Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#249)

June 23, 2005 -- From MSU News Service

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Gunky pools

The slimy stuff on the bottom of swimming pools is more than just slippery gunk. Researchers at MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering say that the slime, called biofilm, may harbor disease-causing bacteria that could present a public health concern. Darla Goeres, a research engineer at the center, evaluated the efficiency of disinfectants against biofilms in a swimming pool model. The model mimicked a pool's filtration and other systems as well as the perspiration, urine and microbes that can get into the water. Of the treatments tested, weekly shock-doses of chlorine were the most effective at controlling biofilm formation. A better understanding of the relationship between shock treatments and biofilm detachment--slime removal--could lead to improved water quality in swimming pools, Goeres said.

Safer picnics

People are more likely to get sick from food in the summer than any other time, said Lynn Paul, MSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist. Whether they're hiking, barbecuing or picnicking, they tend to spend more time in the heat. They may eat food that set out too long. Bacteria grows best when food is between 40 and 140 degrees for more than two hours, Paul said. Dairy products and meat have a higher potential for danger than apples and oranges. Paul advised cooks to wash their hands well or at least use anti-bacterial towels. She recommended using thermometers to check internal meat temperatures. The standard for consumer cooking is an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for steaks, 160 F for hamburgers and 170 F for poultry breasts.

Gentle giants of the sea

Manatees in Florida are gentle giants surrounded by controversy, says Lisa Schwarz, an MSU graduate student in ecology. Boaters are sensitive about reports saying they kill the endangered species with propellers and high-speed collisions. Environmentalists note the effects of development. People talk about closing power plants, but the plants provide the shivering sea cows with warm water during the winter. The Florida Wildlife Research Institute collects manatee carcasses, conducts autopsies and sends the results to Schwarz for analysis. Among other things, Schwarz is trying to determine survival rates for young manatees. MSU is involved in manatee research because of Daniel Goodman's expertise with "messy data," Schwarz said. Goodman is her advisor and specializes in projects dealing with endangered species and population dynamics.

Knapweed weevil

Spotted knapweed has been found in every Montana county, but its heartland is primarily the western third of the state, said Jim Story, research entomologist at MSU's Western Agricultural Research Center in Corvallis. To control the noxious weed without chemicals, Story grows spotted knapweed at the research center and rears the root-feeding weevil, Cyphocleonus achates, in its roots. Then he ships the weevils to cooperators who release the insect in infested areas around Montana. The larva attack the roots of the spotted knapweed and eventually kill the plant. Story has distributed hundreds of thousands of weevils since he started mass rearing them in the early 1990s. He used to rear a root-feeding moth too, but the Agapeta zoegana is now established and doesn't need his involvement any more.

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