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Crop and Soils student’s discoveries on root growth featured in Plant and Cell Physiology

Head shot of Thiel Lehman
Thiel Lehman

Fundamental research by 2019 WSU Crop and Soil Sciences doctoral graduate Thiel Lehman was featured this summer in Plant and Cell Physiology.

Advised by assistant professor Karen Sanguinet, Lehman studies interactions between plant cell walls and auxin, a key hormone in plant growth.

Featured in the journal’s July Research Highlights, Lehman’s work explores how coordination between auxin and cell wall biosynthesis is a key driver for root growth.

Working with Sanguinet, he found that auxin reduced swelling in plant roots with destabilized cell walls, showing evidence that cell wall biosynthesis feedback regulates auxin movement into and out of cells. This research could help scientists better understand how plants regulate their growth.

Read the article here.

Students earn competition awards at Society for Horticultural Science conference

Huan, at podium, in front of presentation screen.
Presenting at Scholars Ignite, student Huan Zhang took first place for his talk on plastic mulches for the raspberry industry.

Students in the WSU Department of Horticulture won awards in competition at the annual conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science, July 21-26 in Las Vegas.

Doctoral student Huan Zhang took first place in the Scholars Ignite three-minute talk competition, presenting his research on plastic mulches for the raspberry industry.

Washington leads the country’s production of processed red raspberries, used in everything from pies and fillings to smoothies. Zhang’s research explores the use of plastic mulches, both conventional and biodegradable, and he has found that these ground covers can help suppress weeds, save labor, increase plant growth and boost yields.

Growers have been quick to adopt these mulches, and Zhang said the team is continuing to evaluate their long-term impact and explore ways to manage plastic waste.

In addition, Erica Casagrande Biasuz took second place in the doctoral student poster competition. Biasuz’ research looks at how dwarfed rootstock affect growth and water use in grafted fruit trees.

Growers graft scions onto rootstocks to cultivate new apple trees. Dwarf rootstocks help ensure plants don’t grow too tall, concentrating their energies on fruit. However, these rootstocks may limit trees’ ability to draw in water.

Working with the Honeycrisp apple, Biasuz was able to identify how rootstocks affect tree vigor, helping reveal key factors for growth and water use.

Learn more about the American Society for Horticultural Science here:

Biasuz, standing in front of research poster.
Erica Casagrande Biasuz took second place, showing research on dwarf rootstocks


Economics professor receives recognition for tobacco education paper

WSU Economics professor Gregmar Galinato was honored this summer for receiving the 2018 Outstanding Journal Article by the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Outdoor portrait photo of Galinato w/trees in the background.
Greg Galinato

The journal chose Galinato’s paper, “Tobacco Education Program Spending and Tobacco Use among Adolescents,” for its potential policy implications.

Galinato and his co-author Yeon Hong, who earned a Ph.D. at WSU, had a few important findings in their paper. They found that for every dollar per capita spent on tobacco education programs, the probability of a non-smoking adolescent ever smoking was reduced by eight percent. For adolescents already smoking, every dollar per capita spent on education programs reduced smoking by one smoking day per month for females only. There was no reduction for males.

But, the paper also looked at tobacco tax implications. Galinato and Hong found that adolescent smoking amounts actually responded more to increases in taxes. In other words, higher prices had more impact than learning about the ill effects of smoking through tobacco education programs.

“Raising tobacco taxes is a much more efficient way of reducing smoking, and to not start smoking,” Galinato said. “But that doesn’t mean those education programs aren’t useful. If they’re done in conjunction with increased taxes, you would hit an even larger swath of people.”

The implications could be huge for government agencies looking for the most efficient ways to curb smoking.

And the two methods could also work together, as increasing taxes could pay for the educational programs, a “revenue neutral” system that could have major impacts.

Galinato said he was surprised to win the award for his paper, but glad that his work could have a direct impact for policy makers. He received his award at a Western Agricultural Economics Association meeting in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho this summer.

WSU economists Jill McCluskey and Tom Marsh named Western Agricultural Economics Association Fellows

Head shots of both faculty members
Jill McCluskey and Tom Marsh

Recognized for making enduring contributions over their careers to agricultural, resource, and environmental economics in the Western United States, the Western Agricultural Economics Association recognized Jill McCluskey and Tom Marsh as 2019 Fellows.

