Author Archives: Lisa Hildebrand

Sniffing for science

On our last episode for winter term, we interviewed Kayla Fratt, who is currently a PhD student in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences. However, aside from being a graduate student, Kayla is also one of the founders and trainers for K9 Conservationists, an organization that unites highly trained conservation detection dog teams with researchers to collect scientific data. For her graduate research, Kayla is working with her canine colleagues, Barley & Niffler, to understand island biogeography effects on diet and movement for sea wolves in southeast Alaska and basic natural history of pumas in El Salvador.

If you’re curious to hear all about how Kayla became a certified dog behavior consultant, how and why in the world you train a dog to sniff out poop, and the plans for Kayla’s PhD dissertation, check out the podcast episode anywhere you listen to podcasts, including on our KBVR page, Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

A surprise trip to the coldest continent on Earth!

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we had a very impromptu guest join us for our show on February 18th. Rachel Kaplan is a 4th year PhD student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, who researchers whales and krill around the world to better understand predator-prey dynamics. Part of her PhD research involves going to Antarctica so we sat down with Rachel to chat about what it’s like conducting field work on the coldest continent on Earth!

You can listen to the episode anywhere you listen to your podcasts, including on KBVR, Spotify, Apple, or anywhere else!

The Memoir of El

This week on ID we interview El Rose, a talented first year MFA student of non-fiction in the School of Writing, Literature and Film. El draws on their background growing up in rural Arkansas to write about topics of class, immigration, intergenerational trauma, identity, and the intersection of it all. 

Their work falls primarily within the realm of memoir. ‘Memoir’ is derived from the French word ‘mémoire’, which means ‘reminiscence’ or ‘memory’. Memoir falls into the category of non-fiction but is ultimately a subjective narrative in which the author remembers experiences, emotions, and events from a certain event or period in their life. Memoirs focus on conveying their perception of these memories in a way that is emotionally truthful but isn’t necessarily factual. 

El began their journey in writing at the University of Memphis, although they’ve been writing in one manner or another for most of their life. They spent eight years between finishing undergrad and coming to OSU, working through the ranks in the food industry and eventually becoming an owner of a cafe in the Portland area. Through a series of perfectly timed events, and their own desire to make more space to take their writing seriously, El came to OSU to set out on the grad school journey. 

To hear more about how writing a memoir works, as well as El’s journey from Arkansas to Oregon, tune in this Sunday, November 12th live on 88.7 FM or on the live stream. Missed the show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!

Poopy predators: Assessing carnivore diet and population dynamics via non-invasive genetics 

Ellen with a wolf den in Alaska

Getting to the bottom of what top predators in an ecosystem are eating is critical to understand how they may be influencing dynamics in the entire system and food web. But how do you figure out what a predator is eating if it’s hard to catch and collar or watch continuously? Easy, you use their poop! Ellen Dymit, a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences advised by Dr. Taal Levi, is our guest on the show this week and she is a poop-tracker extraordinaire!

For her PhD research, Ellen uses primarily non-invasive genetic methods to study large carnivores in two projects in Alaska and Central America. While the systems and carnivores she studies for these two projects are pretty different, the techniques she uses to analyze the collected scats are the same. The Alaska project is focused on determining what different wolf populations and packs across coastal Alaska are consuming, whether individuals are specialized in their feeding habits, and how large the populations are. The Central America project, which is based out of Guatemala, looks at a whole host of predators, including jaguars, pumas, and ocelots, to gain a better understand of the food web dynamics in the ecosystem.

One of Ellen’s extremely remote field camps in Alaska

Both of these projects involve some unique challenges in the field that Ellen has had to learn to tackle. DNA can deteriorate pretty quickly, especially in warm Guatemalan temperatures, which is problematic when you’re trying to analyze it. Yet, Ellen’s lab has perfected methods over the last few years to work with neotropical samples. Ellen’s Alaska field work is incredibly remote as it’s just Ellen and one field technician roaming the Alaskan tundra in search of wolf scat. Accessing her field sites involves being flown in on a small fixed wing plane, where they are extremely space and weight-limited. Therefore, every single piece of gear needs to be weighed to ensure that the pilot has enough fuel to get to the site and back. As a result, Ellen isn’t able to collect the entire scat samples that she finds but can only take a small, representative sample.

