More high school grads should go to college, advocates say

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — When it comes to education after high school, Michigan is falling behind the nation in sending grads off to college.

In the 2013-14 school year, 65.7 percent of high school grads enrolled in college within six months of their graduation, according to the Department of Education.

Since then, that number has declined each year, with 60.8 percent of high school grads enrolling in college within the six-month timeframe in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, the national average was 69.7 percent in 2015-16, according to the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Higher education experts say the statistics are worrisome, and several programs are working to encourage more high school grads to go to college.

“There’s some policy mechanisms, but then there’s also a broader messaging aspect, a campaign,” said Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Hurley is bringing before his board of directors, which represents the 15 public universities, a proposal for a campaign to promote the value of a college degree to individuals and the state.

Education organizations need to change high school students’ understanding of what they need to get a good job, said Robert Murphy, the association’s director of university relations and policy.

“Part of the challenge with Michigan is that for years and years, the option was to walk out of high school, go down the street to the factory, get a job on the line, retire in 25 years with a place up north and buy a boat,” he said. “That’s not the model that works anymore.”

He said, “Unless you have some sort of post-high school education, it’s much harder than it used to be to get that middle-class lifestyle, to get that place up north of Clare.”

The association partners with other education-related organizations, including the Michigan College Access Network and the Local College Access Network, to promote higher education.

For example, Local College Access Networks “create a culture of college-going,” Murphy said.

“They place advisers in rural and urban low-income schools to help encourage college applications and FAFSA (federal financial aid) application completions particularly.”

The state universities group hired a director of student success initiatives who works with the Michigan College Access Network and provides expertise about college access and affordability, Murphy said.

As part of its effort to improve the public school system, the Department of Education is working to get more high school grads into college.

The department has implemented a plan to made Michigan a top-10 education state in 10 years, according to William DiSessa of its Office of Public and Governmental Affairs.

“Part of that plan calls for focusing on the ‘whole child’ to improve student achievement and for making students college- and career-ready by increasing their pathways to success,” DiSessa said.

Concern rising about reliance on adjunct, non-tenure stream instructors

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Colleges and universities, including those in Michigan, are increasingly relying on non-tenure track faculty and adjunct faculty.

About 65 percent of faculty positions in all colleges and universities were part-time or full-time non-tenure track in 2014, according to the most recent national figures from the Center for the Study of Academic Labor at Colorado State University.

According to the center, the proportion of tenure positions fell between 2005 and 2013. The drop was especially sharp at universities that award doctorates and at colleges that award bachelor’s degrees.

In Michigan public institutions, non-tenure track instructors, whether full-time or part-time, also make up a large percentage of faculty.

At Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Saginaw Valley State universities and the University of Michigan-Flint, more than half of the faculty were adjuncts or not in tenure-track posts in 2014, the Colorado State study found.

The percentage is much higher at some community colleges, according to the study. For example, it said Grand Rapids Community College had 71.2 percent adjuncts and non-tenure track instructors and Montcalm Community College had 75.2 percent in 2014.

Some had no tenure track faculty, including Alpena, Gogebic, Lansing, Mid-Michigan and Kirtland community colleges, North Central Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College, the study said.

Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association, said community colleges often employ instructors who are also working in the field in which they teach, especially in occupational programs.

“Many of them work full-time, such as health care professionals, technicians and welders, but also teach part-time at the college,” said Hansen. “Their ‘real world knowledge’ is a valuable part of their teaching content. They bring the most current content information to the classroom, which greatly benefits students.”

For community colleges, employing adjuncts to meet changing demands of enrollment is an efficient method of staffing. It’s also a way to control course and program demand, he said.

“Community colleges are open-enrollment institutions, and their enrollments tend to fluctuate with the economy,” said Hansen. “As unemployment rates rise, so do enrollments. But as the economy improves and people can find work, the enrollments tend to decline.”

