Catching Up with CALS — Dec. 4, 2019
Dean's Message — Congratulations Graduates
Sometimes the simplest messages are the best.
Winter Commencement is Dec. 14, so let me take this opportunity to congratulate our graduates and their families.
Congratulations, too, to the faculty and staff who make CALS such a great place for students to learn and to grow.
We are going through a difficult budget time — this too shall pass.
We are committed to working with President Green to put this behind us as fast as possible.
Of course, life goes on for CALS faculty. For example, next Tuesday through Thursday, CALS entomologist Mark Schwarzlaender will play a key role in a conference in Coeur d’Alene to address one of Idaho’s most persistent issues: invasive species.
By his partnership with Jim Nagler, the College of Science Department of Biology chair, the U of I is playing an important role in an international conference on invasive species.
Speakers from county, state, federal and tribal agencies, and conservation organizations across the U.S. and from South Africa to Switzerland will participate. So will university researchers from coast to coast.
Some of our graduates may well find themselves facing and solving problems discussed during the meeting. Certainly, they will benefit from the expertise and engagement of our faculty who organize and participate in this event and dozens of others.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
8.7% was the 2019 weather penalty for Idaho corn production in 2019 from 2018, largely from the impact of cold, wet weather across southern Idaho. Corn farmers produced 26.25 million bushels of corn this year compared with nearly 28.76 million in 2018, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. 5.5% or 7,700,000 hundredweights was the drop in potato production to 133,980,000 from 141,750,000 hundredweights. A .5% or 38,000 ton increase in sugarbeet production to 6,640,000 tons was the sweet spot in the fall harvest report.
Our Stories — IGEM Funds New Sheep Test
A project to provide genetic testing for sheep to help producers minimize the impact of diseases and improve valuable traits will receive a grant from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission Council.
The $209,595 grant to University of Idaho animal science professor Brenda Murdoch and Meridian-based RILE Ag will help sheep producers employ an inexpensive test to greatly reduce economic losses to diseases and enhance their flocks’ productivity.
“This grant money will be a tremendous asset for further research and development of Flock54,” Murdoch said. Specifically, it will allow her research team to increase the number of genetic traits reportable and create indexes for production traits that are so crucial to producers. The team will also create a new online reporting tool so that producers can submit data with their DNA samples and receive their genetic report via this new online tool.
Murdoch is fine-tuning the Flock54 genomic test that provides a broad picture of a sheep’s “catalog” of genes. Variants or mutations in those genes can make the animal vulnerable to diseases such as ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) or improve the animal’s weight gain and carcass quality.
RILE Ag is a subsidiary of Superior Farms, which works with sheep producers responsible for a third of the nation’s flocks.
“I am excited for RILE Ag and Superior Farms to continue our partnership with Dr. Murdoch at the U of I to enhance and improve genetics within the American lamb industry,” said Lesa Eidman, director of producer resources and sustainability for Superior Farms and director of RILE Ag.
“The opportunity to improve the U.S. sheep flock with genetic improvement and Flock54 testing is tremendous, and I am excited to be part of this groundbreaking technology for the sheep industry.”
Idaho’s sheep industry ranks sixth nationally with 1,200 producers and 255,000 head of breeding sheep and lambs. The Idaho producers are part of the Superior Farms supply chain and are critical to the American sheep industry.
This grant will help Idaho producers capitalize on a low-cost genetic tool to make genetic and economic gains in their production systems, Murdoch said. However, the scope of the project and the availability of the test is not limited to Idaho producers, all sheep producers have access to utilize the technology.
Murdoch, an assistant professor of animal genomics on the U of I Moscow campus, helped develop the first genomic tests for cattle. She will monitor results from the sheep testing and use the information to identify other genetic traits of interest for producers.
The sheep test will cost less than $20 per animal. The test is capable of identifying an animal’s susceptibility to major diseases, a broad range of genetic traits and the animal’s parentage.
OPP as an example can create major costs for sheep producers by reducing the number of lambs weaned by 8% and leaving survivors weighing 24% less. For a sheep producer who markets 1,000 lambs a year at $1.50 a pound, the financial hit can total more than $37,000 a year, twice the cost of testing, and that’s the effect of just one of the diseases detectable by the test.
