WSU Research Highlights

May 2021

Improving energy production at small wastewater treatment plants

A professor with the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University Tri-Cities is developing a way to drastically improve energy production at small waste water treatment plants. The research has the potential to be scaled globally.

Birgitte Ahring, professor of biological systems engineering and chemical engineering, received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the project. She is partnering locally with the Walla Walla Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Clean-Vantage, LLC.

Sewage sludge is a remnant semi-solid material produced at sewage treatment plants. Ahring said while a portion of sludge is converted into biogas, at a mixture of 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide at the majority of wastewater treatment facilities in the U.S., there still remains a significant portion of the waste to be disposed

Award will help study and fight soil compaction

While soil compaction happens below the surface, it has many above-ground impacts on crops. Compacted soil doesn’t absorb water very well, makes it hard for plants to send out roots, inhibits plant nutrient absorption and can reduce crop yield by up to 20%.

Now with a three-year $450,000 New Innovator Award from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), Washington State University researcher Haly Neely will lead a team to study soil compaction on farms in Washington and beyond. Neely discusses the award on WSU’s Wheat Beat podcast.

Stopping the sickness: Protein may be key to blocking a nauseating bacterium

Washington State University researchers have discovered a protein that could be key to blocking the most common bacterial cause of human food poisoning in the United States.

Chances are, if you’ve eaten undercooked poultry or cross contaminated food by washing raw chicken, you may be familiar with the food-borne pathogen.

“Many people that get sick think, ‘oh, that’s probably Salmonella,’ but it is even more likely it’s Campylobacter,” said Nick Negretti (’20 Ph.D.), a lead member of the research team in Michael Konkel’s Laboratory in WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences.

WSU researchers look to quantify dairy cow health and wellbeing

Washington State University researchers are using a human medical technique to measure the impact of common diseases affecting dairy cow production and animal wellbeing.

A research team led by Craig McConnel, a veterinary medicine extension associate professor, will apply the concept of a disability-adjusted life year (DALY) summary measure of health to veterinary medicine. The DALY was developed in the 1990s for use in human medical epidemiology to measure overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability, or early death. It is a metric used by the World Health Organization to assess the global burden of disease.

The use of the DALY has allowed epidemiologists to gauge how various diseases and injuries affect human quality of life quality, and the concept will now provide dairy producers and their veterinarians a novel approach to understanding the effectiveness and consequences of their health management decisions.

Grant aims to improve nutrition in quinoa

Washington State University received a grant allowing researchers to study the nutritional value of quinoa at every level, from the soil through nutrient benefits to people.

Scientists from WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil SciencesSchool of Food Science, and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine will work on the project, called Enhancing Human Health and Nutrition from Soil to Society, thanks to a $1 million Seeding Solutions grant provided by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR). Lundberg Family Farms and WSU provided matching funds and Ardent MillsBrabender CWB and Seattle Food Tech/Rebellyous Foods provided additional support for a total $2,044,872 research investment.