According to Hansen, the fluctuation in course demand and enrollment can lead to job insecurity for most adjuncts. “Part-time faculty are hired to meet demand. As demand for more classes increases, additional faculty are hired,” he said. “As demand is reduced, those part-time faculty are not rehired since fewer classes are needed.”

Meanwhile, the problems adjuncts face continue to grow, including financial security, lack of career advancement opportunities and unfair treatment, a union leader said.

“They are paid much less than the value of their contribution to their universities’ teaching mission and not given the job security, even after years, that their hard work and excellence in teaching warrant,” said Ian Robinson, the president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization. The union represents non-tenure-track instructional faculty on all three campuses of the University of Michigan.

Last-minute course cancellations can be a major problem for adjuncts, and they are treated as “shock absorber,” Robinson said. “They are called in at the last minute if there is more enrollment in a course than expected, or canceled at the last minute if the reverse proves true.”

According to Robinson, a union with significant bargaining power, such as the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, can reduce that kind of last-minute cancellation by “putting a penalty in the agreement for units that cancel too late.”

“That’s not an adequate response to the large issues raised by the rapid growth of adjunct faculty, but it does help significantly with the narrow problem of last-minute cancellations,” he said.

There are other problems, Robinson said.

Some institutions limit adjuncts’ working hours to avoid providing health care. He said that happens particularly in cash-starved universities, where administrations are “looking to cut costs everywhere they can, no matter what the impact on quality.”

The workload for adjuncts and non-tenure stream instructors can be equal to or even higher than that of full-time tenured professors.

According to Robinson, at U-M-Ann Arbor, the normal workload for a full-time adjunct is three courses, and on its Flint and Dearborn campus, four courses per term. “In other places, it could be even higher.”

Also, adjuncts don’t receive “reasonable” pay, and their baseline wage, in real dollar terms, has decreased in past years, said Robinson.

Meanwhile, Robinson said the voice of adjuncts is rarely heard in department meetings and at the administration level. “It’s rare for adjuncts to be treated as fully enfranchised ‘citizens’ of the units in which they teach.”

The increasing reliance on adjuncts may hurt the quality of education, some experts say.

Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said one of the attributes of Michigan’s public universities is quality. The organization represents the state’s 15 public universities.

“I think there is a perception of higher quality when an institution has more full-time faculty,” he said. For that reason, institutions need to “hold the line on the proportion of adjuncts.”

Robinson said a significant share of undergraduates are taught by adjuncts who are brand new and won’t stay long enough to get really good.

“Teaching is a craft,” he said. “More practice means better teachers.”

Though specialization and extra practice tend to generate better teachers, being treated “like commodities rather than professionals” can offset those advantages, he said.

“The quality of their performance hinges in part on being paid fairly and respected in other respects,” he said.

Most state college grads land jobs, continue education

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – About nine out of 10 recent graduates from four state universities have landed jobs, continued their education or made other career or volunteer commitments, according to the earliest available “first destination survey” results.

The rates among those responding to the surveys were highest at 91 percent for Wayne State and Western Michigan universities, followed closely by Northern Michigan (89.6 percent) and Central Michigan (89.4 percent) universities.

The statistics include those securing full-time or part-time employment, continuing their education such as graduate school, an additional degree or a certificate, and other activities like military service or volunteering full time.

However, the data from Northern Michigan and Central Michigan didn’t count those other commitments.

Post-graduate placement rates from the other 11 state universities are scheduled for release in the next few months.

For example, Michigan State University (MSU) will release its class of 2017 survey report at the end of February, said Everett “Rett” Weber, the data scientist for Career Services Network. Grand Valley State University is analyzing its data for release in the spring, said Susan Proctor, the employer development manager of its career center.

The First Destination Survey examines post-graduate placement of students who have received bachelor’s degrees.

The prior year’s reports showed placement rates for 2016 grads were above 95 percent at five universities: Eastern Michigan (97 percent); Ferris State (96 percent); Lake Superior State (96 percent); MSU (95 percent); and University of Michigan – Dearborn (96 percent).