Ellen sub-sampling a wolf scat

Ellen’s incredibly adventurous field work is followed by months spent in the lab processing her precious scat samples. So far, her results have revealed some pretty interesting differences in diet of wolf packs and populations across three field sites in Alaska. The Guatemalan project, which occurs in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society Guatemala, is one of the first to analyze a large sample size of ocelot scats and the first to attempt DNA metabarcoding of samples collected in the neotropics. 

To hear more details about both of these projects, as well as Ellen’s background and some bad-a$$ stories from her Alaskan field work, tune in this Sunday, October 15th live on 88.7 FM or on the live stream. Missed the show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!

The opposite of a pest: Bees, wasps and other beneficial bugs

Lots of terrestrial invertebrates have bad reputations. Spiders, bees, flies, wasps, ants. They’re thought of as pests in the garden or they are perceived as threatening, possibly wanting to sting or bite us. I’ll admit it, I’m terrified and grossed out by most invertebrates every time I see one in my house. But this week’s guest may have successfully managed to get me to change my tune…

Scott (left) and his intern/doppelganger Tucker (right) in the field.

Scott Mitchell is a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences advised by Dr. Sandy DeBano. His overarching research goal is to understand how different land management practices may impact beneficial invertebrate communities in a variety of managed landscapes. Yes, you read that right: beneficial invertebrates. Because while many invertebrates have a bad rep, they’re actually unsung heroes of the world. They pollinate plants, aerate soil, eat actual pest invertebrates and are prey for many other species. In order to tackle his overarching research goal, Scott is conducting two studies in Oregon; one focuses on native bees while the second looks at non-pollinators such as wasps, spiders, and beetles.

(See captions for images at the end of the blog post)

The first study occurs in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range which is managed by the US Forest Service. The initial research at Starkey in the 1900s was about how cattle grazing impacts on the land. Since then, many more studies have been undertaken and are ongoing, including about forest management, wildlife, plants, and recreation. For Scott’s study, he is collaborating with the Forest Service to look how bee community composition may differ in a number of experimental treatments that are already ongoing at Starkey. The two treatments that Scott is looking into are thinning (thinned vs unthinned forest) and ungulate density (high vs low). The current hypothesis is that in high ungulate densities, flower booms may be reduced due to high grazing and trampling by many ungulate (specifically elk) individuals, thus reducing the number of available blooms to bees. While in the thinning treatments, Scott is expecting to see more flower blooms available to bees in the thinned sites due to increased access to light and resources because of a reduced tree canopy cover. To accomplish this project, Scott collects bee samples in traps and handnets, as well as data on blooming plants.

(See captions for images at the end of the blog post)

Scott’s second study explores non-pollinator community composition in cherry orchards in the Dalles along the Columbia River Gorge. Agricultural landscapes, such as orchards, are heavily managed to produce and maximize a particular agricultural product. However, growers have options about how they choose to manage their land. So, Scott is working closely with a grower to see how different plants planted underneath orchards can benefit the grower and/or the ecology of the system as a whole. 

To hear more details about both of these projects, as well as Scott’s background and several minutes dedicated solely to raving about wasps, tune in this Sunday, April 23rd live on 88.7 FM or on the live stream. Missed the show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform! 

Figure captions

Image 1: This bright green native bee is foraging on flowers for nectar and pollen. It is probably in the genus Osmia.

Image 2: A brightly colored bumblebee foraging on a rose.

Image 3: This is one of the most common bumblebee species in western Oregon – the aptly named yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii).

Image 4: Most native bees, like this small mining bee are friendly creatures and will even crawl onto your hands or fingers if you let them. No bees (or human fingers) were harmed in the making of this photo.

Image 5: While Scott doesn’t know what his favorite wasp is, this large furry, friendly bee is his favorite native bee species. It is known as the Pacific digger bee or Anthophora pacifica. This is his favorite bee because they are very agile fliers and fun to watch foraging on flowers. They are a solitary species that lives in the ground.

Image 6: Not only are wasps beautiful, but sometimes the signs they leave behind can be too. This is a gall from a gall forming cynipid wasp. Wasp galls are a growth on plants that occurs when a wasp lays its eggs inside of a leaf or other plant structure.

