Coral White Plague Epidemic

Coral White Plague Epidemic Could be Caused by Virus:   

LiveScience article by Joseph Castro

Based on:  Potential Role of Viruses in White Plague Coral Disease by Nitzan Soffer, Marilyn E Brandt, Adrienne MS Correa, Tyler B Smith and Rebecca Vega Thurber; ISME Journal, October 2013

The Caribbean Sea is battling an epidemic — a nasty plague that spreads and kills quickly. Unlike the historical Black Plague, which killed millions of people in the Middle Ages, this so-called white plague is devastating populations of marine corals.

Scientists long believed the scourge, which first popped up in the 1970s, had strictly bacterial origins, but research now suggests viruses may play a prominent role in causing white plague.

During a 2010 white plague outbreak in the Virgin Islands, researchers analyzed the viruses present in diseased and healthy corals. While all of the sampled corals carried numerous viruses, the tissue taken from corals that had white plague predominately contained one, specific group of viruses. Known as small, circular, single-strand DNA viruses (SCSDV), these could potentially have caused the disease.  COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE.



Dr. Nancy Roseman, 28th President of Dickinson College,
Carlisle, Pennsylvaniaroseman2

The Board of Trustees at Dickinson College selected Dr. Nancy Roseman, former Dean of Williams College and former Director of the Williams-Exeter programme at Oxford University, to serve as the 28th President beginning July 2013.  She will be the first female president and will succeed William Durden, following his retirement after 14 years as Dicksinson's President.

Dr. Roseman began her career at Williams in 1991 as a Professor of Biology after completing her doctoral studies in Microbiology (Biology of a Constitutively-Expressed Vaccinia Virus Gene Required for DNA Replication under Dr. Dennis Hruby)hruby and a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry and biophysics at Oregon State University.  She has served as Dean of Dickinson College, Assistant to the President for Special Projects, and Director of the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University.  Her accomplishments at Williams include significantly improving the College's academic requirements, offerings, and resources to interdisciplinary teaching; launching a new residential life program; participating in the fundraising, architectural development, and opening of the new Student Center; creating an Academic Resource Center; and guiding significant renovations to resident halls.


Donation of Focus Microscope Camera from Debra and Dr. Michael Bellinghausen

camera donationcamera donation ipad

Debra (Shigeno) and Dr. Michael Bellinghausen graciously donated a Focus Microscope Camera from Exo Labs, Inc. to the teaching laboratories in the Microbiology Department.  Both Debra and Michael are former students (1979).  Debra completed her M.S. (Internal pH Control Starter Media:  Use in Culture Preservation and for ultiple Strain Growth), with Dr. William Sandine of the Department of Microbiology and is now an Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs at Seattle Genetics.  Michael continued his education and is a DVM in Kenmore, WA.  The Department is grateful for this contribution!



Invisible War Rages in World's Oceans
(Live Science)

"They are everywhere, from the surface down to the bottom, from pole to pole," said Stephen Giovannoni, Professor of Microbiology at Oregon State University, adding that SAR11 microbes are most abundant in the warm waters of ocean gyres, or rotating currents, where they can account for as much as 40 percent of plankton cells.  (see Nature, FOX News, CBS) for full article.




An undergraduate researcher in Microbiology searches for the key to long life.



At 7 a.m., Minhazur Sarker is the first person to arrive in Tory Hagen’s lab on the third floor of the Linus Pauling Science Center. Hagen, a renowned researcher with the Linus Pauling Institute, studies the human healthspan. The research that takes place in his lab is focused toward a lofty goal: promoting healthy, less destructive aging processes. But though the lights are on in the long room lined with rows of countertops, at this early hour no one is hunched over in the chairs, taking notes or observing experiments.

“My father told me, ‘To get the most out of research, get there before everyone else and leave after everyone else,’” Sarker says.

And he’s following that advice, sometimes arriving even earlier than 7 a.m. and working into the evening. The first thing Sarker does when he gets to the lab is check on his cells. In a room off the main lab, he takes a flask of vibrant orange liquid out of a small refrigerator. The liquid, which resembles flat orange soda, contains the cells that Sarker’s project hinges on. By experimenting with human and rodent cells, he’s hoping to help discover a means to slow aging in humans.

A senior studying microbiology, Sarker arranged his project through the Oregon State University Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). One of the university’s most prestigious research opportunities, the institute facilitates paid research positions for undergraduate students in projects that are usually completed over the summer. While HHMI students work in all areas of the sciences, Sarker’s project draws on Oregon State’s strength in the health sciences and Hagen’s innovative research on healthy aging. When Sarker joined Hagen’s lab at the end of last school year, Hagen asked him to explore a possible avenue to promote healthier aging that began with an unlikely source — the naked mole rat.

The only cold-blooded mammal, the naked mole rat has a low metabolic rate and spends its life underground; all characteristics that contrast sharply with human life. But the naked mole rat also has something that humans have pursued for centuries: the key to longevity. These rodents, Sarker says, can live up to 30 years — 10 times the lifespan of other rats. And Hagen has an idea of what the naked mole rats’ secret might be.