The rates of the other 10 were around 90 percent: Central Michigan (89.5 percent); Grand Valley (93 percent); Northern Michigan (89 percent); Michigan Technological University (94 percent); Oakland (92 percent); Saginaw Valley State (92 percent); University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (93 percent); University of Michigan – Flint (91 percent); Wayne State (91 percent); and Western Michigan (92 percent).

Trends in overall placement rates are increasing in 10 years, according to the reports.

Lauren Leeds at the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information said although her office collects data at the state level, it doesn’t aggregate the survey results.

Each institution conducts its own survey and prepares its own report under the guidelines of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, she said.

Robert Murphy, the director of university relations and policy at the Michigan Association of State Universities, said the employment data for new graduates is useful for universities to understand their students’ performance in the marketplace and to adjust their programs.

At Grand Valley, Proctor said the report helps the university be accountable to its stakeholders by ensuring it fulfills its mission and that graduates are contributing to the economic vitality of the community.

Furthermore, she said that with the help of the data, prospective and current students and their families can make better decisions in selection of colleges, majors and career pathways.

Stephen Patchin, the director of career services at Michigan Tech, said the placement data is used for ranking, academic accreditation and corporate recruitment.

“We use our annual report very heavily in recruiting our students in the college fairs,” Patchin said.

“We distribute 4,000 to 5,000 hard copies to MTU’s departments and gave several thousand hard copies to all students and parents that come to campus tours,” he said.

While the First Destination Survey is important to each university, fewer than half the recent graduates responded to the survey at some institutions.

MSU’s Weber said more universities are using a “knowledge rate” in their reports. That combines survey responses with information from other sources, such as the graduates’ advisers.

Proctor, of Grand Valley, said, “We are looking for strategies to help improve our knowledge and response rates,” including sending calls for responses at least six times to graduates within the first seven months after graduation, marketing through many platforms such as social media, print and personal outreach, and providing monetary prizes.

Jason Nicholas, the director of Institutional Research and Analysis at Northern Michigan, said, his office plans to increase the response rate with new marketing strategies and getting alumni support.

Fishery managers excited by lake trout’s not-so-picky palate

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Scientists may have settled a debate between anglers and fishery managers over the future of the lake trout in the Great Lakes.

With salmon hauls on the decline in recent years as their favorite food dwindles, anglers are anxious to prioritize their protection even over recently resurgent native populations like lake trout.

Salmon reigned as the undisputed king of the Great Lakes fishing industry for decades after they were introduced in the 1950s to curb the invasive alewife. It was around that time that the highly lucrative lake trout fishery took a dive as populations crashed.

Alewife populations, the salmon’s key food source, have dwindled in recent years. Now anglers are afraid that the lake trout’s comeback could hasten the salmon’s disappearance and compete for the few alewife that are left, said Jory Jonas, a fisheries research biology specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.

But that’s not necessarily true. Jonas is the co-author of a new study showing that lake trout eat whatever’s available, meaning they don’t always directly compete for food with species like the Chinook salmon.

Both species mainly consumed alewife for years, Jonas said. That’s still true of most of the lake trout in Lake Michigan, where alewife populations are more stable.

Athough they’ve lost a main source of food, the lake trout’s flexible diet may make them beneficiaries after all.

“Nothing is ever truly good or bad,” she said. “It’s always a mix.”

Alewife consumption was probably harming lake trout eggs, said Austin Happel, who co-authored the diet study as a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. He’s now an instructor at Colorado State University.

Lake trout reproduction in the Great Lakes has been handcuffed for years due to chronically low levels of thiamine, a fat-binding agent key to a healthy egg membrane, according to the study.

Fish have to consume a healthy ratio of fat and thiamine to lay viable eggs–alewife are fatty and often low in thiamine, Happel said.

