10 Standout OSU Scientific Discoveries of 2022 

Every year, a top research university like Oregon State puts out hundreds of new papers and studies, advancing science and medicine with new techniques, discoveries and breakthroughs. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of that research, but here are ten of the most notable studies by OSU researchers in 2022: 

Potential Skin Cancer Vaccine 

Skin cancer is the most common cancer among Americans, with 1.8 million new cases diagnosed each year. But if research from the OSU College of Pharmacy pans out, a vaccine could strengthen the body’s natural defenses against it. Professor Arup Indra and his team found that a protein called TR1 helps to repair damage caused by UV light. A vaccine similar to the mRNA Covid shots could instruct the body to produce more TR1, adding extra protection and preventing many cancers. 

Packaging from Apple Waste 

Molded pulp is a packing material usually made out of newspapers. But in case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t as many newspapers around these days as there used to be, and among other effects, that has resulted in a shortage. What we do have a lot of, especially here in the Northwest, is apples. OSU Professor Yanyun Zhao and colleagues from the Department of Food Science and Technology have discovered a process to turn the waste from apples—a mix of skin, fruit, seeds and stem called pomace—into a new source of this important plastic, or newspaper, packing alternative. 

Advance in Fighting Surgical Infection 

More than 300,000 people in the United States each year get a post-surgical infection, causing over 13,000 deaths and $10 billion in healthcare costs. Researchers from OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute, along with colleagues from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, have developed a treatment with the potential to drastically reduce those numbers. It involves adding both vitamin D and a compound called VID400 to wound dressings. Together, they work to activate a gene that increases protection against these deadly infections. 

Effects of Tire Pollution 

It is becoming clearer every year that microplastics and nanoplastics are a risk to both human and environmental health. OSU professors Stacey Harper and Susanne Brander, along with their graduate students, have shown that the tiny shreds of plastic expelled by tires have serious effects on both freshwater and coastal ecosystems. With over 1.5 million tons of these fibers entering the environment each year in this country alone, understanding their effects is the first step to effective regulations or other means of limiting that damage. 

Hope for Hawaiian Coral 

In brighter aquatic news, a study led by postdoctoral researcher Rowan McLachlan gives some much-needed hope for coral reef survival in a rapidly changing climate. Working with Hawaiian corals, McLachlan’s team found that though warming and acidifying waters will certainly continue to affect coral reefs, between 46% and 71% of the corals survived these conditions. The study is especially notable because of the duration of the heat and acid stress applied to the corals—almost two years. Most similar studies have used short-term exposures of about a month. 

Bacterial Communication 

The search for new and effective antibiotics is vital as more bacteria become resistant to our current drugs. Work by OSU microbiologist Martin Schuster and doctoral student Parker Smith may help lead to new drugs, by understanding how bacteria communicate with each other. Each bacterial cell signals to others around it using a system called quorum sensing. Schuster and Smith’s work clarifies how a bacteria common in hospital infections, called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, uses quorum sensing, which will hopefully lead to drugs that specifically block this channel.  

A Plan More Wolves and Beavers 

Managing public lands in the American West through the overlapping crises of climate change and biodiversity loss is a massive challenge for the 21st century and beyond. A paper led by OSU distinguished professor William Ripple suggests a bold plan to “rewild” large swaths of this land, encouraging the return of keystone species like beaver and gray wolves. The plan will inevitably be controversial, since it recommends decreasing the land leased to cattle grazing, but the authors point out that only 2% of American beef comes from cows on leased public land, and even this ambitious plan only reduces that use by about a quarter.  

mRNA Therapy for Ovarian Cancer 

In another big mRNA / cancer breakthrough, OSU and Oregon Health and Science University researchers have created a new therapy with promising potential for both ovarian cancer and a muscle-wasting condition called cachexia. Ovarian cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer, which often goes undiagnosed until it has already spread and infected other tissues. Mice receiving the new treatment along with traditional chemotherapy lived longer and experienced less muscle atrophy than either treatment alone.  

World Record Robot Sprinter 

The world record for the 100 meter dash is 9.58 seconds, set by Usain Bolt in 2009. For now, robots aren’t in much danger of threatening that speed, but this year, one designed at OSU ran the dash in 24.73 seconds, a new robot record. The bipedal robot, named Cassie, was designed by robotics professor Jonathan Hurst and built by Agility Robotics, a spinoff company from OSU. Cassie uses machine learning to teach itself to run, and previously made headlines by running a 5k around the university campus. 

Making More Plastics Recyclable 

We produce a lot of plastic, and despite the best effort of millions of Americans sorting and putting out their recycling bins, very little of it is ever recycled. That’s because most plastics are not actually recyclable using current technology. But thanks to research by OSU College of Engineering assistant professor Lucas Ellis and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, that technical hurdle might someday be a thing of the past. Ellis and his colleagues developed a system to break down mixed plastics into simpler, more biodegradable chemicals, not only increasing the kinds of plastics that can be recycled, but removing the need to sort them into different types.   

– By Ian Rose 

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