Fewer calories, longer life
“When you think aging, you think of the damages that occur in the body, but people forget the other half, the body’s defense mechanisms and the way it fixes things up,” Sarker says. “Aging is two things: destructive processes and the responses.”

The quality of those response processes deteriorates over time, allowing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s to develop because the body’s defenses can’t keep up with the damage being done. But the heat shock protein response, a reaction that involves the refolding of proteins that are disordered by physical stress on the body, has been shown to remain active longer as a result of caloric restriction. A restricted diet like that of the naked mole rat, Hagen says, allows the body’s proteins to remain in balance longer and stimulates the heat shock protein response more often. By this means, Hagen believes, the naked mole rat may be improving its longevity.

“The only real known paradigm of increasing mean lifetime of species is dietary and caloric restriction,” Hagen says. “When you restrict calories but provide vitamins and micronutrients to maintain basic function, the species lives for an inordinately long time.”

Hagen would like to see humans take advantage of a more enduring heat shock protein response, but he’s not expecting people to live on a fraction of the calories in an average diet.

“Part of our work in healthy aging is to try to have that benefit without the burden,” Hagen says. “Part of that is to find mimics that would add nothing to the diet and certainly could increase the health span.”

Cell by cell
Under the microscope, the orange liquid becomes a field of bulbous white shapes that resemble burst popcorn kernels. The cells grow in a liquid medium until there are too many for the flask, when Sarker splits them into new containers to be used in testing or to continue growing. By this means, he’s able to keep the cells growing indefinitely.

Performing cell culture requires precision and absolute sterilization, creating a sense of pressure that Sarker believes sometimes wards off students who are interested in research.

“You learn by doing,” he says. “That’s what research is. I tell new students, you have four years to mess up in college; learn from your mistakes. Do it — screw up, mess it up — no one is going to hold it against you.”

The mimic that Hagen asked Sarker to experiment with is geranylgeranylacetone, a compound that has been safely used to treat ulcers and arthritis overseas. Sarker is testing GGA’s potential to induce a particular heat shock protein response, HSP70, by applying it to cells of the four species and then exposing the cells to stressful conditions to activate the response. By analyzing how the cells react to the stress, he hopes to determine whether the compound could be used to enhance the heat shock protein response.

Though Sarker’s project began during the summer and the HHMI program doesn’t require him to work beyond that period, he’s committed to taking the project as far as he can. During his final year at Oregon State, Sarker will continue working in Hagen’s lab.

“I have some preliminary results, but there’s a lot more I can do with it, so I really want to take ownership of it and move forward,” Sarker says. “It’s more about the process and not just about the completion and getting a result. Having a positive result is a good thing, but if you don’t get there, did you learn from it?”

Research as an undergraduate
While Sarker continues to explore whether GGA could slow the effects of aging in humans, he maintains a full schedule. In addition to working at the lab, preparing to attend medical school and running his own online business netting lacrosse sticks, he works as a tour guide for the College of Science. After spending a morning piping cell cultures into new plates and running samples, Sarker can be found walking across campus with a group of prospective students and their parents in tow.

As comfortable with the campus visitors as he is in the lab, Sarker uses his own experiences to encourage younger students to take advantage of research opportunities in college.

“When you do research on campus, you’re learning, you’re helping your future and you’re getting paid,” he tells students on his tours. “That’s a triple positive, and that doesn’t happen very often, so when you find one, take it and run for it.”

Through undergraduate research programs like the HHMI, students can gain skills and experience that aren’t

available elsewhere — and learn from renowned researchers such as Hagen. According to Hagen, involving students in research is a natural priority, both in his lab and at Oregon State University.

“We don’t have big barriers at Oregon State; faculty and students interact very easily,” Hagen says. “I’ve been here for 14 years and had undergraduate students in our lab pretty much all those years. It’s part of our reason for being here, showing students what a lab experience is like.”

Sarker ends his tours in front of the Linus Pauling Science Center, where he’s able to point out the floor he works on and describe how hands-on work at Oregon State has benefitted his education, before heading back to the lab.

“That’s really the reason to come here, for the experiential learning,” Sarker says. “Research teaches you maturity, to be respectful, give presentations, interact with people, as well as organization and time management. These are skills you’re not going to get in the classroom.”


brysonSam Bryson, Graduate Student with Dr. Ryan Mueller, won a $100 prize for the presentation of his research in poster format at the Fall 2012 CGRB Conference.  This work resulted from a project for MB 668 Bioinformatics Class and a lab rotation with Dr. Vega-Thurber.  He assembled and annotated 21 Microviridae genomes from a cold methane-seep sediment metagenome.  He compared these viral genomes with other Microviridae using phylogenetic and comparative genomic methods.  He then examined the distribution of these phages and other Microviridae across multiple environments. This research resulted in the discovery of a new group of viruses that infect bacteria in deep marine sediments.

Sam Bryson's Poster

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