The goal for lake trout is self-sufficiency, he said. That’s not the reality these days because lake trout must be stocked for populations to survive.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission seeks to protect native species like lake trout, said Marc Gaden, the commission’s communications director. But the agency is also pleased with each state’s efforts to save the salmon by growing the remaining alewife population.

“They have to take on this elephant in the room, which is that there’s not much food for the salmon to eat,” Gaden said.

Fishery managers face a balancing act. They need to support the alewife enough to meet the demand for salmon, while rooting against it–and in favor of other prey species–in the interests of the native lake trout.

The diets of lake trout differ drastically between lakes Michigan and Huron, and even between the east and west coasts of Lake Michigan.  

That kindles some hope for that balance managers need to protect both the salmon and lake trout, Jonas said.

The variation is consistent with availability – alewife in northern Lake Michigan still make up a large portion of lake trout diet, while the Lake Huron fish consume the more-abundant rainbow smelt. A booming population of round goby, another invasive, is now an important food source for lake trout in western Lake Michigan.

But Happel said the alewife’s downturn won’t necessarily solve lake trout reproduction troubles. Thiamine deficiency has been found in other Great Lakes fish that don’t eat alewife–meaning the alewife might not be the crux of that problem.

“At some point we wanted to point fingers,” he said. “We wanted to find a culprit.”

Scientists have turned the log over only to find a larger problem–the entire food web in the Great Lakes is full of fat withoutt much thiamine to offset it, Happel said.

Alewife are a large part of the problem, but Jonas said prey like rainbow smelt are also low in thiamine to a lesser extent. The good news: round goby don’t share that problem. Researchers could start seeing higher natural reproduction among lake trout in goby-rich territory like Lake Mchigan’s western shore.

Happel said the study is encouraging. If lake trout can diversify their diet–and with it, their vitamin intake–the odds look much better for reproduction.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

New study highlights impact of immigrants in Michigan

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING Amidst contentious congressional debate about immigration policy, including the future of the Dreamers program, a new report sheds light on one important aspect of the controversy surrounding immigration –  its impact on the U.S. economy.

There is no question that changing the immigration system is a priority of the administration.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address reaffirmed his intentions to tighten the borders, reduce the number of refugees coming into the country and change the system that determines who can legally immigrate.

In its new report, WalletHub, a Washington-based finance website, analyzed all 50 states for immigrantsoverall economic impact, workforce, socio-economic contributions, brain gain and innovation.

Michigan ranked 14th overall in the national ranking, while New York took first place.

The report addressed the question of how more than 40 million immigrants living in the U.S. impact the economy.

Michigan has a growing immigrant community, with nearly 7 percent of the states residents having been born outside of the United States, according to the American Immigration Council, with the largest number living in the eastern and southern areas of the state.

The council is a pro-immigration advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The state ranked high in the WalletHub report in brain gain and innovation — 6th in the nation — an assessment that supports an American Immigration Council conclusion that immigrants “make up a vital, educated share of Michigan’s labor force.

“Nearly 40 percent of immigrants in the state possess a college or higher degree, and more than four in five report speaking English well,” the council says on its website.

In addition to contributing to innovation, immigrants in the state  have been an important part of promoting agriculture, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

The center which operates as an advocacy program and provides legal resources, has offices in Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

Our clients contribute to the economy in various ways, she said. In urban communities, they spur entrepreneurial energy. Migrants farmers contribute to agriculture. They work on West Michigan farms mostly, where they help produce fruits and vegetable.”

New York-based New American Economy said immigrants make up  35 percent of workers in agriculture and 11.6 percent in manufacturing in West Michigan’s Mason, Oceana, Ottawa, Lake, Muskegon,and Newaygo counties and part of Kent County. The organization represents mayors and business leaders who “support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today.”

In that area of West Michigan, the group said 842 immigrants are entrepreneurs who contribute to the economy as consumers and taxpayers, paying a total of $72.2 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

Karen Phillippi, the deputy director of the Michigan Office of New Americans, said her agency “strongly believes in the positive impact that immigrants and refugees have and will continue to have, on the state.”

