In the Media
Articles about the college from around the world.
Dr. Sue Stover ('76 DVM) Selected for University of Kentucky Equine Research Hall of FameDr. Sue Stover ('76 DVM) selected for University of Kentucky Equine Research Hall of Fame
FAQ: Regarding Equine Herpesvirus (EHV)Read More
WSDA AgBriefs blog post on EHV-1Read More
Student research, retention thrive with team mentoring
By Steve Nakata, Student Affairs
PULLMAN, Wash. – While their friends spent the summer waiting tables or stocking store shelves, three Washington State University seniors donned white lab coats and helped advance research in reproductive biology.
The students are participants in WSU’s award-winning Team Mentoring Program (TMP). Through a combination of workshops, social events, panel discussions and research opportunities, TMP provides personalized support to minority students majoring in STEM and health disciplines as a way to boost retention and graduation rates.
Since the program was established in 2007, the WSU Office of Multicultural Student Services (MSS) reports TMP has helped 925 undergraduates with the aid of 125 student mentors and 30 faculty mentors.
From 2007-14, 76 percent of student participants have or are on-track to graduate, compared to 68 percent of those not active in the program, said J. Manuel Acevedo, MSS director. When looking at just engineering students, 69 percent of active students have or are projected to graduate, compared to 55 percent of those who haven’t participated in TMP.
Last year, TMP was a finalist for the national University Economic Development Association’s Award of Excellence. In the same year, TMP faculty mentors received WSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award.
Discovering a passion for research
On a recent morning, students Marleny Garcia, Jacob Lizarraga and Karena De La Rosa scurried around the lab directed by WSU molecular biosciences professor Joy Winuthayanon. Each student was conducting separate experiments, but all were trying to resolve problems related to female reproduction.
De La Rosa wanted to try research, but didn’t know how until her TMP student mentor connected her.
“The research I’m doing makes me feel really good because I know many people can’t have children and we’re working towards solutions for them,” said De La Rosa, who aspires to become a researcher for a pharmaceutical company. “I feel like we’re making really good progress.”
Microbiology major Lazarraga described himself as going through the motions prior to becoming involved in research through TMP.
“Before, I didn’t see how my biology and chemistry classes applied to the real world,” he said. “Now I can see that connection and it has sparked a passion that has driven me to do well in school.”
Coming from the small town of Mattawa, Wash., where 90 percent of the population speaks Spanish, Garcia could have been destined to work in the surrounding orchards and vineyards. But this first-generation student aspires to be a doctor and came to WSU to enroll in the pre-medicine program.
“A big thing that can help you succeed in college is surrounding yourself with others who are successful,” Garcia said. “TMP is a great at connecting you with successful people.”
Faculty get support as role models
As TMP faculty mentors, Winuthayanon and Shaui Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Joy’s lab, teach the students about research – including what questions to ask, what equipment to use and how to know if their experiments are successful.
“Joy has been such a good role model for me and is so good at what she does,” said Garcia. “When she explains things to me, she makes sure I understand it completely so that I’m actually learning.”
Winuthayanon admitted that taking on undergraduate students in the lab is time-intensive, especially at the beginning, but said the reward at the end is well worth waiting for.
“The students learn what it takes to work in a research lab and if conducting research is something they like to do,” she said. “I also benefit by gaining experience in training students and by all the great work they contribute to the research we are doing in the lab.”
She appreciates her school’s support for junior faculty by encouraging them to mentor undergraduate students.
“When you see how dedicated these students are, you quickly realize this isn’t about you,” Li said. “It’s about wanting to help them flourish.”
TMP research scholarships are supported by Boeing, AT&T and the WSU Colleges of Engineering and Architecture, Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
Undergraduate Neuroscience Student Receives FUN Travel Award
Undergraduate Neuroscience student Chloe Erikson has received a travel award from Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) to travel to the Society of Neuroscience annual meeting for a poster presentation. This travel award totals to $750.