The announcement came as part of the association’s annual meeting, held this year in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and recognizes the impact that both Marsh and McCluskey have had in their field. Fellow is the association’s highest award, and recipients are chosen by a vote of Fellows.

“It’s always humbling to receive this kind of honor,” said Marsh, a professor in WSU’s School of Economic Sciences and the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. “Many of my personal mentors are also WAEA fellows, and so this award is very satisfying.”

Marsh, whose research focuses on identifying empirical problems in agriculture, global health, and natural resource use to help inform economic and public policy across the world, joined WSU economics faculty in 2004. He was previously on the faculty at Kansas State University.

McCluskey, Regents Professor and incoming director of the School of Economic Sciences, joined WSU in 1998. Her research on product quality and reputation, sustainable labeling, consumer preferences for new technology, and representation of women in STEM, has garnered international acclaim and won numerous awards.

“The WAEA was my first professional association,” said McCluskey. “It’s where I first got involved in leadership, and so it feels very special that they have recognized my research, teaching, and service.”

Comprised of professional economists working across academia, government, and industry the goals of the Western Agricultural Economics Association include fostering the study and understanding of economics and its application to problems in the western United States and Canada and increasing the contribution of agricultural economics to human welfare.

As Fellows, Marsh and McCluskey join a celebrated list of current and emeriti WSU faculty including Ken Casavant, Vicki McCracken, Ron Mittelhammer, Richard Shumway, Norm Whittlesey, and Doug Young.

More information about the Western Agricultural Economics Association can be found here.

Student’s research into heat-resistant enzyme earns award at International Wheat Congress

Kaviraj standing with large academic poster
Studying improved heat tolerance of vital enzymes in wheat, Kaviraj Singh earned a best poster award at the International Wheat Congress.


Recognized for pioneering work that could help vital food crops survive a changing climate, Kaviraj Singh, doctoral student at Washington State University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, won an award for the best research poster at the First International Wheat Congress, July 21-26 in Saskatoon, Canada.

The congress drew hundreds of scientists from around the world to discuss wheat research, production, and improvements.

Changing climate poses a threat to photosynthesis—plants’ method of turning sunlight into energy—in important crops like wheat. That’s because heat stress affects photosynthesis in wheat, causing significant losses in yield and biomass.

Working in Professor Kulvinder Gill’s laboratory, Singh researches improving heat tolerance of important wheat enzymes through genetic engineering. He also studies the molecular makeup of Rubisco activase, an important activating enzyme used in photosynthesis.

Under heat stress, Rubisco can’t keep pace, and photosynthesis declines and eventually stops as temperatures rise.

Looking at closely related, heat-adapted crops, Singh is working to find or create an ideal form of the enzyme for better photosynthesis in hot conditions.

His work could help grow more and better wheat crops, benefiting farmers and people worldwide.

Llewellyn to share Extension advances as journal editor

Head shot of Llewellyn
Don Llewellyn

Curating and sharing information that helps Extension agents across the nation improve their communities, Don Llewellyn, associate professor with the WSU Department of Animal Sciences and Livestock Extension Specialist with WSU Extension, has been named editor of the Journal of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA).

A scientist who helps eastern Washington producers improve nutrition and management for their herds, Llewellyn will assume editorship for the December 2019 issue.

NACAA helps Extension agents and specialists in agriculture exchange ideas, develop their profession, and recognize professional excellence.

The association’s biannual journal shares research and program updates from agents across the U.S., exploring the breadth of agriculture and Extension. Recent topics include agritourism, animal agriculture, forage, weed control, soil health, improving scientific literacy, farm management courses, small farm marketing, apiculture, fish raising, and more.

Duties during his three-year term include formal calls for submissions, managing the peer review process, editing reviewed manuscripts, and making the final decision on accepted papers.

As editor, Llewellyn hopes to help support a high-quality Extension journal, building on the progress made by previous editors, and looking ahead to increase readership and the number of manuscripts published.

“Extension is unique, because it includes so many ways to define scholarly activity,” he said. “Extension professionals benefit by having a journal that places value on the variety of work that they do.”

Learn more about the Association and its journal here.

Rayapati helps Hispanic, Native American students grow STEM careers through $2.5 million grant

Head shot of Rayapati
Dr. Naidu Rayapati

Naidu Rayapati, scientist and director at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC) at Prosser, has joined a $2.5 million effort helping Hispanic and Native American students build careers in STEM.

