The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Steve Strauss Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

March 7, 2017


“A Forest Scientist Navigates the Changing World of Genetic Engineering”  March 7, 2017  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Strauss discusses his family background and upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, his interests as a boy, and his discovery of both science and a love for nature that emerged during his teenage years. He then turns his attentions to his undergraduate studies in Biology at Cornell University, describes his turn towards Forest Science as a discipline of study, and comments on his master's studies at Yale University, during which time he first came into contact with tree genetics. He likewise provides an overview of his doctoral studies at UC - Berkeley and reflects on the impact that these years made upon him.

The session then shifts focus to Strauss' career at OSU. In this, he shares his memories of his initial arrival in Corvallis and notes, in particular, the risk that OSU took in hiring a biotechnologist. He then details some of the reasons why poplars have proven so useful as model organisms for his research. He also shares his memories of what OSU and the College of Forestry were like in the mid-1980s.

The remainder of the interview is primarily devoted to Strauss' program of research in genetic engineering. Throughout this discussion, Strauss provides perspective on what it has been like to work in a controversial area during a period of cultural change. Strauss specifically notes ways in which he has been forced to adapt or reorient his research based on changes in the conventional wisdom as it pertains to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Particular research projects that Strauss touches upon include his work on biosafety and sterile nursery plants, and carbon sequestration using poplar trees. He also shares his thoughts on his work with the Leopold Leadership Fellowship Program, and lends his opinion on the contentious issue of GMOs and food.

As the session nears its conclusion, Strauss comments on the future of forests and the hurdles that his graduate students face as they pursue careers in the field. The interview winds up with thoughts on change in the College of Forestry, and Strauss' perspective on OSU as it nears its 150th birthday.