Dr. Thomas Meyer, Vancouver, was installed as AVMA 2016-17 PresidentDr. Thomas Meyer (’78 DVM), Vancouver, was installed as AVMA 2016-17 President
Dr. Roger O. McClellan receives the 2016 AVMA Meritorious Service AwardDr. Roger O. McClellan (’60 DVM) receives the 2016 AVMA Meritorious Service Award
Thrice bitten dog vet not shy to tame rapid spread of rabies"Sharon is a brave nine-year-old Japanese spitz due for her annual rabies vaccination. Dr Joseph Mugachia administers the precautionary injection on her—a shot that is not only lifesaving for Sharon but one that also holds the key to elimination of rabies, a neglected disease responsible for about 2,000 deaths annually. Nonetheless, the number of Kenyans dying yearly from rabies could be under-reported."
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Laura Kinslow Awarded CVM Staff Excellence Award
Congratulations to Laura Kinslow for receiving a 2016 CVM Staff Employee Excellence Award at the CVM BBQ. This is well-deserved recognition for all the effort she makes on behalf of IPN and the CVM.
Neuroscience Graduate Student Katie Tyson Receives ADARP Grant
Neuroscience graduate student Katie Tyson has received an ADARP grant that covers her tuition and salary for Fall of 2016. Congratulations!
WSU cancer therapy shows promise in trialsRead More
Licensing deal will help Genus combat deadly cattle diseaseA gene editing technology developed at Washington State University is being licensed to Genus plc, a global animal genetics company, to develop cattle that are more resistant to bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
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WSU researchers gain unprecedented look at DNA damage
A cluster of researchers from WSU's School of Molecular Biosciences (SMB) have characterized DNA lesions associated with skin cancer in a novel way. Dr. John Wyrick anchored the SMB team that published a new DNA damage study in PNAS this week.
Publication from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/07/22/1606667113Read More
Drug-resistant ‘superbug’ in U.S. is a wake-up callDrug resistance usually emerges in parts of the world where antibiotic use in people and food animals is rampant, poorly regulated and largely untracked.
Read More at The Seattle Times Read More
WSU vaccinates dogs to help eradicate rabies from AfricaDr. Guy Palmer isn’t kidding when he says he got his start in veterinary medicine doing grunt work at a rabies research lab.
Read More at The Seattle Times Read More
Dr. Fanucchi gives advice about fireworks and your pets.Read More
Too much light weakens bones and changes immune systemToo much light is bad for your health. So suggests research in mice, which found that six months of continuous lighting led to a loss of strength and bone mass, and signs of increased inflammation. The findings are worrying for people who experience prolonged light exposure – such as shift-workers and hospital patients – but some of the effects seem to be reversible.
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Successful Ph.D. Defense: Dr. Rong Guo
Congratulations to Dr. Rong Guo on her successful Ph.D. defense: “Sleep Disturbances After Chronic Alcohol Consumption: Homeostatic Dysregulation or Circadian Desynchrony?”
Morris Animal Foundation appoints Dr. John Reddington ('88 DVM, '87 BS, '84 PhD) as president and CEOMorris Animal Foundation appoints Dr. John Reddington ('88 DVM, '87 BS, '84 PhD) as president and CEO.
Shifting the Genetic Paradigm with EpigeneticsBy: Nathan Gilles
MICHAEL SKINNER HOPES HIS RESEARCH WILL LEAD TO MEDICAL TESTS THAT COULD DETERMINE WHICH ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS OUR ANCESTORS MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO. | WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITYBiologist Michael Skinner isn’t one to shy away from a good fight. In fact, prominently displayed on his webpage are the words: “If you are not doing something controversial, you are not doing something important.”
A rebel by nature, the 60-year-old AAAS Fellow is fond of quoting Thomas Kuhn, best known for his treatise describing how scientific beliefs—called paradigms—are established and then torn down. For the last decade, Skinner has been tearing down biology’s bedrock, its paradigm par excellence: genetic determinism, the idea that DNA is destiny.
“Genetic determinism is part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. It turns out the environment has a major impact on biology,” says Skinner.
For over a century, it has been believed that genetic inheritance is the factor in determining life’s many forms, including disease. Skinner and his team of researchers at his Washington State University lab are part of a vanguard documenting important exceptions to this powerful rule.
