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WSU’s On Solid Ground- Future Fungi, Farm to Fork, 4-H and Oso

Posted by | May 15, 2014

A new future for fungi from the past

As Jack Rogers and Dean Glawe gently flip through volumes of fragile books filled with fungi collected more than 150 years ago, they say it’s like peering back to the beginning of modern biology.

Glawe, director of the Charles Gardner Shaw Mycological Herbarium at Washington State University, points out a tiny specimen growing on a piece of wood from West Virginia found in 1864.

Dean Glawe and Jack Rogers glimpse into the collections from some of the earliest mycologists. Photo by Rachel Webber.
Dean Glawe and Jack Rogers glimpse into the collections from some of the earliest mycologists. Photo by Rachel Webber.

“There it is,” he said. “It looks like little trees.” It’s one of several thousand fungi recently added to the mycological collection at WSU.

The collection of 5,500 specimens was a gift to WSU from the National Fungus Collections. There are 55 books of 100 dried fungi (fungi exsiccati).  Each book of 100 specimen packets is called a century. While the contents may be historic, their relevance is contemporary; they will be used as reference for many fungi found in North America, Rogers said. Not many old exsiccati are intact, the packets having been removed and put into general herbarium collections.

“They will really enhance the collection available at the herbarium,” said Rogers, retired director of the herbarium and WSU emeritus professor of plant pathology. “The contents of these packets are almost uniformly in beautiful shape.”

Each of the 55 books contains packets with individual fungi that represent major parts of the collection North American Fungi constructed and distributed by J.B. Ellis and B.M. Everhart from the late 1800s through the early 20th century and Fungi Columbiani by Elam Bartholomew.  Glawe said these naturalists likely examined the specimens under microscopes lit by kerosene lamps and took publishable notes in calligraphy. Read more. Watch Rogers discuss the collection’s history in a short video, here.

Quinoa: From farm to fork

5 alternative ways to use quinoa. Click to enlarge.
5 alternative ways to use quinoa. Click to enlarge.

Kevin Murphy spoke with passion and humor about his obsession with the tiny seeds that are causing a big stir in the Pacific Northwest. Murphy, who leads the organic plant variety-breeding program at Washington State University, captivated the WSU Innovators luncheon audience in Seattle with the story of quinoa and his farm-to-fork research program.

Quinoa is a versatile crop that packs a nutritious punch. The plant, which is related to spinach and beets, produces seeds that offer a complete protein with essential amino and fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. But it’s also a delicious, gluten-free grain alternative that can be made into everything from noodles, bread, and chocolate cake to vodka. The leafy greens can be eaten like Swiss chard and, according to Murphy, stay fresh in the fridge for up to eight weeks.

The Pacific Northwest offers a variety of growing conditions that mimic those of quinoa’s native South American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. This coupled with growing demand in the United States drive Murphy’s internationally-renowned research program.

Imports of quinoa grew from 4 million pounds in 2007 to 73 million pounds in 2013. Murphy’s quinoa research program has paralleled this trend. In 2009, Murphy was the lone quinoa resource at WSU. Five short years later, he leads a research program that boasts 20 researchers with trials set up across the state.

With farmers in mind

Murphy’s vision is to research and develop varieties and farming practices to the wide range of environments and farming systems in the Pacific Northwest.

“Everything we do is for, by, and with farmers,” he said. Read more.

Extension Bulletins bear fruits of early outreach

VictoryGardenFor today’s information seekers, who can find answers in minutes with a few keystrokes, it’s hard to imagine a time when rural dwellers were cut off from knowledge for the most fundamental reasons. No electricity. No car. No phone. No nearby expert to explain why a cow gave birth to her calf prematurely.

Such was the information landscape for farmers and homemakers in Washington at the turn of the century. The state’s Extension Service – working closely with the fledgling State College of Washington – sought to fill the void by publishing documents rural citizens could hold in their hands and dog-ear over repeated readings for reference: Extension Bulletins.

To help celebrate the centennial anniversary of the May 8, 1914, Smith-Lever Act – which created the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service – Washington State University’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) is digitizing a century of Washington Extension’s written expertise in a new collection titled “Extension Bulletin Archives.” Read more.

4-H volunteers offer help after Oso mudslide

Snohomish County 4-H Youth Horse Program members unload blankets and supplies for horses housed at the Darrington Rodeo Grounds. Photo by Roxanne Nickerson.
Snohomish County 4-H Youth Horse Program members unload blankets and supplies for horses housed at the Darrington Rodeo Grounds. Photo by Roxanne Nickerson.

For 4-H volunteers like Debbie Foster, helping in a crisis is second nature. When 150 cattle needed to be moved because of flooding from the Oso mudslide, she showed up with her trailer to get the job done.

“I always have my 4-H hat on … and these people and animals needed help,” Foster said.

Jana Ferris, WSU Snohomish County Extension 4-H educator, said many 4-H volunteers and WSU livestock advisors sprang into action, loading and hauling livestock to get them out of harm’s way.

Acting fast in the path of destruction 

Lilianna Andrews, 13, a member of the Snohomish County 4-H youth horse program, also knew what had to be done; she helped rescue three of her family’s horses from the rapidly rising water.

“I had a saddle in the barn, threw on a lead rope, got on my mare and rode out through the water – which was chest high on my horse,” she said. “We put the horses in a trailer and drove them to the rodeo grounds.”

Her family’s house was directly in the path of the flooding Stillaguamish River. They were fortunate that no one was hurt and they managed to rescue their dog and all seven of their horses, but their house was flooded. They are living temporarily at a friend’s house in Darrington, Wash., until they know what their next steps will be.

“It’s super hard and still doesn’t feel like reality,” Andrews said. “There’s so much uncertainty right now.  We just don’t know what is going to happen. We are taking it one step at a time, day by day.” Read more.

New Online Master’s Degree for the Ag Industry

Washington State University is launching a new online degree program to meet the growing need for highly skilled field practitioners and managers in today’s technologically advanced agricultural industry. The Master of Science in Agriculture with emphasis in plant health management (PHM) couples WSU’s plant sciences and plant protection programs with business management courses. The result is a new degree that gives students the ability to go from field to lab to executive boardroom without breaking stride.

The program is accepting applications now for its first cohort this fall and is offering online information sessions for prospective students wishing to learn more.

Online decision tools aid wheat, barley growers

Unsure of what wheat variety to plant this year? There’s a tool for that. Need help measuring the nitrogen levels in your field, before or after harvest? There’s a tool for that too, thanks to Washington State University.

The dynamic online tools help growers make informed decisions based on WSU research. They can be found on the WSU Extension Small Grains website, which is targeted for wheat and barley growers in eastern Washington. Learn more.