Latest news from the UO

  • Oregon Senate Democrats will split top budget job

    Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (from left) and Sen. Betsy Johnson will be the Oregon Senate's joint co-chairs on the Ways and Means committee during the 2019 session. Rep. Dan Rayfield will be the panel's co-chair from the House. (The Associated Press)   By Hillary Borrud | The Oregonian/OregonLive The Oregonian/OregonLive A triumvirate of Democrats will lead Oregon’s budget-writing Ways and Means committee next year, under a unique arrangement that involves the Senate’s appointment of joint co-chairs: Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who represents Beaverton and northwest Portland. Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis is the co-chair from the House. Both Johnson and Steiner Hayward were vying for the job, presenting Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, with a tough decision that he apparently resolved by choosing both. “Senator Johnson and Senator Steiner Hayward are two of the most experienced budgeteers in the Legislature,” Courtney said in a news release. “They are accomplished individuals. One is a doctor. The other is pilot with a law degree.” There are usually two Ways and Means committee co-chairs, one from the majority caucus in each chamber, and two vice chairs representing the minority caucuses. There were two joint co-chairs from the House in 2011 but that was because the chamber was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans that session. Then-Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican who is now secretary of state, and then-Rep. Peter Buckley, a Democrat, shared the job. It’s unclear whether there is any precedent for legislative leaders voluntarily splitting the job between two people for other reasons.

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  • UO chemist serves another term on the National Science Board

    First published in Around the O on November 19th, 2018. University of Oregon chemist Geri Richmond will spend another six years as a member of the National Science Board. Her renewal on the 24-member governing board of the National Science Foundation was part of a White House announcement in which President Trump intends to name five new appointees. Maria Zuber, vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also is being reappointed. "I’m thrilled to be able to continue to serve the scientific community in this capacity in the coming six years,” said Richmond, a UO Presidential Chair and winner of a National Medal of Science. “It will allow me to continue my work on a number of important National Science Board projects on the scientific workforce, new basic research initiatives and issues around science outreach and policy.” Richmond and Zuber, whose two-year term as board chairman ended this year, were initially appointed in 2012. Their terms had expired in May, but they remained consultants to the board pending new presidential selections. The National Science Board is responsible for shaping the agency’s strategic direction and approving its annual budget submission to the White House. The board establishes the policies of the National Science Foundation, approves new programs and awards, and serves as an independent body of advisers to the president and Congress on policy and education matters related to science and engineering. “I am so excited that professor Richmond will serve again on the board of the National Science Foundation,” said UO Provost and Senior Vice President Jayanth Banavar. “Her leadership, her scholarly work and her efforts to bring more women and people of color into the sciences are very admirable. She is a tremendous representative and will do great things on the board.” Richmond, who joined the UO in 1985, is widely recognized for her research in chemistry and materials science. The many discoveries that have emerged from her lab, she always has noted, reflect the hard work and dedication of her students. She also co-founded COACh in 1997 as a grassroots organization to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math for women and minorities. The organization now is governed by an international advisory board of leading women scientists and engineers. Richmond, who earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1980, has held a variety of leadership positions in the scientific community. She served as chair of the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee from 1998 to 2003 and was the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015. She has been the U.S. Department of State’s science envoy for the lower Mekong River countries in Southeast Asia since 2015. She was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and elected as a fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2011. Earlier this year, Richmond received the 2018 Priestley Medal, the highest honor of the American Chemical Society, in recognition of her research and global outreach, and she was elected to a three-year leadership role in Sigma Xi, the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. On Nov. 17, Richmond was in Seattle to accept the Linus Pauling Medal Award from the Portland, Puget Sound and Oregon sections of the American Chemical Society. The award recognizes her fundamental discoveries related to the interactions that occur at the surfaces of oil, water and air. That work that has helped understand how environmentally and biologically important molecules adsorb and orient at liquid surfaces. The five new members to be appointed to the National Science Board are: Maureen Condic of the University of Utah; Suresh Garimella of Purdue University; Auburn University President Steven Leath; Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute; and Stephen Willard, chief executive officer of Cellphire Inc., a Maryland-based biotechnology company. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • UO postdoc solves mystery of isolated Atlantic island birds

