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Discovery Discovery March 2002
Main Page On the Web Patents Corner Featured Stories In Focus


Research Roundup


Eating knapweed
You're a spotted knapweed plant. A goat grazes your blossoms and stems. Do you fight back? Cathy Zabinski, an assistant professor in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, wants to know. Some plants grow back bigger than they were before being eaten, and that's true for knapweed grazed with scissors in a greenhouse. But how the weed reacts in the field may depend on what plants are growing nearby. Zabinski wants to find out how knapweed responds to being grazed depending on three things: What the neighboring plants are; which nutrients are in the soil; and whether the knapweed has beneficial fungi called mycorrhizae in its roots. The study, funded by the USDA, includes MSU range scientist Brett Olson and student Sara Zimmerley.

Cattle pharming
Scientists like Ed Schmidt know enough about mice genes to develop mice with about any mutation scientists might need. Such mice are used to study diseases, for example. So what if it were possible to develop designer cows? What if scientists could create a breed of cow that is resistant to mad cow disease, for example, or dairy cows that could produce human insulin in their milk for diabetics? Schmidt, an assistant professor of veterinary molecular biology, is beginning a two-year project to see if such dream cows might be possible. He's working with cow cells, not the whole animal, with funding from the USDA.

Sharing stories
Students in Marvin Lansverk's literature classes at MSU don't just read stories but share them too. One class, for example, reads stories in the Great Books program with students at Chief Joseph Middle School. Then the older students help the younger ones discuss the stories by such authors as Kurt Vonnegut and Doris Lessing. Another group of college students told stories and mythologies at local elementary schools and at the Bozeman Public Library. Both projects, funded by the Montana Campus Compact, are examples of service learning, where college students do some type of community service as part of a class. Now Lansverk is helping other faculty around the state implement their own service learning projects.

White stinky fungus
A Montana manufacturer of portable environmental toilets may have much to gain from a fungus found on a cinnamon tree in Honduras. Named stinky white fungus by its discoverer, MSU plant scientist Gary Strobel, the fungus makes a gas that kills other fungi and bacteria, including E. coli. Human waste, of course, contains lots of E. coli. That's why Phillips Environmental Products in Belgrade is working with Strobel to incorporate some or all of the gaseous compounds into their outdoor toilets. Currently waste from the toilets must go into a landfill, said company vice president Mike Groff. But if the waste is sterilized it could be buried on site, which is what the company's "leave-no-trace" customers want, Groff said.

Separation anxiety
How do government-funded agencies and faith-based organizations work together in a country built on the principle of separation of church and state? They must meet three tests set up by the U.S. Supreme Court, says David Young of MSU, co-convener of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative Steering Committee. The Supreme Court says their actions must be secular in nature. The actions must neither advance nor inhibit religion. The actions must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion. The Montana Faith-Health Cooperative was formed after the Montana Association of Churches and the Montana Office of Rural Health worked together in 2000 on a project to revitalize rural Montana.

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