Montana State University (MSU) researchers have been busy in the discovery department lately.
Three scientific papers out of the university that were published recently range from the effects of Peru’s ocean temperatures on Montana weather, to a shortage of oxygen in the lungs, to dinosaurs at the South Pole.
Professor emeritus Joseph Caprio, a former state climatologist, analyzed a century of data to find that extreme Montana weather is linked to the average surface temperature of the ocean near Peru from November through March. His paper was published in the peer reviewed Intermountain Journal of Sciences.
Average warmer temperatures there will create El Nino conditions, warm and dry, in Montana the following December through June. Average cooler surface ocean temperatures in Peru will lead to a cool, wet spring in Montana, such as this year’s La Nina conditions.
Peruvian fishermen have good catches under La Nina years and poor catches in El Nino seasons, making their luck a harbinger of weather in Montana. For hundreds of years, Peruvian fishermen have known that ocean temperatures affect their livelihood, Caprio said.
“An increase or decrease of extreme daily weather occurrences can impact natural resources and a wide range of human activities including agriculture, forestry, recreation, construction and other businesses,” Caprio noted.
He compared MSU temperatures and precipitation between Dec. 3 and June 23 to average sea-surface temperatures between November and March. The study period included 50 normal years, 25 El Nino years and 25 La Nina years.
To analyze the data, Caprio used a statistical method he developed years ago called the “iterative chi-square method.” It’s different from most other techniques for studying climate impacts in using daily temperatures and precipitation.
Co-authors on Caprio’s latest study were Perry Miller and Jon Wraith, both in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. Wraith is now with the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture in Durham, N.H.
The lungs study, led by MSU scientists, concerned a mold that can cause fatal illness. Yet when the mold, Aspergillus fumigates, grows in the lungs it causes an inflammatory response that causes a shortage of oxygen for it to continue growing.
“We think this is a really big stress on the pathogen,” said Nora Grahl, an MSU doctoral candidate.
Grahl was lead author on the paper, published in the peer-reviewed PLoS Pathogens. It is the first to show a strong link between hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the lungs, and fungal infections.
The research, conducted in Dr. Robert Cramer’s laboratory at the school’s Department of Immunology and infectious Diseases, showed that mold in the lungs of mice may adapt to hypoxia by fermenting, which generates energy. But the fermentation appears to influence the host’s immune response.
The mold, generally found in hay, soils and compost piles, can cause various lung infections when inhaled by humans, the most lethal of which is invasive aspergillosis. It kills 30 to 90 percent of its victims, especially those who have had organ transplants, or have other conditions that weaken their immune systems.
Grahl won an Outstanding Young Investigator Award for this work during a recent Federation of the Societies of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (FEBS) Conference on Human Fungal Pathogens in France.
The paper was coauthored by Cramer and Srisombat Puttikamonkul at MSU; and scientists in North Carolina and Seattle.
The main discovery concerning dinosaurs that lived near the South Pole is they had bone tissue similar to that of other dinosaur species on the planet.
“This tells us something very interesting,” said Holly Woodward, an MSU graduate student and co-author of the dinosaur paper. “Basically from the very start, early dinosaurs, or even the ancestors of dinosaurs, evolved a physiology that allowed an entire group of animals to successfully exploit a multitude of environmental conditions for millions of years.”
The discovery contradicts a hypothesis that polar dinosaurs would be different physiologically from other such creatures, because of the extreme weather conditions.
The authors of a 13-year-old study from which that hypothesis arose also participated in the new work: Anusuya Chinsamy of South Africa, and Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich in Australia. The paper was published Aug. 3 in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.
The results may help to explain why dinosaurs were able to dominate the planet for 160 million years, said Woodward, who studies in MSU’s Department of Earth Sciences.
Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, she traveled to Australia’s Melbourne Museum to analyze the bones of 17 dog-sized dinosaurs that lived roughly 100 million years ago.
The analysis revealed “lines of arrested growth” in the bones, which form when growth briefly stops, similar to that of tree rings. This falsified the earlier hypothesis that some polar dinosaurs may have hibernated, which would be indicated by an absence of arrested growth lines.
Such lines are typical of contemporary animals, regardless of latitude or climate, Woodward said. “These marks have also been found in dinosaurs that lived at much lower latitudes, having no need to hibernate.”
The new study doesn’t mean there was nothing unique about polar dinosaurs, but those qualities aren’t apparent in bone tissue, Woodward added.