    First published in Around the O on November 16th, 2018. A little bird led Swedish-born Martin Stervander to the University of Oregon, but his journey wasn’t a direct flight. As a doctoral student at Lund University he studied the genetics of a bird species that only lives on Inaccessible Island, a tiny patch of volcano-produced land in the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. While pursuing that research, he met UO biologist Bill Cresko and learned about a genomic analysis technology invented at the UO.  “I met Bill a few times, beginning at a workshop on the RAD-sequencing technology that he helped developed for his work in stickleback (fish),” Stervander said. “We immediately realized the potential of the technique and adopted it in several of our studies.” RAD stands for restriction-site associated DNA. The methodology, which emerged from a collaboration between biology professor Eric Johnson’s lab and the Cresko lab, creates a detailed library of genetic code. It led to a new generation of sequencing technologies. The first major application helped identify genetic differences in stickleback, an ocean fish that has repeatedly adapted to freshwater. When first unveiled in 2007, the technology led to the UO spinoff company Floragenex. Last month, Stervander’s research took flight. He was lead author on a paper in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution that identified the origin of Inaccessible Island’s bird, a rail. His team called for a reclassification of the flightless bird’s place in the avian tree of life. The bird, according to its genetics, descends from a South American ancestor that also gave rise to the continental dot-winged crake. These sister species are related to black rails in the Americas and, probably, the Galapagos crake. Stervander recommends that the rail should be in the genus Laterallus to match its relatives. The island’s bird was labeled Atlantisia rogersi in 1923, when British surgeon Percy Lowe, then head of the ornithology collections at the British Museum, first described it. He created the new genus, Atlantisia, in honor of mythical Atlantis. He also suggested that the rail may have walked to the island along a since sunken land bridge from either Africa or South America. Plate tectonics later ruled out a land bridge, Stervander said. “They flew or were assisted by floating debris,” he said. “Whether they flew all the way or were swept off by a storm and then landed on debris, we can’t say. In any case, they managed to make it from the mainland of South America to Inaccessible Island.” More on Stervander’s discovery and the bird’s history is detailed in a news release “Researchers find the origin of an isolated bird species on South Atlantic island.” Cresko met Stervander after traveling to Lund in 2012 to speak at a workshop arranged by the university’s research school in genomic ecology to discuss the RAD technology that had emerged from his and Johnson’s UO labs. “This started a series of connections with the faculty at Lund University, as well as other places throughout Europe,” Cresko said. “I visited Lund several times subsequently and met with Martin to develop project ideas. I was impressed by his research and the questions he was asking.” They jointly submitted postdoctoral proposals. The Swedish Research Council agreed to fund a three-year fellowship for Stervander at the UO. “He’s here extending his research and getting experience working with fish models,” Cresko said. “He brings a depth of understanding of ecology and evolution but also a novel perspective from having asked research questions in birds. He also adds a fun international component to how our group thinks about science.” Stervander’s interest in birds began as a child. Before entering Lund University, he worked in various research projects and as a bander in several bird observatories. For two years, he headed Sweden’s Ottenby Bird Observatory. “I knew that I wanted to focus on the speciation of birds,” Stervander said. “I thematically asked, 'How does it work when a species evolves into two?' What are the mechanisms involved in that process? And can it happen even if the diverging lineages are not physically isolated from each other, like if they’re stuck on an island?” In addition to traveling to Inaccessible Island, he spent time on islands in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa. He has a keen interest, he said, in finches that have colonized and evolved to survive on isolated islands. In Cresko’s lab, Stervander is working with a family of fish that includes pipefish, seahorses and seadragons. All use their long snouts to suction their food. What he learns from the fish, he said, may help him understand how finches living in isolated locations have reshaped their bills to allow them to eat. “I’d like to get closer to understanding the genetic underpinnings for the adaptation of their bills — their foraging apparatus — which happens in early embryonic development in preserved pathways,” he said. “How did this evolve, from finches to seahorse snouts? I want to find out how genes are turned on and off in the earliest developmental pathways in both the bird and these fish.” —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • UO scientists discover new anti-inflammatory bacterial protein

