In the Media
Articles about the college from around the world.
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.
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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.
Dr. Stan Coe ('57 DVM) speaks with Danny Price (right) about his dog Pepper, 9 years, and her skin condition.Dr. Stan Coe ('57 DVM) speaks with Danny Price (right) about his dog Pepper, 9 years, and her skin condition.
Animal News Northwest
Dr. Stacy Pritt ('97 DVM) anticipates serving as AVMA vice presidentDr. Stacy Pritt ('97 DVM) anticipates serving as AVMA vice president
Learning From Healthy BearsLearning From Healthy Bears
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Dr. Robert Ritter Elected President of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB)
IPN's Dr. Robert Ritter has been elected president of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) for the 2017-2018 term.
SMB Graduate Student Estela Jauregui Wins Poster and Travel Awards
Estela Jauregui, an SMB graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Griswold garnered the Burroughs Wellcome Trainee Travel Award to attend the Society for Study of Reproduction (SSR) 2016 Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, July 16 – 20, 2016. Her poster presentation abstract earned the 2016 Lalor Foundation Merit Award and will be finalist among poster presenters. More information can be found at the SSR 2016 Annual Meeting website (http://www.ssr.org/16Meeting).
Konkel Garners $1.9M in NIH Funding for Five-year Study
Congratulations to SMB Professor Dr. Mike Konkel for landing a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the way the pathogen Campylobacter jejuni infects intestinal cells leading to gastroenteritis. The Konkel lab discovered two proteins, termed CiaC and CiaD, that allows for bacterial-host cell invasion. Continued funded research will characterize how these proteins act on host-cell signaling pathways and ultimately cause disease. Infection with Campylobacter is a leading cause of bacterial intestinal disease in both the US and other countries. You can access Dr. Konkel’s SMB faculty page (http://www.smb.wsu.edu/faculty-trainees-and-staff/faculty/michael-konkel) for more information on his research program.
Dr. Chelsey Slosar ('16 DVM) is a new veterinarian at The Animal Health Clinic in Blackfoot ID.Dr. Chelsey Slosar ('16 DVM) is a new veterinarian at The Animal Health Clinic in Blackfoot ID.
WSU’s Pituitary Team: Leading the Nation in Pituitary Surgical TreatmentAnna, a 10-year-old chestnut colored boxer with dark brown ears and a white patch on her chest, had always been a healthy and active dog.
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Shelter Training Better Prepares Veterinary StudentsLike many veterinary students in their final year of school, Kirsten Ronngren (’15 DVM) was eager to get more surgical experience before graduation. So when she got the opportunity to spend two weeks at Seattle Humane as one of her fourth-year rotations, she jumped at the chance.
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Two Neuroscience Graduate Students Receive Poncin Awards
Two neuroscience graduate students, Philip Uribe and Axel Fenwick, have received the 2016 Poncin Scholarship awards. There were only four awards available to WSU students. Congratulations!
Graduate wins prestigious biomedical imaging award
Congratulations to SMB alumna Adriana Lippy for garnering 2016 BioImage Award for Medical Education. After graduating from WSU, Adriana worked for Seattle non-profit research institute then studied medical illustration at the University of Dundee. Adriana is currently working at the Fred Hutchinson Institute while doing freelance illustration work.Read More
New advising award presented to John McNamara
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University animal sciences professor John McNamara is the inaugural recipient of the Jane Parker Award for Service to the WSU Advising Community, presented recently by WSU ACADA (Academic Advising Association).
“This award is newly created to honor individuals who have been in the forefront of, and are strong supporters of, academic advising, and it is very fitting that the first Jane Parker award go to Dr. McNamara,” said Valorie Fisher, president of WSU ACADA.
The award honors Jane Parker, a nationally recognized advising professional who retired in 2012 following 36 years at WSU. Throughout her career, she led advising programs, coordinated student peer advisors and worked with reinstated students. She became assistant director of the former Center for Advising and Career Development at WSU.
“Jane championed the value and importance of advising to student success,” said Fisher.
McNamara receives top honors
“The Jane Parker award is WSU ACADA’s top honor for contributions to advising at our university, and the executive committee voted unanimously to honor Dr. McNamara with this award,” said Brooke Whiting, chair of the group’s awards committee.
“In his 33 years at WSU, he has been an award-winning teacher and a tireless advocate for excellence in advising of students,” Fisher said. “He is passionate about helping them reach their goals, and he often lifts them up and shows them where they could be with hard work and determination on the path to graduation.
“Dr. McNamara has also been a leader for the advising community and conducted professional advising training for nearly two decades,” she said. “When WSU ACADA began in 2007, he served as the faculty representative.”
McNamara is retiring from WSU. Just days after landing the Jane Parker award, he received another high honor: he was elected to be a fellow of the American Association of Animal Sciences. A fellow in the American Dairy Science Association since 2012, he is the ninth person to be a fellow in both professional societies, Whiting said.
At WSU, he was one of the first recipients of excellence in research and advising awards from the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and an early member of the WSU Teaching Academy.
WSU ACADA is the primary organized group of professional and faculty advisors and student support personnel at WSU. It offers numerous workshops and trainings and facilitates relationships between mentors and mentees. Membership provides access to resources available from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. Learn more athttp://www.wsuacada.org.
Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, (’95 DVM) is recognized as one of the top 15 most influential veterinarians.Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, (’95 DVM) is recognized as one of the top 15 most influential veterinarians.
AAALAC International appoints Dr. Kathryn Bayne (’87 DVM) Executive Director
AAALAC International has appointed Kathryn Bayne (’87 DVM), MS, PhD, DVM, DACLAM, DACAW, CAAB, as its new Executive Director. In this position, Dr. Bayne will serve as the chief executive of AAALAC International, headquartered in Frederick, Maryland.Read More