Portland State biology professor talks about how Antarctic fish respond to temperature stress and why it matters

Antarctica is a continent of extremes, and for species that dwell there, it presents a simple problem: Adapt to the harshness, or die out.

And over millennia, species have evolved to cope with low temperatures and other extreme conditions around the southernmost continent.  However, now, in the face of warming waters brought on by climate change, species are confronted with new hurdles.

Studying some of those Antarctic species is Portland State University biologist Brad Buckley. He spoke recently (Nov. 7, 2016) at his alma mater, Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Buckley’s seminar, “Life in the Freezer: Cellular Responses to Temperature Stress in Antarctic Fishes,” covered his work with goby and rockfish species, as well as some of Antarctica’s natural history.

As our climate continues to warm and change, biotechnologies may provide tools needed to help deal with its impacts and continue to feed Earth's human population. | Freeimages.com

Antarctic fish are truly adapted to extreme cold. Small amounts of heating above freezing can induce cellular stress. Higher temperatures can be lethal. | Freeimages.com

The following are various noteworthy points from Buckley’s presentation:

  1. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the largest ocean current on Earth. It became established around 22 to 25 million years ago, well after the continent of Antarctica drifted to the South Pole. The current now acts as a barrier to the influx of new species. Winter sea ice’s formation can double the size of the continent, and the seasonality of the ice helps structure the ecosystem there.
  2. Life has been associated with Antarctica for around 400 million years (minimum), from the period when it was more temperate. Of some 28,000 to 30,000 extant species found around Antarctica, only about 320 (possibly just the animal species) are found south of the Antarctic polar front. These are truly cold-adapted species and not just cold-tolerant ones; for them, 6º to 8º C is too hot. You find few animal types around Antartica but many variations on these forms, e.g. lots of rockfish. (These guys don’t move very far over the course of their lifetimes, and what little swimming they do is by sculling.)
  3. As far as Antarctic food chains go, krill attract fish, which in turn attract seals, penguins and whales.
  4. Of the fish, Buckley became interested not just in lethal levels of stress but also responses to stress that affect growth and can shut it down.
  5. Why should scientists be interested in studying temperature stress? Because animals living today will have to deal a changing climate. For example, rockfish live about 30 years, and some born or young today will see and have to cope with years of warming waters in their lifetimes.
  6. What happens with temperature stress from too much heating? From biology, we know cellular membranes can melt, proteins can deform, reactive oxygen species can form, and DNA can become damaged.
  7. In response to the threat of temperature stress, cells have evolved a number of mechanisms to cope with heat — up to a point. Called the heat-shock response, a cell under stress from rising temperatures will increase its output of certain proteins that chaperone other proteins in the cell that have become deformed/damaged. These chaperones (called heat-shock proteins, or hsps) can help stabilize, reform/reshape/refold or degrade damaged proteins. Doing so prevents the damaged proteins from becoming a sticky mess that would clog up the cell and hinder all the things it must do to stay alive.
  8. Antarctic fish make hsps constantly, and you find them in various tissues, but the fish don’t have classic heat-shock responses. So Buckley was interested in heat stress experiments, but not using lethal levels of temperature stress. Instead, he looked at smaller increases in temperatures, along the lines of what the fish will experience under climate change — temperatures of 0º, 2º and 4º C (32º, 35.6º and 39.2º F). (Southern Ocean water temperatures can range from -2º to 10º C, or 28.4º to 50º F.) During field seasons, fish were caught, sacrificed, organs harvested and tissues tested for hsps.
  9. An accidental experiment occurred during this field work regarding the impact of temperature stress on reproduction. Female fish were regularly separated from males in tanks to control any spawning during testing. Females in one tank were mistakenly exposed to warming water. The fish behaved normally until 2º C, when all the females released their eggs. More research is needed to understand whether 2º C is a significant threshold and, if yes, why. (In a question-and-answer session after the talk, an audience member suggested that for a long-lived fish, like rockfish, with a 30-year life expectancy, spawning at a certain level of heat stress may be a survival tactic of jettisoning eggs that are costly metabolically to maintain. Doing so may help the adult live to spawn another day. And that’s in contrast to other strategies in which organisms that are dying make one last attempt at reproduction before the end, e.g. as in some plants and other organisms that produce large numbers of offspring with little parental care.)
  10. In cellular stress responses to heating, you can see several coping strategies occur, including the protection of cellular proteins (as in the classic heat-shock response and hsps). In addition, there can be increased metabolic output from cells, temporary arrest of the cell cycle and apoptosis (or induced or programmed cell death). The response to the stress can vary in two phases, whether acute (lasting hours to days) or chronic (days to months).
  11. While warm-water fish would undergo classic heat-shock response, Antarctic fish may have adapted to cope with heat by using cellular stress responses that involve cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. That’s what Buckley hypothesized in his work.
  12. Buckley and colleagues looked at the genes expressed during heat stress in emerald rockcod (Trematomus bernacchii) and found 210 genes expressed differently than in a warm-water goby. Ninety-four genes associated with cellular homeostasis were upregulated (their output increased) during the recovery phase from stress; this represented a signal for genes involved in DNA repair and apoptosis to be active.
  13. In testing his hypothesis, Buckley’s team used -2º C as a control temperature for the water that T. bernacchii specimens were in, and treatments were small incremental steps up from there (recall the 0º to 4º C of climate change above). After 24 hours in 2º C water, a statistically significant rise in apoptosis in T. bernacchii was observed. This is the lowest upper level of heat-stress-induced apoptosis recorded in any species, Buckley said.
  14. The 2º C level is also noteworthy because of the accident that occurred earlier with female fish, which were also rockfish. It indicates some kind of temperature threshold may exist for these Antarctic fish.
  15. Eventually, Buckley and team zeroed in on a regulatory protein  (and the gene that codes for it) that appears to be important in the fish’s the stress response: C/EBP-δ (or CCAAT/enhander binding protein delta). This protein acts as a brake on the cell cycle (inducing cell cycle arrest, which was part of Buckley’s hypothesis) and was found to be strongly expressed in the fish’s white muscle. During times of stress, the presence of C/EBP-δ was turned up, and during the recovery phase after stress ended, production of the protein dropped.
  16. C/EBP-δ also may be important in mammalian cancers. Cancer generally is the product of unchecked cellular growth and profileration that occurs when the normal mechanisms that keep cells from freely multiplying are turned down or off. Therefore, understanding how C/EBP-δ works in Antarctic fishes’ responses to stress could provide insights into how it could be used to put a brake on cancer cell cycles.
  17. And this leads to a question often asked about basic research: Why study this? Why study Antarctic fish? Because it can lead to an understanding of something that can benefit people. In this case, the gene for C/EBP-δ also is turned down in breast tumors, so seeing how it works in Antarctic fish could generate new ideas for cancer treatments, such as using heating or cooling therapies that trigger the gene to be turned back up in breast tumors.
  18. Buckley said he’d like to get someone from Oregon Health and Science University interested in pursuing research about such potential therapies.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
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What’s that weird noise? Oregonians for Science and Reason event debunks odd and eerie recordings

Hmm. What’s that sound? A ghost speaking? A broadcast from outer space?

Doubtful.

For every weird audio recording, there’s often a backstory and science-based evidence to debunk any claims of a paranormal or supernatural origin.

Wait. What's that sound? Is it a ghost speaking? Probably not. Learn more about why at an upcoming Portland State University talk. Freeimages.com

Wait. What’s that sound? Is it a ghost speaking? Probably not. Learn more about why at an upcoming Portland State University talk. Freeimages.com

To hear some of these recordings and learn how they can be critically and scientifically analyzed, join Oregonians for Science and Reason Nov. 21 at Portland State University.

Speaker Brian Dunning — a science writer, member of the National Association of Science Writers and host of the Skeptoid podcast — will play recordings and share the details behind each one.

The event is free and starts at 7 p.m. in PSU’s Cramer Hall, Room 271.

For more information, contact O4SR.

Susannah L. Bodman
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Technology and training grant deadline may have archaeologists, preservationists dashing to the finish line

Ah, the rush of a grant application deadline: The adrenaline. The anxiety. The sweet, sweet relief when it’s over.

If you’re an archaeologist or historic preservationist in the Portland area, you might still be in the thick of it if you’re applying for the National Park Service’s 2017 Preservation Technology and Training Grants.

In case you didn’t already know or needed a reminder: Deadline for those grants is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Nov. 3.

Yeah, grant application deadlines can feel like that. Freeimages.com

Yeah, grant application deadlines can feel like that. Freeimages.com

And in case you’re not an archaeologist or preservationist in the midst of the grant deadline rush, these grants aim to help researchers develop better tools, materials and techniques for conserving buildings, historic landscapes, historic and prehistoric archaeological sites, artifact collections, and other cultural resources. The grants are administered by the innovation center for the preservation community: the park service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

For 2017, the center has allocated $300,000 for the technology and training grant program, pending availability of funding (ahem, Congress, you better fund it).

Here's a hint as to why I love the topic of zooarchaeology. These are the bones of a single deer from an archaeology site that I analyzed as part of my master's thesis, which dealt with zooarchaeology topics. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

These are the bones of a single deer from an archaeology site on the Oregon Coast associated with the Coquille Indian Tribe. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Grants from the program typically go to applicants from federal agencies, states, tribes, local governments, universities and nonprofit organizations (e.g. museums, professional societies and research labs) and can fund projects in the following areas:

  • Innovative research that develops or adapts technologies to preserve cultural resources. Typically, grants in this category range from $25,000 to $40,000.
  • Workshops or symposia that address national preservation needs. Grant range: $15,000 to $25,000.
  • Educational videos, mobile apps, podcasts, webinars and publications that share information about preservation methods and tools. Grant range: $5,000 to $15,000.

Projects within those areas can fall under several disciplines: archaeology, architecture, collections management, engineering, historic landscapes and materials conservation.

This year, the center is particularly hoping to see proposals for funding in which science and technology are applied to historic preservation that touches on climate change impacts, disaster planning and response, modeling and managing big data, innovative techniques for documentation, and protective coatings and treatments for artifacts and other cultural resources.

A guide is dressed in period costume, ready to answer visitor questions, at Albany's Monteith House Museum. The 1849 pioneer home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of Oregon's cultural and historical heritage. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

A guide is dressed in period costume, ready to answer visitor questions, at Albany’s Monteith House Museum. The 1849 pioneer home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of Oregon’s cultural and historical heritage. Similar historic homes and museum abound in the Portland-Vancouver area. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

The Portland-Vancouver area — with its long record of tribal occupation beginning in prehistory, Hudson’s Bay Co./Fort Vancouver presence since the 18th century, and other historical elements — is loaded with cultural resources worth preserving. It’s also home to a number of local  companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, museums, and other entities concerned with archaeology and historic preservation. Some of these groups may be pursuing these grants.

And for those that are, remember that applications must be submitted using Grants.gov, under Funding Opportunity No. P16AS00579, Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number 15.923 or 2017 Preservation Technology and Training Grants.

Applicants who receive grant funding will be able to begin their proposed work no sooner than July 2017.

And don’t fret if you’re a prospective applicant who’s going to miss out on this year’s opportunity: Check with the center and NPS about grants for 2018 and beyond.

Susannah L. Bodman
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Women in Science-Portland hosts annual networking event at OMSI

Women and allies who love science, it’s time to mix it up.

Women in Science’s Portland chapter will hold its annual social and networking mixer Nov. 2 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Representatives of Yellow Scope, a Portland-based maker of science kits, chat with attendees of the Nov. 11, 2015, Women in Science mixer at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Kit components are displayed on the table. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Representatives of Yellow Scope, a Portland-based maker of science kits, chat with attendees of the Nov. 11, 2015, Women in Science mixer at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The WIS Portland chapter is holding its 2016 mixer on Nov. 2. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

The event will run from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in OMSI’s Turbine Hall, and cost will be $10 for general attendees and $5 for students and post-docs. Additional processing fees apply. Appetizers will be catered by Bon Apetit, and drinks will be available for purchase.

The evening will feature networking games and prize drawings. Additionally, exhibits in Turbine Hall will be open for exploration. The event aims to help women network and find mentoring in the sciences — part of the WIS mission.

For registration, see the event page on EventBrite. No deadline was specified for online registrations, only that registration be done in advance of the event. If registration cost is a concern, email Trish Pruis, of WIS-Portland, pruist@ohsu.edu, as the organization doesn’t want price to discourage anyone from attending.

For more information, go to WIS-Portland’s website.

Susannah L. Bodman
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Take a lunch break and fill up on science at Portland State seminar

The relationship between plants and fungi and the crazy life of killifish are on the menu for the Nov. 1 Better Know a Lab seminar at Portland State University.

The Better Know a Lab seminar series features graduate students from PSU’s biology, chemistry and physics department, plus the occasional invited speaker.

Portland State University is a lovely campus to visit not only for the tree-lined Park Blocks that cut through it but also for the many science talks and seminars that are on offer. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Hungry for some science? Head over to the Portland State University campus for the lunchtime Better Know a Lab seminar series. Susannah L. Bodman | Science In Portland

Presenting this time will be Brett Younginger, from the Ballhorn Lab, and Claire Riggs, from the Podrabsky Lab. Both labs are in PSU’s biology department. Younginger will tell plant-fungi tales, while Riggs will share stories of Brazil and killifish — both aiming to entertain, inspire and educate seminar attendees.

The event will begin at noon in Room 107 of Science Building 1, per the organizers, and is open to students, faculty and the public. The series are brown-bag-style lunchtime affairs, but some free food also will be available.

For more information, contact Biological Investigation and Outreach, the graduate student organization for PSU’s biology department, via its webpage, where you can find a link to a contact form.

Susannah L. Bodman
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Science communication conference, anyone? One is coming to OMSI in January

For scientists, science students and science supporters, a critical skill to develop is the ability to talk to laypeople about scientific discoveries, research and the general workings of science.

It’s no easy task to translate the complex topics of science in ways that educate, entertain and engage a general audience, but acquiring that skill can help in terms of doing science outreach (often a requirement these days of grant funding), promoting science literacy and even generating interest that can create support for research work.

What to communicate science like Carl Sagan? Start with some training, like at the upcoming Science Talk NW. Credit: Head Like An Orange/Giphy

If you’re interested in developing or honing your science communication skills, check out Science Talk NW, a science communication conference coming up Jan. 26 and 27, 2017.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which puts on a regular fellowship program and other training in science communication, is presenting the conference, which aims to unite active scientists, science communicators, journalists, students and trainees in learning how to talk science to nonscientists and scientists outside of your discipline.

The conference will include presentations, workshops, expert panels, and a science communication contest for students and post-docs.

Keynote speakers will be Jorge Cham of PhD Comics and Nancy Baron of COMPASS Online.

For registration, go to the conference website. For more information, email Allison Coffin with Washington State University or info@sciencetalknw.org.

WSU-Vancouver and the University of Oregon Science Literacy program are sponsors.

Susannah L. Bodman
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Turtle conservation work nets Oregon Zoo a national award

The Oregon Zoo in Portland has earned a national conservation award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its work on western pond turtle recovery.

The zoo has been partnering with Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo to boost populations of the western pond turtle in the Northwest. Native to Oregon and Washington, this turtle is considered a sensitive/critical species under Oregon’s Conservation Strategy because of declining numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the species should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act, and Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife also is considering its status.

An endangered western pond turtle is released at a site in the Columbia River Gorge in 2016. Kathy Street | Courtesy of Oregon Zoo

An endangered western pond turtle is released at a site in the Columbia River Gorge in 2016. Kathy Street | Courtesy of Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo was recognized by the zoo association with a North American Conservation Award for its efforts on regional habitat preservation, species restoration and supporting biodiversity.

Although a native Northwest species, by 1990 western pond turtle populations remained at only two sites in Washington. Numbers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley as of 2015 had dropped to a point that’s 1 percent of historic levels, and a recent two-year survey in Clackamas County found no sign of native western pond turtles in the county.

Since the 1990s, conservation efforts have expanded the number of Washington populations to six. These include two sites established in Puget Sound and four in the Columbia River Gorge. More than 1,800 turtles were released at those sites, with an estimated 95 percent survival rate at one year for those released.

This year’s award is one of seven honors Oregon Zoo has received from the zoo association in the past five years. The zoo previously received annual awards from the association as follows: four for conservation work on Northwest species, one for environmental efforts involving the zoo’s daily operations and two for marketing excellence.

In addition to Woodland Park, Oregon Zoo is collaborating with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Forest Service and other partners on the turtle recovery project.

For more information on western pond turtles and the project, go to Oregon Zoo’s turtle page. AZA also offers general information about the species on its website.

AZA is the accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in the United States and seven other countries and is dedicated to the advancement of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. Oregon Zoo first earned its AZA accreditation in 1974. AZA  currently accredits fewer than 200 zoos nationwide.

Oregon Zoo’s conservation award win was announced in September at AZA’s annual conference, held in San Diego.

Susannah L. Bodman
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