Image 7: This is a pair of wasps in the family Sphecidae. The wasp on top is a male wasp (males are often smaller than females in wasps and bees) and he is likely guarding a potential mate by hanging onto her back.

Image 8: This is a beautiful bright metallic jewel wasp, probably in the family Chrysididae. This wasp was mentioned in the episode.

Image 9: This sphecid wasp is foraging on nectar on flowers. Many insects, including wasps, use nectar as an energy source in their adult life stage – even if they act as predators when foraging for their young.

Image 10: This is a tiny wasp on a flower. This wasp is around 1.5-3 millimeters long.

Nobody wants to eat bitter cheese

There are many adjectives used to describe the taste of different kinds of cheese: mild, tangy, buttery, nutty, sharp, smoky, I could continue but I won’t. Our preferences between these different characteristics will then drive what cheese we look for in stores and buy. But I would wager that most people (or dare I say anyone?) are rarely looking for a bitter cheese. I had never thought about how cheese could be bitter; probably because it’s something that I’ve never tasted before and that’s because the cheese production industry actively works to prevent cheese from being bitter. Intrigued? Good, because our guest this week researches why and how cheese can become bitter.

Paige in the lab

Paige Benson is a first year Master’s student advised by Dr. David Dallas in the Food Science Department. For her research, Paige is trying to understand how starter cultures affect the bitterness in aged gouda and cheddar cheeses. The cheese-making process begins with ripening milk, during which milk sugar is converted to lactic acid. To ensure that this process isn’t random, cheese makers use starter cultures of bacteria to control the ripening process. The bitterness problems don’t appear until the very end when a cheese is in its aging stage, which can take anywhere from 0-90 days. During this aging process, casein proteins (one of the main proteins in milk and therefore cheese) are being broken down into smaller peptides and it’s during this step that bitterness can arise. Even though this bitter cheese problem has been widely reported for decades (probably centuries), there are many different hypotheses about what causes the bitterness. Some say it might be the concentration of peptides, while others believe it’s a result of the starter culture used, and a third school of thought is that it’s the specific types of peptides. Paige is trying to bring some clarity to this problem by focusing on the bitterness that might be coming from the peptides.

To accomplish this work, Paige will be making lots of mini cheeses from different starter cultures, then aging them and extracting the peptides from the cheese to investigate the peptide profiles through genome sequencing. Scaling down the size of the cheeses will allow Paige to investigate starter cultures in isolation as well as in combination with different strains to see how this may affect peptide profiles, and therefore potentially bitterness.

Some of the mini cheeses Paige makes for her research

Besides Paige’s research in cheese, we will also be discussing her background which also features lots of dairy! As a Minnesotan, Paige grew up surrounded by the best of the best dairy. In fact, her grandparents owned and ran a dairy farm, where Paige spent many of her summers and holidays. Her passion for food science was solidified when she started working as an organic farmer during her senior year of high school and she hasn’t ever looked back. Join us on Sunday, April 16th at 7 pm live on 88.7 FM or on the live stream. Missed the live show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!

What to do with all the whey?

You probably already know that skim milk and buttermilk are byproducts of cheese-making. But did you know that whey is another major byproduct of the cheese-making process? Maybe you did. Well, did you know that for each 1 kg of cheese obtained, there are about 9 kg of whey produced as a byproduct?! What in the world is done with all of that whey? And what even is whey? In this week’s episode, Food Science Master’s student Alyssa Thibodeau tells us all about it!

Alyssa making cheese!

Whey is the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained to produce cheese (both soft and hard cheeses) and yoghurt. Whey is mainly water but it also has lots of proteins and fats, as well as some vitamins, minerals, and a little bit of lactose. There are two types of whey: acid-whey (byproduct of yoghurt and soft cheese production) and sweet-whey (byproduct of hard cheese production). Most people are probably familiar with whey protein, which is isolated from whey. The whey protein isolates are only a small component of the liquid though and unfortunately the process of isolating the proteins is very energy inefficient. So, it is not the most efficient or effective way of using the huge quantities of whey produced. This is where Alyssa comes in. Alyssa’s research at OSU is focused on trying to develop a whey-beverage. Because of the small amounts of lactose that are in whey, yeast can be used to ferment the lactose, creating ethanol. This ethanol can then be converted by bacteria to acetic acid. Does this process sound a little familiar? It is! A similar process is involved when making kombucha and the end-product in Alyssa’s mind isn’t too far off of kombucha. She envisions creating an organic, acid-based or vinegar-type beverage from whey. 

