Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#282)

November 24, 2008 -- From MSU News Service

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Salmon simulations

Scientists studying salmon have tended to focus on one ecosystem per project. Researchers might have studied salmon in the Pacific Ocean, for example, but not floodplains fertilized by salmon carcasses. They might have studied salmon in the Columbia River, but not the ocean. That approach is changing, however, said Geoff Poole, assistant professor of fluvial landscape ecology at Montana State University. His specialty deals with the landscapes formed by moving water. Poole participates in the Salmonid Rivers Observatory Network, a multidisciplinary research project that takes an integrated approach to studying salmon populations around the Pacific Rim. The effort is headed by Jack Stanford, director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station for the University of Montana. As part of the project, Poole will create computer simulations of the ecological interdependence between floodplain ecosystems and salmon populations.

Meth detector

Suppose police officers could point a laser device at a house and detect methamphetamine fumes flowing from its vents. Imagine ambulance crews using the device to see if they can safely enter a house or need to don protective clothing. Randy Babbitt and three students are working on such a project in MSU's Spectrum Lab, in collaboration with Bridger Photonics of Bozeman. Babbitt, the lab's director, said they will modify an existing laser and see if it will detect hydrogen chloride. If that works, they will take the laser to a UM lab and see if it can detect the chemicals that result from meth manufacture. Developing a hand-held meth detector involves many elements, but ideally, it could be ready for market in 1 1/2 years, Babbitt said. Working with him are Erin Egbert, an undergraduate from New Hampshire and graduate students Trenton Berg from Wolf Point and Gregory Gabrielsen from Illinois.

Religion and Yellowstone

Early visitors to Yellowstone National Park often wrote about their experiences in religious terms, says Michael Barton, an MSU graduate student in history. Journalist Calvin Clawson, for example, wrote, "We could not help feeling that we were lifted up between heaven and hell." He wrote that Yellowstone must've been Eden for wildlife, but its geysers were "escape-pipes of purgatory." The Romantic movement of the 19th century was also reflected in the names of many park features, Barton said. Midway Geyser Basin used to be called "Hell's Half-Acre," for example. A prominent rock in the Yellowstone River is the "Rock of Ages." Barton discovered the religious references while interning at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner. A paper on his findings ran in the October 2008 issue of "Yellowstone Science."

Unlikely cousins?

Humans and fungus are genetically very similar, which creates problems when scientists design antifungal drugs, says Robert Cramer, assistant professor of veterinary molecular biology at MSU. Since fungus and humans have many of the same genes, drugs that can kill fungi often have detrimental side effects on humans. It's a different story with bacteria and viruses, however. The genetic makeup of bacteria and viruses is different enough from humans' that drugs to fight them are usually less threatening to humans. That explains in part why more drugs are available to fight bacteria and viruses than fungi, Cramer said. Cramer discussed the close relationship between humans and fungi after publishing a recent paper about a gene that regulates the resistance of a common disease-causing mold to antifungal drugs.

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


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