The office established by Gov. Rick Snyder “strives to make Michigan a more welcoming state for new Americans from all of over the world who are making Michigan their home, and appreciates the significant economic and cultural contributions they make to our state,” Phillippi said.

The Dreamer program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals –under review in Washington has 12,418 eligible participants in Michigan and 92.5 percent of them are employed, according to the New American Economy.

The Center for American Progress, a national liberal-leaning policy institute estimates that

removing them would have a $389.4 million negative impact on Michigan annually.

Do Great Lakes fungi hold the key to a cancer cure?

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A cure to childhood cancer may be hidden in fungus discovered at the bottom of the Great Lakes and nurtured on Cheerios.

While the breakfast cereal came from Walmart, the fungi were found in the Michigan’s submerged backyard: the bottom of the Great Lakes — which until recently have been hardly touched in the world of fungal research.

“I was shocked when I started doing the background research looking through the Great Lakes, and just thinking ‘holy crap, there’s basically nothing known about this,’” said Robert Cichewicz, a natural products professor at the University of Oklahoma. “That was just mind-boggling. One of the biggest freshwater sources on Earth and no one knew what its fungal component was.

“A whole kingdom of life missing.”

What led Cichewicz and other researchers, including one from Grand Valley State University, to suspect the secret to fighting pediatric cancer may be found in this hidden world started more than four years ago.

The National Institutes of Health awarded them $2.5 million to research a cancer cure. The money that wasn’t necessarily intended for fungi research. But both Cichewicz and his colleague, pharmacology professor Susan Mooberry, saw cancer-fighting potential in fungi because of its presence in life-saving drugs like penicillin and statin.

“I think they are the most brilliant chemists on earth,” Cichewicz said. “They make amazing molecules for their own purposes of course, it just so happens we as humans can hijack them for other purposes.”

Cichewicz assembled a team that included Mooberry of the University of Texas Health Science Center and Grand Valley State ecologist Mark Luttenton, who is Cichewicz’s former mentor.

Members of the team were each assigned roles to tackle the unknown Great Lakes regions and learn what secrets they held.

With access to research vessels, Luttenton and volunteers made trips to parts of lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. They dropped a giant scoop called a Ponar dredge into the lake bed and collected whatever sediment lay at the bottom.

Then the sediment was divided up and mailed to both Andrew Miller and Robert’s Cichewicz’s labs for testing, Luttenton said. There the spores were isolated and grown.

That’s where the Cheerios come in.

“They grow great on it,” Cichewicz said. “They make tons of natural products. The fungi are very happy to be on it.”

The natural products—the chemical compounds found in fungi that are used in medicine — were then shipped to Mooberry’s lab, where she pitted them against cancer cells.

Toxins that kill everything have been studied quite a bit, Mooberry said. “We’re looking at things that have selectivity.”

The researchers want toxins that kill only cancer cells. After enough testing, they found one — a fungal toxin that eliminates only cancer cells associated with a rare type of the disease that grows on the bones of adolescents.

“We’ve come up with a lead for Ewing’s sarcoma that we’re pretty excited about,” Mooberry said. Lots of work lies ahead, but “even if we don’t discover the next drug, we could discover a target that people can then make molecules for.”

There’s another benefit to the study apart from the laboratory research. Before Luttenton’s digging, 13 fungal species had been identified in the Great Lakes. By the end of his 200 digs, that number had climbed to 460, a boon for the fungi database.

Every time the scoop completed an excavation, several environmental factors were also documented, Luttenton said. Such measures as temperature, depth and available oxygen were recorded in hopes of discovering a pattern to the fungal types growing below.

The question Luttenton said the team pursued: “Can we better predict where we can expect higher fungal diversity, knowing what ecological conditions might be more conducive?”

Despite the optimism, the research has yet to emerge past the discovery stage. The journey toward a marketed cure for cancer is far from certain.

