Centers Take on Research at U-I

This year, University of Idaho established guidelines in order to oversee creation, operation, and review of centers on campus. 2 centers, 1 established this year, and 1 20 years ago, were both awarded entity status and continue to show the importance of interdisciplinary centers to university research.

 

Rangeland covers half of Idaho, half of the West, and half of the world.  Facing the challenges of caring for Idaho rangelands means partnering with people where they live and work, as nearly all Idahoans live on or near rangeland.

 

The problems rangelands have are interconnected, so the notion of having an interdisciplinary center at University of Idaho to solve the issues makes sense.  Karen Launchbaugh, the director of the new Center for Rangelands, says, “People who are living and working in rangelands don’t just have one problem.  They have invasive species and water and endangered species and economic challenges and on and on.”

 

Professionals specializing in rangeland did collaborate before the center was formed, but the partnerships weren’t formally recognized.  Launchbaugh says, “We’ve always had relationships but not a team approach.”  This center, the first of its kind, reflects the mission of a land grant university through its approach to outreach, research, and teaching, connecting with land owners, conservation organizations, and government agencies.  Launchbaugh says, “We should be the one place to go for good science, good information about rangelands.”

 

A solitary scientist working long hours isolated in a lab is an outdated model of science.  Today, there is too much information and too much of a need for different ways of analyzing that data for a scientist to work alone.  IBEST, the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies, combines the science of evolutionary processes with the computer science and mathematics needed to store and analyze that very data.

Larry Forney, the director of IBEST, says of his faculty and grad students, “they have a common interest in population genetics, ecology, basic evolutionary processes, and that common interest is what glues them together even though go off and study various systems ranging from insects to plants to bats, while others study human biology.”  Faculty and grad students from the different disciplines work together on projects, grants, and papers, studying animal populations, infectious diseases, or even the evolution of viruses.  A current project involves studies on possible association between dietary selenium and the behavior of fish, including how selenium deficiencies might affect human mental health.  Other research includes emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance, the biogeography of chipmunks, and looking at how certain viruses infect and spread within a host.  Forney says, “The students we have in the laboratories of IBEST investigators are really working at the boundaries.”

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