Morphology of yeast species Brettanomyces anomalus which Alyssa is planning on using for her whey-beverage.

How does one get into creating the potentially next-level kombucha? Alyssa’s route to graduate school has been backwards, one that most students don’t get to experience. While the majority of students get a degree, get a job and then start a family, Alyssa started a family, got a job, and then went to graduate school. On top of being a single mother in graduate school, she is also a first-gen student and Hispanic. To quote Alyssa: “It makes me proud every day that I am able to go back to school as a single mom. In the past, this would have maybe been too hard to do or wouldn’t have been possible for older generations but our generations are progressing and people are making decisions for themselves.”.

Intrigued by Alyssa’s research and personal journey? You can hear all about it on Sunday, January 29th at 7 pm on https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com/. Missed the live show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!

LGBTQ+ health disparities and the impact of stress

Correlation does not equal causation. This phrase gets mentioned a lot in science. In part, because many scientists can fall into the trap of assuming that correlation equals causation. Proof that this phrase is true can be found in ice cream and sharks. Monthly ice cream sales and shark attacks are highly correlated in the United States each year. Does that mean eating lots of ice cream causes sharks to attack more people? No. The likely reason for this correlation is that more people eat ice cream and get in the ocean during the summer months when it’s warmer outside, which explain why the two are correlated. But, one does not cause the other. Correlation does not equal causation.

To date, much of the research that has been conducted on LGBTQ+ health has been correlational. Our guest this week, Kalina Fahey, hopes that her dissertation project will play a part in changing this paradigm as she is trying to get more at causation. Kalina is a 5th year PhD candidate in the School of Psychological Science working with her advisors Drs. Anita Cservenka and Sarah Dermody. Her research broadly investigates LGBTQ+ health disparities and how stress impacts health in LGBTQ+ groups. She is also interested in understanding ways in which spiritual and/or religious identities can influence stress, and thereby, health. To do this, Kalina is employing a number of methods, including undertaking a systematic review to synthesize the existing research on substance use in transgender youth, analyzing large-scale publicly available datasets to look at how religious and spiritual identity relates to health outcomes, and finally developing a safe experiment to look at how specific forms of stress impact substance use-related behaviors in real time. 

Most of Kalina’s time at the moment is being spent on the experimental portion of her research as part of her dissertation. For this study, Kalina is adapting the personalized guided induction stress paradigm, with the aim of safely eliciting minor stress responses in a laboratory setting. The experiment involves one virtual study visit and two in-person sessions. During the first visit, participants are asked to describe a minority-induced stressful event that occurred recently, as well as a description of a moment or situation that is soothing or calming. After this session, Kalina and her team develop two meditative scripts – one each to recreate the two events or moments described by the participant. When the participant comes back for their in-person sessions, they listen to one of two different meditative scripts and are asked a series of questions regarding their stress levels. Kalina and her team also are collecting saliva and heart rate readings to look at physiological stress levels. This project is still looking for participants. If you are a sexual-minority woman who drinks alcohol, consider checking out the following website to learn more about the study: https://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8e443Lq10lgyX66?fbclid=IwAR3XOdECIOvCbx1xn3QA5rrCtHfSezZrR5Ppkpnd9sx1SsicZRQnfYHAqb8. Kalina hopes to continue experiment-based research on LGBTQ+ health disparities in the future as she sees the lack of experimental studies to be a major gap in better understanding, and thereby supporting, the LGBTQ+ community.

Interested in learning more about Kalina’s research, the results, and her background? Listen live on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at 7 PM on 88.7 KBVR FM. Missed the live show? You can download the episode on our Podcast Pages! Also, check out her other work here or finder her on Twitter @faheypsych

“Creepy” Beer

Happy Halloween from the ID team! This week we’re chatting about a popular halloweekend beverage: Beer and a “creepy” phenomenon seen in a west coast favorite, IPAs. Hop creep may not mean that there are creepy crawlies in your beer, but it may lead to exploding cans or a beer that’s all trick and no treat. To find out more, we are talking  with Cade Jobe on his work on hops maturity and its impact on understanding this spooky problem facing the beer industry.