“Our chance is one in a thousand,” Mooberry said. “When we get something we think is really good, it’s still one in a thousand that it will get to the clinics. The bar is very high, but you know, you don’t know until you go out there.”

Jack Nissen writes for Great Lakes Echo.

New research tackles Great Lakes regional problems

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – We’re used to troubling news about the Great Lakes basin — Asian carp, zebra mussels, habitat degradation, fluctuating water levels, algal blooms, chronic wasting disease, lead-poisoned drinking water, endangered species and other problems.

But we pay less attention to promising news with useful findings from science and public policy experts.

I learned a lot about promising news as the co-editor of a new book, Biodiversity, Conservation and Environmental Management in the Great Lakes Basin (Routledge).

Co-editor Mark Neuzil, a journalism professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I saw a need for an in-depth look at groundbreaking research that may shape the future of the ecologically unique and economically vital Great Lakes basin.

It encompasses parts of eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces and contains an estimated 179 native fish, 75 native mammals and a rich biodiversity of plants, forests, birds, reptiles, insects and amphibians. Yet it’s also a region where millions of now-extinct passenger pigeons used to blacken the skies until overhunting and disappearing habitat wiped them out.

We enlisted the help of experts from the United States and Canada, including Michigan ones at the Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, the Gun Lake Tribe based in Shelbyville, the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station in Lansing and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Alpena.

They worked in places as diverse as Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, a northern forest that straddles the territory between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Northeast Wisconsin, the Red Cedar River near Lansing and Sudbury, Ontario.

We learned about artificial reefs and reef restoration, about the impact of dam removals on fisheries, about conflicts concerning agricultural irrigation and about how endangered freshwater turtles survive in a changing landscape.

We also learned about the legacy of toxic chemicals, citizen engagement in managing natural resources and cooperation between Native Americans and conservationists.

The research reflects the real-world interplay among geography, hydrology, climate, economics, biology, politics, culture, history and human emotion.

The book’s four closely connected themes overlap: a) habitat, conservation and restoration; b) extinction and survival, c) pollution, climate change and invasive species; and d) public policy.

The region’s environmental problems and potential solutions ignore national, state or county borders. Lessons about the invasive emerald ash borers, the movements of predators and nutrient pollution of waterways are relevant throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

However, borders have political and diplomatic significance. That reality suggests questions about which governments assume what legislative, regulatory, remedial and protective steps to safeguard the basin’s natural resources.

Those questions arise when determining who’s responsible for monitoring ballast water, repelling Asian carp, cleaning up abandoned industrial sites and promoting renewable energy.

Should it be a state or provincial legislature, a federal agency, a bi-national organization or a local government that protect wetlands, restore fish habitat, manage forests, cap pesticide use and determine which species can be hunted?

Should private industries be trusted to shoulder some of those responsibilities? What about nonprofit and community groups? What roles should scientists play?

If there’s a single overarching lesson, it’s that high-stakes environmental issues in the Great Lakes basin are complicated, making it tough to craft realistic and publicly acceptable policy

alternatives. But ongoing scientific research is essential to making credible decisions.

After GMO resistance, gene-editing technology is the next new thing

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — A lack of science in public decision making, punctuated by a misunderstanding and dislike of GMOs, are hurdles the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development face, Director Jamie Clover Adams said.

Public pushes against GMOs and for animal welfare improvements such as “cage-free” eggs hurt food producers financially because the efforts needed to adjust to public opinion cost more than people are willing to pay for the final product, Clover Adams said.

“There is not one lick of science out there that’s peer reviewed that says that genetically modified organisms are not safe,” Clover Adams said. “They’ve been out there for 25 years, there is not one lick of science, but that doesn’t seem to matter to people…

“People now are so far removed from food production, they don’t think about what it takes to get that to the plate.”

With new technologies on the horizon, the jury is out as to how the public will assess them.

One such technology us “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” better known as CRISPR. It’s a gene-editing technology that shows high promise for developments in animal welfare and improving crops, Clover Adams said.

