Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#248)

May 18, 2005 -- From MSU News Service

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Rainforest repellant

MSU scientists Gary Strobel and Bryn Daisy have discovered a fungus from the Peruvian rainforest that produces naphthalene. The chemical in mothballs, naphthalene repels insects. It's also used as a deodorant in toilets and diaper pails. In laboratory tests at MSU, naphthalene from the fungus repelled adult wheat stem sawflies, which could lead to commercial possibilities as a localized insect repellant in crops, said MSU technology transfer officer Nick Zelver. Anyone interested in licensing the idea should contact Zelver at (406) 994-7868 or by e-mail at nzelver@montana.edu by June 15. MSU has licensed more than 100 technologies so far. Sixty-five of those are with Montana companies.

Biofilms abound

Food-borne illness affects millions of people and causes thousands of deaths every year in the U.S. When researchers at MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering studied contamination of food and household surfaces, they found that most cleaners are tested for killing efficiency against free-living or "planktonic" bacteria. However, the products may be ineffective at removing microbes that are attached to surfaces and protected by communities of bacteria called biofilms. A research team including CBE senior researcher Richard Veeh used microscope images on a range of household surfaces, including food, laundry and kitchen items. Biofilms existed on all tested surfaces, which suggests a need to develop sanitizer test systems that target biofilms. Presently, no such methods have been approved or endorsed by regulatory agencies.

Riding the range

Weeds are considered a biological disaster, says Kim Goodwin, weed prevention coordinator at MSU. They can permanently alter rangelands and soil structure. They can reduce biodiversity. To help protect Montana's native grasslands, Goodwin is sending range riders to Liberty, Hill and Blaine counties this summer. Each county will have one person on the back of a horse or ATV looking for new weeds. They'll map the weeds with GPS equipment. Then they'll pull the weeds or kill them with herbicides. Liberty County had the lone ranger in last year's program. Next year, Goodwin plans to add five more weed scouts in eastern Montana. The federal government will pay their wages. County Extension and weed district officials will tell them where to ride.

Privatizing elk

Are elk wildlife or livestock? Hunters and cattle ranchers alike are ambivalent about the privatization of elk, Paul Robbins said recently at MSU. Robbins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, visited Montana to look at the complexities of elk management policy on the settled fringes of Yellowstone National Park. Robbins found a complicated mix of interests while interviewing elk managers, bureaucrats, gun owners and other Montanans. Chronic Wasting Disease and the rate of its transmission came up repeatedly. So did game farms and their ability or inability to keep separate privately-owned elk and wild elk. A common phrase he heard was "doctors and ditch diggers," referring to the wide range of Montanans that might like access to elk.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu