Proof Points: College of Agricultural Sciences

Farmers' MarketResearch from the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences (CAS), ranked No. 1 in the United States, plays a substantial, leading role in making healthy, abundant food available in Oregon and beyond.

  • OSU's vegetable breeding program has provided generations of Oregonians with the best possible vegetables. Vegetable breeding has been a part of OSU’s Agricultural Experiment Stations for generations and is responsible for 90 percent of the commercial green bean varieties and 75 percent of the commercial potato varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest. College of Agricultural Sciences (CAS) breeders have developed healthier tomatoes with added phytonutrients and several hardy varieties for the booming organic fruit market.
  • The OSU Seafood Laboratory worked with Oregon seafood companies in the 1990s to create a shore-based surimi industry to produce and market quality Pacific whiting as surimi. Today, the Pacific whiting industry is one of Oregon’s largest fisheries, contributing some $20 million annually to the Oregon economy. The Seafood Lab conducts annual surimi schools in Oregon, Asia and Europe, showing industry representatives from around the world how to use this Oregon product to make better surimi products.
  • The Willamette Valley produces 98 percent of the nation’s hazelnuts, an industry that has been protected and strengthened by CAS research. In the 1970s, a fungal disease was killing trees and contaminating orchards, threatening hazelnut production around the state. Twenty years of CAS research and Extension work has developed disease-resistant varieties and helped to save the industry, today worth more than $65 million annually.
  • At the top of OSU’s historic contributions to Oregon’s wheat industry is the work of Warren Kronstad, who for 40 years bred the varieties that dominated Oregon production, including high-yield Stephens. Today, Jim Peterson continues that legacy through OSU-bred varieties grown on hundreds of thousands of acres in the Pacific Northwest.

Critical discoveries made by CAS faculty researchers are now contributing to improved human health.

  • James Carrington, a plant biologist and director of OSU’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, has uncovered the role of little-known and underappreciated genetic material in the war against invading viruses – small RNA. Using a type of mustard plant, he discovered how viruses move through host plants, how plants respond to viruses, and how viruses counter-respond to the plant's defenses. Carrington’s innovations have been licensed to industry, and for his contributions to this to this important area of genetic research, he was elected in 2008 to the National Academy of Science.
  • Scientists at OSU studying the relationship between diet and cancer were among the first to isolate toxins responsible for the plague of liver cancer in developing countries. That same research has now led to the discovery of a simple, inexpensive compound that can block the ability of those toxins to cause cancer in thousands of people around the world. Studies of rainbow trout helped CAS researcher George Bailey and colleagues confirm the anti-cancer properties of chlorophyllin, a derivative of one of the most common substances on earth.
  • The source of the various colors of berries, apples and cherries are called fruit pigments, and OSU researchers in Food Science and Technology have revealed pigments’ value as dietary antioxidants. Under the leadership of internationally recognized food scientist Ron Wrolstad, they have isolated and concentrated pigments and compounds that pack the most vitamin value. This was a crucial first step toward identifying and extracting the active health components of berries and other fruits and vegetables. Their research has yielded benefits for both fruit consumers worldwide and Oregon fruit producers.

OSU research has practical and significant applications for sustaining the Oregon and global environments.

  • CAS research has helped Willamette Valley grass-seed growers change the course of their industry by reducing field burning by 90 percent. Researchers from OSU and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture developed new varieties that do not require burning and new methods to use straw residue to fertilize fields, which saves $40 to $60 an acre. The grass seed industry continues to grow and is now valued at more than $500 million in Oregon.
  • In a five-year study for the National Park Service, CAS researchers documented contamination in the world’s most remote places. They measured toxic metals and other contaminants in snow, soil, air, water, fish and vegetation in places once thought to be among the most pristine areas on the planet. And they found that some of these contaminants have a very long commute, crossing the Pacific Ocean on atmospheric currents from as far away as Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • Whale researcher Bruce Mate and colleagues at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute have pioneered the use of satellites to track tagged whales. More than two decades of research has yielded new information about the animals’ migration and behavior as they move between feeding and calving areas. The work shows how whales migrate in close proximity to human activities and how their feeding areas have changed in recent years in response to warming in the Bering Sea. Mate’s work was featured in the 2009 film, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which logged the highest ratings ever for any National Geographic Channel nature documentary.
  • OSU fish pathologists have been at the forefront of fish disease research for over 30 years. Faculty at OSU trained many of the nation's professional fish pathologists and fish health researchers, identified causes of several important diseases afflicting fishes in the Pacific Northwest, and developed vaccines and diagnostic tests that are routinely used for cultured and wild stocks of fish. A 2007 ranking published in the Chronicle of Higher Education recognized OSU Fisheries Science and Wildlife Management programs as the top such programs in America.

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