CRISPR allows researchers to selectively remove, replace or “turn off” specific genes, which might be used in the future to correct mutations that lead to certain diseases, according to the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a biomedical and genomic research center.

The technology has potential applications in agricultural development.

Clover Adams said, “CRISPR, I think, is going to have a huge and significant impact. II can’t put a number on it, but it will have more of an impact than genetic modification.”

Kate Thiel, a field crops and advisory team specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said Michigan’s agriculture industry is excited and cautiously optimistic about CRISPR and its potential applications, particularly in disease resistance, drought tolerance and nutritional value.

“Ag is looking at this as a way to help us continue to feed that growing population, to do so in a safe, healthy and effective manner and to provide nutritious food sources for folks,” Thiel said. “This is a more timely and more precise, more simple and more effective model than what we’ve been able to use to date.”

Holsteins, the most popular dairy cow breed, are naturally horned. For safety and other reasons, food producers have the cows’ horns removed, which can be a painful process for grown cows.

CRISPR technology might allow for a humane fix to this practice.

“I’ve done that, and it’s not fun, and doing that to an animal is not the nicest thing to do,” Clover Adams said. “They can use that CRISPR technology and they can edit (the cow) so that they don’t have horns.”

Thiel said that CRISPR differs from the “long, intensive process” of genetic modification by allowing researchers to target solely a desired trait, and make changes using only DNA from the same organism.

“One of the arguments from a genetic modification standpoint that folks have had concern with is the fact that you’re using DNA from another species in order to rectify the problem within a certain species,” Thiel said. “This allows for modification within the same species.”

However, as  with GMOs, some people oppose CRISPR technology, though Clover Adams said it can make processes like this better for both the animal and the vet.

Everyone has a right to question and to want to learn more, Thiel said, and as the application of CRISPR becomes more widespread, the industry needs to be transparent and ensure the public is informed about how it will benefit them.

As with CRISPR, Clover Adams said the department will watch the move towards technologies such as lab-produced meat with interest.

While she isn’t certain the public will accept the new tech, if they do, it bodes well for the adoption of other new technologies in food production, she said.

“I’ve always been amazed that, as human beings, we accept our smartphones and what the doctor does to our body, but we won’t accept that same technology in food production,” Clover Adams said.

CRISPR technology is relatively new and Thiel said she couldn’t estimate when the first CRISPR-modified product might hit shelves.However, she said she’s cautiously optimistic and excited for the tech to be in their toolbox.

“There are really issues that are plaguing our members and our ability to produce food here in the state of Michigan, inside the United States and outside, in regards to disease pressures, insect issues and whatnot,” Thiel said.

“If this is an opportunity to help us continue to provide a safe, nutritious, healthy food supply, then we want to continue to allow for innovation and see where this leads us,” she said.

New discovery on how sturgeon eat

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Sturgeon are sometimes called the “gentle giants” of the Great Lakes. That label may not apply to the violent projection of their jawbone during feeding, however.

The jawbones of these ancient fish are detached from their skulls, allowing them to vacuum up food by throwing their mouths open suddenly.

Cory Brant, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, has filmed a young sturgeon doing that in a tank in the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s office in Ann Arbor.

Most of Brant’s research has focused on invasive species like sea lamprey, but the self-described “fish enthusiast” knows plenty about the Great Lakes’ own denizen of the deep, which can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh more than 800 pounds at the end of their 80-year lifespan.

“I’m blown away by them all the time,” he said. “I love that we have these gentle giants floating around the Great Lakes sucking up food with their vacuum mouths.”

This juvenile is using its barbels, or “sensory whiskers,” to locate food like snails and insect larvae, Brant said. It accidentally vacuumed up some tank rocks along the way.

Sturgeon were nearly wiped out in the upper Great Lakes in the mid-1900s after anglers discovered that the giant, armored fish that had plagued their fishing nets for decades were both delicious and a profitable source of caviar, Brant said. Within a few decades, overfishing, sea lamprey and habitat loss had taken their toll.

