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WSU’s On Solid Ground – SOD, Food Science Online, Insect Expo – April 10, 2013

Posted by struscott | April 10, 2013

Stopping the Spread of Sudden Oak Death

Sudden Oak Death (SOD) has killed millions of oak trees in California, but since receiving its common name in 1995, SOD has also been found infecting flowers in Washington State nurseries. The latest tally for the cost of the Washington campaign to contain Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus-like organism that causes SOD, is more than $400,000 in destroyed nursery plants over two years. These losses, coupled with additional measures such as quarantine, labor, and disposal, have driven some Washington nurseries out of business.

Oak twig showing "Sudden Oak Death" caused by Phytophthora ramorum. Photo: Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service.
Oak twig showing “Sudden Oak Death” caused by Phytophthora ramorum. Photo: Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service.

Contaminated nursery stock is only one potential source of this devastating disease. P. ramorum has also infested waterways in a number of states, including the Sammamish River in King County, Washington. Forty-six entities have rights to use this water to irrigate nearly 2,800 acres that span nurseries, parks, farms, and church properties.

Because P. ramorum has not been detected on plants along the Sammamish River, scientists presume that the organism needs to reach a certain concentration in the water to cause disease. Gary Chastagner, a WSU researcher based at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center who specializes in disease management of ornamental plants, likens P. ramorum infection to the common cold. “People are constantly exposed to the cold virus, but usually don’t fall ill. However, under the right conditions, when virus levels are high enough, we get laid low.”

Targeting Research at Expanding Problem

As P. ramorum only became established in the United States in the mid-1990s, relatively little is known about how it spreads in waterways. To find out how to stop further invasions, Chastagner has received a $30,000 grant from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that will allow investigation of P. ramorum levels in irrigation water that trigger infection in rhododendron, camellia, and viburnum.

Because of the potential risks, Chastagner and research associate Marianne Elliott will conduct the SOD study at the National Ornamentals Research Site at Dominican University in California (NORS-DUC), the only authorized facility in the United States for this purpose. At NORS-DUC, they will apply overhead irrigation to plants using water infested with varying levels of P. ramorum. Keeping water on the plant surfaces for long periods will produce conditions favorable to the disease and potentially enable the researchers to determine its tipping point.

-Bob Hoffmann

Innovative New Food Science Degree to Meet Growing Industry Demand

Food scientists evaluate the quality of test bread loaves made with a blend of durum and spring wheats. Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS.
Food scientists evaluate the quality of test bread loaves made with a blend of durum and spring wheats. Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS.

This fall WSU and the University of Idaho will launch a new online Master of Science in Agriculture program that integrates food science and management. The new degree is the first in the nation to combine food science with business management courses, giving graduates an edge in the industry and helping to meet growing demand.

Dr. Jeff Culbertson, director of the new online Food Science and Management program, notes that every year there are 30-40% more food science jobs than qualified candidates in the United States. “The industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. In 1990, the average number of products on grocery store shelves was 5,000. Today that number is 25,000. The number of products has just skyrocketed, and behind every product is a group of trained people who developed each one.”

The unique degree offers plenty of core science, but also executive management courses, budget development, human resource management, and other challenges students will likely encounter on the job. “This M.S. in Ag opens the door to enhancing earning potential-–it could triple or even quadruple,” Culbertson said. “Students employed in the food industry with a B.S. in one of the sciences often plateau in their careers fairly quickly, say in 3-5 years. A master’s opens the door to career advancement,” including for those who are not currently employed in the food industry.

Several courses in the groundbreaking Food Science and Management program focus on environmental sustainability and toxicology because the food and beverage industry now recognizes opportunities for turning waste into power sources such as steam, electricity, and heat. For example, Budweiser produces a lot of spent grain which, in the past, they sold as cattle feed. Now they ferment that waste grain to produce fuel that is in turn used to generate energy. One plant in Columbus, Ohio, is already 90 percent self-sufficient, according to Culbertson.

Culbertson and his colleagues have a track record for teaching effective online courses. After 18 years, the “program is bound to be a good experience because we know what we’re doing,” Culbertson said. His colleague, Greg Möller, a UI professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology, teaches several of the online food science and management courses and is nationally recognized for his film-based course in global sustainability, which is part of the new curriculum. Both are award-winning educators.

Learn more about the new program, including how to apply, by visiting

-Sylvia Kantor

Race Cockroaches and More at WSU Insect Expo April 20

A child holds a hissing cockroach at a previous WSU Insect Expo.
A child holds a hissing cockroach at a previous WSU Insect Expo.

Local children and their parents can learn how fast a cockroach can run, pet a tarantula, and have more fun with arthropods at the April 20 Insect Expo, sponsored by the WSU Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA). The event, set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will take place in Ensminger Pavilion.

Insect-themed craft projects, face painting, and live insect displays are also on the agenda, all geared toward helping Palouse-area families discover more about the world of insects.

“I personally very much enjoy interacting with the children and their parents in the live insect exhibits,” said Rebecca Schmidt, event coordinator and EGSA president. “It’s great to see children abandon some of their preconceptions about insects in order to hold a hissing cockroach or pet a tarantula. It’s especially rewarding to watch the parents overcome their fears in order to set an example for their children.”

The EGSA’s mission is to promote entomology among WSU graduate students and provide public educational outreach to the Palouse. For details, visit the association’s Facebook page at

-Nella Letizia