    First published in Around the O on November 13th, 2018. Inflammation is one the ways the body protects itself against outside invaders. And since the digestive system contains a dense array of bacteria, you might expect the body’s immune response to be in constant overdrive as it confronts a mass of gut microbes. But that’s not the case, says UO biologist Karen Guillemin. “One of the major questions about how we coexist with our microbial inhabitants is why we don’t have a massive inflammatory response to the trillions of bacteria inhabiting our guts,” Guillemin said. “How is it that things aren’t going crazy?” The answer is partially revealed in a new study by Guillemin and a team of researchers that appeared in the online journal eLife. It details the discovery of an anti-inflammatory bacterial protein and helps explain the functioning of one mechanism of the human body’s moderated response to gut bacteria. The research could someday help inform treatments for a range of human disease associated with excessive inflammation, including inflammatory bowel disease and other intestinal inflammation, and help prevent chronic inflammation throughout the body.  “We’ve been really interested in understanding how animals and their resident microbes negotiate this level of inflammatory response,” Guillemin said. “We set out to test whether gut bacteria actively secrete factors that prevent an excessive inflammatory response.” In the course of exploring that question, Guillemin and her team discovered the protein Aeromonas immune modulator, also called AimA, which they showed was capable of helping to alleviate intestinal inflammation and the inflammatory response known as septic shock. Through their investigations, researchers found that the protein mutually benefitted the bacteria itself and the animal hosting it by reducing inflammation in both. Annah Rolig, a former UO postdoctoral fellow and now a research scientist at the Cancer Immunobiology Laboratory at Providence Portland Medical Center, served as the lead author on the paper. Emily Goers Sweeney, a UO research associate, was a co-author. The research was conducted in zebrafish, which allowed investigators to zero in on the AimA protein and perform numerous tests designed to answer questions such as why bacteria produced such a protein. In examining the structure of the protein, they found similarities to a class of proteins called lipocalins, which include members that modulate inflammation in humans. To test their theory that the protein was not specifically counteracting inflammation caused by one kind of bacteria but rather acting more generally to temper the immune response, researchers induced inflammation in zebrafish and found that the AimA protein could reduce inflammation. The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggests that other bacteria that live inside humans could be a potentially rich source of novel anti-inflammatory molecules. “These resident gut microbes are motivated to inhibit inflammation,” Guillemin said, “and they probably have lots of creative ways of dampening down our immune system. We can learn a lot from them about how to design novel anti-inflammatory therapies.” Co-authors on the paper with Rolig, Guillemin and Sweeney were undergraduate student Lila Kaye, doctoral student Michael DeSantis, postdoctoral researcher Arden Perkins and Allison Banse, a former postdoctoral researcher — all affiliated with the UO’s Institute of Molecular Biology — and M. Kristina Hamilton, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Institute of Neuroscience. —By Lewis Taylor, University Communications

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  • 2019 State Legislative Agenda

    During the 2019 legislative session, the University, in partnership with students, faculty and staff, will pursue a legislative agenda that aims to ensure affordability, access, and success for students; deliver an excellent educational experience in an inclusive and diverse environment; and invest in faculty members to improve quality and promote academic research and innovation. Access, affordability, and completion for Oregon students Increase operating funding for Oregon public universities by at least $120 million for the 2019-21 biennium to keep tuition increases for resident, undergraduate students at UO at or below 5% for the next two years. Increase funding for state programs, which include UO’s Engineering & Technology Sustaining Funds, Labor Education Research Center, TallWood Design Institute, dispute resolution programs, Clinical Legal Education, and other signature research centers. Increase investment in the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state’s only need-based aid program. Protect and expand funding for Sports Equity Scholarships through the Oregon Lottery, which helps UO meet Title IX requirements to equitably fund women’s athletics and provide graduate scholarships. Invest in facilities that produce high-demand degrees and discovery All seven public universities request the allocation of $65 million for capital improvement and renewal for maintenance of existing buildings and ensuring that students have safe and appropriate environments in which to learn and live. $54 million in state-backed bonds for the renovation of Huestis Hall, a 45-year old structure that is the teaching and research hub for biological sciences at the UO. It serves 3,000 students each year. It has urgent seismic vulnerabilities and accessibility and safety deficiencies. The project will eliminate nearly $19 million of deferred maintenance and protect many of the UO’s K-12 pipeline and summer STEM programs for girls and low-income students. Academic excellence and ingenuity Create a state matching fund for the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), which embeds UO students and faculty members within an Oregon city, county, special district, or tribe for an entire academic year. Students work on partner-identified projects to provide ideas for real solutions to community challenges. Many communities—especially those in more rural areas—want to participate but cannot afford it.  A matching fund would allow more Oregonians to be served. Through a one-time investment purchase a new ship for the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, which will add teaching and research capacity on Oregon’s Coast. The UO will match the state’s investment through philanthropic gifts. Investment in the UO’s prison education programming, Inside Out, which operates in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Corrections to bring credit-bearing courses to approximately 300 inmates each year. Programs like these help reduce recidivism rates in Oregon and broaden the student experience. Support Governor Brown’s ‘Resilience 2025’ proposal that will fund the full build out of ShakeAlert by 2023. ShakeAlert is the earthquake early warning and wildfire monitoring seismic sensor network operated through the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, of which UO is an active member with other West Coast universities. Partnerships for Economic Transformation Support investments in research and discovery, including grant funding and other innovative policies or funding initiatives that leverage Oregon’s industry strengths and workforce needs with the UO’s academic portfolio.

