide researchers. The ASSURED criteria principles require the device be: Affordable, Sensitive, Specific, User friendly, Rapid and Robust, Equipment free and Deliverable to end users.
Using this framework, Lael has already developed one tool to monitor a metabolic disorder, and continues to work on another rare biomolecule. She started her research at OSU on phenylketonuria, a metabolic disorder where your body cannot breakdown a key amino acid (phenylalanine) found in foods. If you get too little of this amino acid, your body can’t make all the proteins it needs for growth, repair, or maintenance. Too much of this amino acid can cause seizures and developmental delays. Keeping close tabs on this phenylalanine is needed for people with this disorder because you can alter your diet to suit your body and remain healthy. But the current tests to monitor this amino acid is not as readily available as one may need. This is why Lael worked to make a paper-based microfluidic device that would adhere to the ASSURED criteria to make this more accessible for anyone. Lael was way past the proof-of-concept stage of her device, and was already recruiting subjects to test their blood using her new device when COVID-19 become prominent in March 2020. That’s one reason she pivoted to monitoring another rare disorder using similar principles.
We’ll get into that, and so much more, Sunday 7pm on 88.7FM KBVR.
Did you miss the show Sunday night? You can listen to Lael’s episode on Apple Podcasts!
Jason J. Dorsette is a Black man with a family full of civil rights activists and leaders with a rich history in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). As he described, “I was a country boy from the Jim Crow South and went to Oregon.” The NAACP of his upbringing did not exist here in Corvallis; literally, there was no collegiate branch in the Pacific Northwest when he arrived in 2014. Feeling like he didn’t belong, he helped to start the Oregon State University-NAACP branch in February of 2015 and continues to be involved in a variety of ways on campus and in the community. We briefly discussed his PhD research – Race Spaced Theory – that provides a geographical lens on Critical Race Theory. Because Jason is such a busy person, we had to keep the interview brief, but we hope to have him on the show again. As a reminder, the Corvallis-Albany NAACP branch is hosting the Freedom Fund as a fundraising event on November 6th at the Student Experience Center on Oregon State University’s campus. Hosted by Lisa Hildebrand and Adrian Gallo.
Due to time limitations, we couldn’t dive too deep in his research. But because Critical Race Theory has been in the news, consider reading/listening to a couple resources below. In an article in the New Yorker titled The void that critical race theory was created to fill, the origins of CRT could be credited to Derrick Bell: “a forty-year old civil rights attorney [who] became the first Black professor to gain tenure at Harvard Law School”. He left the school in 1980, nine years after gaining tenure, because he was frustrated at the lack of additional Black professors being hired. In his absence, law students protested, noting the classes he taught needed a Black professional of his caliber. Harvard rejected the students’ requests. Two students at the time, Kimberley Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda, designed an alternative course to supplement the lost learning that Derrick Bell provided. The textbook Crenshaw and Matsuda used for their alternative course was a book produced by Bell titled: Race, Racism, and American Law. That alternative course at Harvard from the 1970’s as well as other contributions from legal scholars and theorists from around the country, led to the start of Critical Race Theory. As Lauren Michele Jacon writes: “The core premises of critical race theory—that the invention and reinvention of race enable the status quo, and that liberal solutions prove insufficient—have been applied in recent decades within fields from education to disability studies.” More colloquially, CRT uses history and law to understand why – even after the Civil Rights era laws – Black people and African-Americans continued to face ongoing discrimination enabled by the state. For a more recent understanding of how CRT has been mis-represented, consider reading the Slate Magazine article titled “This Critical Race Theory Panic is a Chip Off the Old Block”, by Gillian Frank and Adam Laats.
Juneteenth – The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 to free enslaved people, allowing them to fight in the civil war. The war concluded in 1865, but the Confederate states were still not freeing slaves. It was not until the 19th of June in 1865 that Union soldiers rode into a remote area of Texas to formally announce their freedom. A quarter-million enslaved people resided in the state of Texas, but they likely had no idea they were freed two years ago. Juneteenth celebrates this more well known and advertised emancipation that spread across the Confederate states. Consider reading about Juneteenth in the Atlantic Magazine pieces titled: The Quintessential Americanness of Juneteenth by Van R. Newkirk, or What the Push to Celebrate Juneteenth Conceals by Kellie Carter Jackson.
NAACP Freedom Fund is being held on November 6th at the Student Experience Center at OSU’s campus. You can also watch past keynote speakers at the Corvallis/Albany NAACP Branch YouTube channel.
Did you miss the interview on Sunday night? Listen to Jason’s interview on Apple podcast (released every Monday)!
In a rapid fire interview Rebecca Mostow, a PhD Candidate in the Integrative Biology Department, connects her research on beachgrass along the coastline of the Pacific Northwest and Dune, the new film adapted from a SciFi book series. The book series envisions a planet with constantly shifting sand dunes, an idea that the books’ author originally had when he visited Oregon’s sand dunes in the 1950’s. During this time period, federal and local agencies were planting a variety of plant and tree species to keep the sand dunes stable; making the lives of coastal communities less … sandy. It worked!
Some people would consider it a real-life example of terraforming. This concept is exemplified by a character in the Dune series named Pardot Kynes, a plant ecologist helping locals adapt to their sandy-desert environment through their knowledge of plants as a sand dune stabilizer. In real life, there have been trade-offs between more stable sand dunes that are helpful for local communities limiting coastal erosion, but at the detriment of two currently threatened birds who depend on sand dunes that are constantly shifting in the winds. We discuss Rebecca’s findings of a new hybridized grass as part of her PhD, an iNatiuralist community science project mapping more of these beachgrasses, and its implications for how to manage ecosystems and communities moving forward.
Rebecca and her lab have already done lots of SciComm ’s work! See below for more links to their awesome work:
Oregon State University press release on Rebecca’s journal article detailing the new hybrid beachgrass.
GeekWire story on the overlap between the SciFi series and Rebeccas’s research.
A writer-hiker interviewed Rebecca as they explored one of her field sites along Oregon’s coastline.
A local TV story on the implications of the hybrid grass species.
Did you miss the interview on Sunday night? Listen to Rebecca’s interview on your podcast player of choice (episodes released every Monday)!
Greetings all — It’s been nearly 20 months since we’ve been back in the radio booth. Science has not stopped, but we as a team needed a break. Some of us on the Inspiration Dissemination team have graduated, some spent weeks at sea following whales, while others pivoted to research COVID-19 itself.
It has been a wild ride, but we’re happy to be back doing regular shows again, even happier to have the opportunity to continue podcasting and learning from our fellow graduate students. Want to be on the show? Fill out our form on the website and we’ll get you scheduled.