Anglers had waged war with the sturgeon for decades before then.

Brant has been interviewing angling families and conservationists for years to reconstruct the oral history of invasive species in the Great Lakes for a documentary he’s producing.

He’s heard stories of anglers piling sturgeon on the beaches and burning them, or even using the oily meat to fuel their stoves.

“It’s kind of amazing that they’re still around, and that they made it through it,” he said.

Conservation measures and rearing programs have contributed to a much brighter outlook for Great Lakes sturgeon. Populations are bouncing back, like those of Lake St. Clair and inland lakes in Wisconsin.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Wildlife cooperatives boost conservation and habitat

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – According to research studies on their perception about land use, many farmers’ attitudes are still rooted in using their private land to grow crops, focusing on increasing productivity.

Fewer of them would think about taking conservation actions, the studies found.

However, what if these activities are not wildlife-friendly? What if these types of land management hurt wildlife habitat?

“There are some people who don’t have interest in wildlife. Some agriculture practices and different land use practices are not good for pheasants,” said AI Stewart, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) upland game bird specialist.

But landowners have the right to manage their property as they choose, he said.

Anna Mitterling of Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) has worked for more than three years to broaden the perceptions of landowners and break land-use stereotypes.

Mitterling, the organization’s wildlife cooperative coordinator, promotes a comprehensive program to assist landowners in better land management and planning for future needs.  

The Michigan Wildlife Cooperative is a voluntary conservation effort supported by the DNR, the Quality Deer Management Association, Pheasants Forever and MUCC.

A wildlife cooperative gathers private landowners, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to enhance their local wildlife and habitat. The participants share their wildlife experiences with each other, accumulate more knowledge of wildlife from activities,  improve relationships with neighbors and have a chance to use land management techniques on a bigger scale.

Currently, Michigan has 120 wildlife cooperatives, a number that has been increasing since 1991, according to the MUCC.

“The ones I work with are often larger over time, with 25 or so members, and 3,000 -12,000 acres of combined properties,” Mitterling said.

Deer cooperatives and pheasant cooperatives are two of the major types in Michigan.

Deer cooperatives focus on the quality of deer herds. Pheasant cooperatives work to create and enhance grassland habitats.

“In our deer cooperative, we have an annual buck pole, we do a youth deer pole on the weekend of the youth hunt and we work with the DNR to put a plane in the air to look for poachers,” said Harold Wolf, the president of the Southern Mecosta Whitetail Management Association.

Wolf said cooperatives are good for the people who join: He got to know his neighbors better, felt pride in improving the deer herd and shared happy experiences and memories with family and friends.

As for pheasant cooperatives, Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative leader David Ames said, “Most of us are hunters. We focus on creating grassland habitat pheasant can survive in.”

His cooperative is based in Lenawee County.

Despite such benefits, some landowners decide not to take part.

“The biggest challenge for us is finding private landowners that want to participate,” Ames said.

One reason for landowner concern is the size of their property. Many think their land is too small to support conservation activities, Ames said. “A small amount of land, like 20 acres, would be big enough that we can help them to do something on it,” he added.

Ames also stressed the significance and necessity of wildlife and land use education.

In terms of the land use stereotypes, Ames suggested more outreach and said that elementary education about wildlife conservation may lead to more changes in property owners’ attitudes and land use stereotypes.

Rick Lucas, a wildlife and forestry professional with the Mecosta/Osceola Lake Conservation District in Reed City, said, “The common denominator of every natural resource and conservation issue across the state is people.”

Sara Kross, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at California State University, Sacramento, researched the impact of farmers’ perceptions on their conservation activities.

She found a positive relationship between their perceptions and conservation efforts. For instance, general farmers thought perching birds and bats significantly help control insect pests, while fruit farmers view them negatively.

Accordingly, fruit farmers are less likely to try to protect perching birds and bats, Kross’ study said.