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  • Supreme Court lifts stay on climate suit, but hurdles remain

    First published in Around the O on November 6th, 2018.  A landmark federal lawsuit filed by a group of young people seeking action on climate change cleared another hurdle Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an earlier stay. The move allows attorneys for the plaintiffs to seek a new trial date. The trial was originally scheduled to begin Oct. 29 but was put in limbo when the delay stretched two weeks. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 21 young people who assert that government threatens their constitutional rights by promoting the production of fossil fuels that are destabilizing the climate system necessary to their survival and well-being. A new trial date is expected to be set soon, though the Justice Department on Monday evening made another attempt to stop the trial. A petition filed with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest in an array of motions spanning all three levels of the court system simultaneously. All have been rejected so far, but some are still pending. UO law professor Mary Wood will discuss the suit in a public talk Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Wildish Community Theater in downtown Springfield. She will be joined by local youth plaintiffs and staff members from Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit representing the plaintiffs. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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  • UO researchers discover Oregon's first dinosaur fossil

    First published in Around the O on November 5th, 2018. Paleontologists at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History have reported the discovery of a land-dwelling dinosaur’s fossilized bone in Eastern Oregon — an exceedingly rare find in a state that was underwater throughout most of the dinosaur age. The toe bone belonged to a plant-eating, bipedal dinosaur known as an ornithopod and is estimated to date back 103 million years to the Cretaceous, a geological period that also gave rise to Tyrannosaurus rex.   Uncovered by UO earth sciences professor Greg Retallack during a 2015 field excursion near Mitchell, the find was published online in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and is the first Oregon dinosaur fossil ever reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. “Oregon landscapes are rich with Cretaceous rocks, but they rarely contain the kinds of dinosaur remains we see elsewhere in the U.S.,” said Retallack, the museum’s director of fossil collections and the report’s lead author. “The rocks here are the right age but are mostly from under the sea where dinosaurs did not live or from swamps where dinosaur bones are seldom preserved.”  During the 2015 trip to Mitchell, part of a University of Oregon course on fossil plants, Retallack and his students surveyed a shale slope on Bureau of Land Management property. There he spotted the toe bone amid an array of mollusk fossils preserved in the marine rocks. Views of the fossil from several angles. It was found on a field excursion near the Eastern Oregon town of Mitchell. Edward Davis, a co-author on the report and the museum’s fossil collections manager, said the land-dweller’s bone likely ended up there after a posthumous stint in the ocean.    “It’s a phenomenon we sometimes call ‘bloat and float,’” he said. “That is, the animal died on shore in its terrestrial habitat, then washed out to sea, where it floated while bloated with decomposition gasses. Eventually it burst, and only this toe bone was entombed and became a fossil.” Based on comparisons with other ornithopods, the co-authors estimate that the Mitchell dinosaur was more than 20 feet long and weighed nearly a ton.  “With such a small piece of the ornithopod, it’s hard to say much about its ecology,” said report co-author Samantha Hopkins, the museum’s curator of paleontology and an associate professor of earth sciences at the Clark Honors College. “However, just finding it in Oregon is exciting, because we rarely see evidence here of the dinosaurs we know must have been nearby.”  The report was also co-authored by the University of Calgary’s Jessica Theodor and UO doctoral student Paul Barrett. Retallack said he doesn’t expect to find more dinosaur bones in Oregon marine rocks anytime soon. “But we are now looking more carefully,” he said.  —By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History    Kristin Strommer, publicist for the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, poses with the fossil. Courtesy/University of Oregon

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  • Collaboration gets $1.2 million NSF grant to boost STEM learning