Led by educators in the Yakima Valley, the $2.5 million National Science Foundation-funded project, called “Culturally Responsive Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” seeks to increase the number of Hispanic and Native American students in the science, technology, engineering and math workforce.

Headed by scientists at Heritage University, an Hispanic Serving Institution at Toppenish, Wash., the project begins this September and runs through summer 2024.

It combines professional development of STEM faculty, curriculum enhancement through institutional partnerships, hands-on research experiences and community outreach, and development of support services to grow the number and diversity of students pursuing higher education in STEM.

“WSU’s Prosser-based research center is well placed to introduce science and discovery to students of all ages,” Rayapati said. “Working with partners at Heritage University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Yakima Valley Community College, we hope to offer learning experiences that give under-represented students a confident start to STEM careers that can build communities, serve industries, and change lives.”

The project will also offer graduate students at IAREC an opportunity to improve teaching, mentoring, and other essential life skills for advancing their career prospects in research and academics, Rayapati added. On a broader scale, this project will lay a strong foundation to expand the university’s foot-print across the Yakima Valley, helping advance its land-grant mission.

Learn more about the project here.

Learn more about IAREC here.


CAHNRS team wins award for donor postcard

Postcard image with Butch mascot, ice cream and graphics of college life

Members of the CAHNRS Alumni & Development and Communications teams won a first place award this summer from the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association (NAADA), for their eye-catching, creative postcard aimed at first-time donors to the college.

The colorful postcard reminds donors of quintessential campus experiences, and thanks them for support that helps new generations of students have the same life-changing moments.

The card was developed by Jessica Munson, CAHNRS Assistant Director of Development, to support stewardship, and was designed by Gerald Steffen, CAHNRS Creative Manager.

The award was presented at the association’s annual conference, June 13 in Baton Rouge, La.

Learn more about NAADA here.

Training helps Nepal plant scientists defend against viral disease

Nepal and participants in a trellised urban field.
Naidu Rayapati, right, views plants in the field at a Nepal workshop.

Helping scientists and farmers in Nepal, Naidu Rayapati, professor of plant pathology and director of the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center, co-led a hands-on training course on viral diseases that harm vegetable crops.

More than 20 early-career scientists from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, academic institutions and non-profits learned how to identify symptoms and detect viruses in the field, in a three-day course held this spring in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The course was funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management (IPM IL), managed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Rayapati co-led the course with Amer Fayad, Associate Director of IPM IL at Virginia Tech.

Course participants came away with better knowledge to protect their crops.

Learn more about WSU efforts to stop the spread of plant diseases here.

Rayapati speaking a workshop at the head of a table surrounded by listeners.

Wheat scientist Tim Murray to chair Plant Pathology

Tim Murray head shot
Tim Murray, new chair of WSU’s plant pathology department.

PULLMAN, Wash. —Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist Tim Murray has been named chair of Washington State University’s plant pathology department.

Renowned for his research in wheat disease management and pathogen resistance, Murray’s appointment marks the second time that he has served as department chair.

Effective July 1, 2019, Murray succeeds Interim Department Chair Lori Carris.

“Tim Murray is an experienced leader and a highly respected scientist whose research has profoundly impacted wheat disease management in the state of Washington and far beyond,” said André-Denis Wright, Dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “We’re thankful to outgoing chair Lori Carris for her effective leadership and for raising the impact and standing of WSU Plant Pathology at the national and international levels, and to Tim for his willingness to carry the torch of leadership once again.”

Recent retirements mean that Murray will help lead the department in hiring new faculty. It’s an opportunity he looks forward to.

“It’s always exciting to bring in new faculty,” he said, “to be part of shaping the future of the department.”

The next few years could see as many as six new faculty hires, including a new potato pathologist.

“These positions are important to agriculture in our communities and in our state, and it’s a privilege to be part of the decision-making process as department chair,” Murray said.

A WSU alumnus and career-long Coug, Murray received his bachelor’s degree in plant science from the University of California, Davis in 1979, his master’s in plant pathology from WSU in 1980, and his doctorate in plant pathology from WSU in 1983. He joined the WSU faculty that same year and served as chair of the department of plant pathology from 2000-2008.

His research focuses on wheat diseases, pathogen resistance, and sustainable methods of disease management. He is a fellow and former president of the American Phytopathological Society.