Skinner studies epigenetics, or molecular factors that regulate how DNA functions, including what genes get turned on and off. His research has demonstrated that traits can be passed from generation to generation epigenetically, that is without producing genetic mutations.
Focusing on environmental toxicants, Skinner’s work, and its implications for evolutionary biology, has earned him enemies in the chemical industry as well as the scientific community. But Skinner’s career began much more peacefully.
Skinner’s current home in Pullman, Washington—a small college town in a rural setting—is similar to where he grew up in eastern Oregon. A nature lover, sometimes hunter, and longtime fisherman, Skinner, who's fond of Indian Jones–style Stetson hats, looks more rancher than lab-coated scientist. He says it was his love of the outdoors that inspired his love of science.
He began his scientific career in the early 1980s studying reproductive cell biology with a focus on how cells communicate with each other and how the endocrine system—that network of glands and hormones—regulates the whole process.
From studying healthy endocrine systems in rats (his preferred animal model) it was a no-brainer to move on to factors that throw the endocrine system out of whack, he says. Starting in the early 1990s, Skinner turned his eye to troublemaking endocrine disruptors.
Ranging from chemicals found in plastics, including the now infamous BPA (Bisphenol A), to the equally infamous insecticide DDT (made famous by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring), endocrine disruptors have been implicated in everything from birth defects to cancer. Wanting to understand how sex determination could be affected by endocrine disruption, Skinner and colleagues exposed a gestating female rat to vinclozolin, a popular fungicide.
The results were a dud: no effect on sex determination in the initial offspring, the “F1” generation. However, the researchers did note that 90 percent of the F1 generation males showed an abnormality in their testes. That’s where things might have ended had Skinner’s postdoc not accidentally bred the F1 rats with normal lab rats. Curious, and hoping to calm his colleague upset over her mistake, Skinner asked her to examine the resulting “F2” generation. To their surprise, 90 percent of the males in that generation had the same testicular abnormality, the same as before.
“Of course I didn’t believe her. So I had her run the experiment another 15 times—and that’s not an exaggeration,” says Skinner.
As generation after generation showed the same abnormally at the same rate, Skinner says it became clear that they were dealing with an inherited trait. But there was a catch. Vinclozolin was not a mutagen, meaning the changes they were seeing were not the result of genetic changes. Also puzzling was how the trait was consistently showing up in 90 percent of the male rats. With genetically heritable traits, each subsequent generation shows a decline in frequency, becoming diluted over time.
“This led us to the conclusion that we were probably looking at an epigenetic factor and that this was a form of nongenetic inheritance, which was utter heresy,” says Skinner.
Worried about how their results would be received, Skinner sat on his data for years, giving himself time to run multiple experiments. This also gave him and his colleagues time to track down the epigenetic factor at work. Finally, they published their results in Science in June 2005.
The epigenetic factor they identified was DNA methylation, a natural molecule process involved in turning genes on and off that appeared to get hijacked by vinclozolin. Since their initial findings, Skinner and his team have examined other environmental factors. This work has revealed that multiple compounds can produce inheritable epigenetic traits manifesting as diseases and abnormalities. He also discovered that compounds did so in unique ways and with no overlap, effectively fingerprinting which compound a given rat had been exposed to.
In the future, Skinner hopes this research will lead to medical tests that could determine which environmental factors our ancestors might have been exposed to, giving us a tool to diagnose and treat diseases we might develop. To date, his work is still only theory; however, a series a “natural experiments” in humans, mostly well-documented historical famines, have been shown to produce epigenetic inheritance in humans.
In the meantime, Skinner has set his sights on evolutionary biology. This work has further demonstrated that individuals can pass on traits obtained in their lifetimes to their offspring. As for his role in breaking up the paradigm of genetic determinism, he wants to see more of that kind of disruption in science.
“What if our primary motive in science wasn’t to build up a paradigm, but to tear it down? If we actually had that level of controversy being generated, the progression of science would be significant,” says Skinner.