    First published in Around the O, on October 31st. College students from first-generation, low-income, and minority backgrounds are 16 times less likely than other students to do well in STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The National Science Foundation wants that to change. And it’s giving researchers at the UO School of Journalism and Communication and the College of Education a $1.2 million, three-year grant to pursue a creative, interdisciplinary solution to the problem. The project is called My STEM Story, led by UO assistant professor of journalism Ed Madison, associate professor of education Jenefer Husman, education doctoral student Ross Anderson and UO alumnus Matthew Kim, who works as a research scientist at the University of Washington. The project will pair Oregon high school students with undergraduates from underrepresented communities for a mentoring program on the UO campus — with a digital storytelling twist. My STEM Story began 2½ years ago, when Madison had an aha! moment. Each summer, the Oregon Young Scholars Program brings high school students from minority backgrounds to the UO, where they stay in dorms and take college classes for a week. At the same time, college students from diverse backgrounds are on campus for the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research in Life Sciences, or SPUR, which offers fellowships to promising undergraduates to study under UO research professors. “It occurred to me: What if we took SPUR students and paired them with OYSP students for a mentorship?” Madison said. The goal is to give high school students from underrepresented groups an authentic view into the struggles and successes of people who look like them working in STEM. The team hopes the project, which is funded through the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, will help students envision a future in the field.    With help from Anderson, Madison put the idea to the test in a trial run of the My STEM Story program in 2016. They introduced Emma, an Oregon Young Scholar, to Janice, a SPUR science fellow. Emma shadowed Janice on campus for a day to learn what it’s really like to work in a lab on a research project — especially as a black woman. Now a high school senior, Emma plans to study a STEM field in college. Madison, who teaches multimedia journalism in the School of Journalism and Communication, wanted to extend the benefits of the experiment to a wider student population. So he asked Emma to record her experience on her smartphone. That footage became part of a digital story Madison edited. In the next phase of the project, the researchers plan to present My STEM Story videos like the one featuring Emma and Janice to high school classes with high minority populations. “Then we’re measuring to see to what degree those videos inspire students who are watching them to either seek more information about a science class or register for a class they might not otherwise,” Madison said. The UO research team is currently in the internal review approval process, where they define protocols for the program. The next phase of My STEM Story will kick off in summer 2019. The project wants to put a human spin on STEM education, which can sometimes appear unattainable or overwhelming to students. “You have these ideas on and you go, ‘This would be kind of cool. I wonder if this would work,’” Madison said. “And then you see how the students involved develop this rapport so naturally and how the young woman who’s the scientist was so perfect. You couldn’t script that.” Coming from a long career in documentary and TV filmmaking, Madison loves those moments. He said recorded interactions often end up seeming staged and unnatural. But he believes that, because they are genuine interactions, high school students watching the videos will feel more connected and interested. Husman hopes that natural interest will turn into intrinsic motivation to pursue STEM education. “We hope to help students imagine their future possible selves as scientists,” Husman said. “Through near-peer mentorship, we provide them a window into the path they would need to take.” —By Becky Hoag, School of Journalism and Communication

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  • UO professor talks mega-quakes with National Geographic

    First Published in Around the O on October 29th. University of Oregon earth sciences professor Diego Melgar has been featured in an article from National Geographic discussing a recent 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Southern Mexico that broke a 37-mile stretch of tectonic plate. Slabs of the earth’s crust known as tectonic plates collide with one another on the surface, forming mountains and other topographic features. This tectonic movement is one of many things responsible for earthquakes, mountains, valleys and other topographic features, the article says. “If you think of it as a huge slab of glass, this rupture made a big, gaping crack,” Melgar says in the article. “All indications are that it has broken through the entire width of the thing.” This 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Sept. 7, 2017, and scientist are still unsure about how, when and why such large fractures in the earth occur. “If you bend an eraser, you can see the top half being extended and stretched, whereas the bottom bit is squashed and compressed,” Melgar says. “The same applies to these slabs. This bending can activate faults within the slab and trigger what are known as intraslab earthquakes,” the article adds. Melgar goes on to address possible answers to the question of why high-magnitude intraslab earthquakes happen. Noting that the presence of sea water, age and formation of the plate could have made perfect conditions for such an event. “Whether they feature this type of dramatic severance or not, these powerful quakes are inherently mysterious,” the article says. To read the full article, see “Quake split a tectonic plate in two, and geologists are shaken.”

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