Cade Jobe, a 1st year masters student in FST

Cade is a 1st year masters student in the Department of Food Science and Technology at OSU, where he works under the advisement of Dr. Tom Shellhammer. In the “Beer”, or “Hops”, lab there are a wide variety of projects on the various components of beer, in addition to offering resources to the brewing industry by running standard analytical measurements on hops. Cade moved to Oregon in pursuit of joining the Hop Lab, after falling in love with home-brewing and embarking upon a career shift from law to food science. While his master’s work is going to be more focused on the impact of wildfire-smoke on hops, his post-baccalaureate work focused on hop maturity, in particular the Citra hop variety.

How does one study the impact of hop maturity? Cade worked with a hop grower in Yakima, Washington to harvest hops from 3 fields at 7 different time points during the hop picking season. These dried samples were then sent back to Corvallis where they underwent standard hop chemical analysis, sensory analysis, and enzymatic analysis.

Cade and team harvesting hops
Cade pelletizing hops

This is all great, but how does it help me drink beer? From the chemical analysis, there are standard components that are measured to give an overall hop quality measure to know if it is going to produce the desired result. From sensory analysis, they can see what aromas are associated with the different maturity levels of the hops and what aromas they would impart in beer. Spoiler: late season hops might identify if you are a vampire! And finally, going back to the exploding beer cans, the enzymatic analysis shows the potential of hop creep occurring so that brewers can mitigate the problem.

Want to learn more about the science behind beer and more on Cade’s research into hops? Tune in Sunday, October 30th, 2022 at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7FM (https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com) or wherever you get your podcasts! 

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the wide-world of brewing, check out Cade on the “BruLab” podcast.

This blog post was written by Jenna Fryer and posted by Lisa Hildebrand.

Stressed out corals

Coral reef ecosystems offer a multitude of benefits, ranging from coastline protection from storms and erosion to a source of food through fishing or harvest. In fact, it is estimated that over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and/or protection. However, coral reefs face many threats in our rapidly changing world. Climate change and nutrient input due to run-off from land are two stressors that can affect coral health. How exactly do these stressors impact corals? This week’s guest Alex Vompe is trying to figure that out!

Alex is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology at OSU, where he is co-advised by Dr. Becky Vega-Thurber and Dr. Tom Sharpton. The goal of Alex’s research is to understand how coral microbe communities change over time and across various sources of stress. While the microbial communities of different coral species can differ, typically under normal, non-stressed conditions, they look quite similar. However, once exposed to a stressor, changes start to arise in the microbial community between different coral species, which can have different outcomes for the coral host. This pattern has been coined the ‘Anna Karenina principle’ whereby all happy corals are alike, however as soon as things start to go wrong, corals suffer differently.

Alex is testing how this Anna Karenina principle plays out for three different coral species (Acropora retusaPocillopora verrucosa [also known as cauliflower coral], Porites lobata [also known as lobe coral]) in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The stressors that Alex is investigating are reduction in herbivory and introduction of fertilizer. A big source of stress for reefs is when fish populations are low, which results in a lack of grazing by fish on macroalgae. In extreme situations, macroalgae can overgrow a coral reef completely and outcompete it for light and resources. Fertilizers contain a whole host of nutrients with the intent of increasing plant growth and production on land. However, these fertilizers run-off from land into aquatic ecosystems which can often be problematic for aquatic flora and fauna. 

How is Alex testing the effects of these stressors on the corals? He is achieving this both in-situ and in the lab. Alex and his lab conduct field work on coral reefs off the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Here, they have set up experimental apparatus in the ocean on coral reefs (via scuba diving!) to simulate the effects of reduced herbivory and fertilizer introduction. This field work is conducted three times a year. When not under the water surface, Alex sets up aquaria experiments on land in Moorea using coral fragments, which he has been able to grow in order to investigate the microbial communities more closely. These samples then get processed in the lab at OSU for genomic analysis and Alex uses bioinformatics to investigate the coral microbiome dynamics.

Curious to know more about Alex’s research? Listen live on Sunday, October 23, 2022 at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7FM. Missed the live show? You can download the episode on our Podcast Pages! Also, feel free to follow Alex on Twitter (@AVompe) and Instagram (@vompedomp) to learn more about him and his research.