To date, Idaho producers have utilized the Flock54 genetic testing, and have made improvements to their flocks. By identifying the parentage and specific genetic traits of disease, these producers have been able to enhance their breeding flock and cull out the bottom producing and disease susceptible animals.
Idaho Commerce Director Tom Kealey said the IGEM funding will help advance the use of Flock54 genomic selection tool by Idaho’s sheep producers and others nationwide. A Boise State University project also received funding, the IGEM Council announced Nov. 25.
"The commercialization goals of each award represent some of the best research in animal genome science and advanced fluid materials and laser technology at the University of Idaho and Boise State University, respectively,” Kealey added. “The genome research is for much better yield for sheep ranchers and processors but at a lower cost.
Within the first six months of the test becoming available, more than 10,000 samples have been submitted for testing. The collaborators anticipate producers will submit 150,000 test samples within the first three years, generating $2.25 million to $3 million in sales. Within five years, the business projects 500,000 samples will generate $10 million a year, leading RILE Ag to expand its lab and hire additional employees.
Insulin May Help Mosquitoes Fight Viruses
A discovery by a Washington State University-led research team that included U of I scientists has the potential to inhibit the spread of West Nile virus as well as Zika and dengue viruses.
In a study published today in the journal Cell Reports, researchers demonstrated that mammalian insulin activated an antiviral immunity pathway in mosquitoes, increasing the insects’ ability to suppress the viruses.
Mosquito bites are the most common way humans are infected with flaviviruses, a virus family that includes West Nile, dengue and Zika. In humans, both West Nile and dengue can result in severe illness, even death. Zika has been linked to birth defects when pregnant women are infected.
“It's really important that we have some sort of protection against these diseases because currently we don't have any treatments. If we're able to stop the infection at the level of the mosquito, then humans wouldn't get the virus,” said Laura Ahlers, the study’s lead author and a recent doctoral graduate from WSU. Ahlers is now a post-doctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Other authors on the paper included Clement Chow of University of Utah, Shirley Luckhart and Brandi Torrevillas of U of I, WSU doctoral candidate Chasity Trammell and WSU undergraduates Grace Carrell and Sophie Mackinnon.
Working first with fruit flies, which have similar immune responses to mosquitoes, Ahlers and her colleagues identified an insulin-like receptor in the insects that, when activated, inhibits the replication of the West Nile virus in the flies. The researchers then elicited this same response in mosquitoes by feeding them blood containing elevated insulin. Subsequent tests showed activating this receptor was also effective in suppressing dengue and Zika in insect cells.
While it was already known that insulin boosts immune responses in mosquitoes, this is the first time insulin’s connection to a particular immune response pathway, called JAK/STAT, has been identified. It is a significant step toward the long-term goal of creating an intervention, said Alan Goodman, WSU assistant professor and the corresponding author on the paper.
“If we can activate this arm of immunity through the insulin receptor in the mosquito, we can reduce the overall viral load in the mosquito population,” Goodman said. “If the mosquitoes are carrying less virus when they bite you, they will transmit less of the virus, and there’s a better chance you won’t acquire the disease.”
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, a Poncin Fellowship, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and private donations to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine through the Stanley L. Adler Research Endowment Fund and Mary V. Schindler Equine Research Endowment.
Faces and Places
The University of Idaho Rinker Rock Creek Ranch welcomed two new members of its management team for the 10,400-acre ranch near Hailey. Joining the team are Tracey Johnson, a U of I College of Natural Resources fish and wildlife sciences professor, and Cameron Packer, who has served as the Wood River Land Trust stewardship coordinator for the ranch. They join U of I professor of animal science John B. Hall, who serves as cattle management lead for the ranch.
- Dec. 9-13 — Food for Finals, Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory Interaction Court
- Dec. 10-12 — III Innovations in Invasive Species Management Conference, The Coeur d'Alene Resort
- Dec. 14 — Winter Commencement, ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center, Moscow. 12:30 p.m.
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