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About Egghead

Egghead is a blog about research by, with or related to UC Davis. Comments on posts are welcome, as are tips and suggestions for posts. General feedback may be sent to Andy Fell. This blog is created and maintained by UC Davis University Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.

Oxygen oasis in Antarctic lake reflects distant past

At the bottom of a frigid Antarctic lake, a thin layer of green slime is generating a little oasis of oxygen, a team including UC Davis researchers has found. It’s the first modern replica discovered of conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago, before oxygen became common in the atmosphere. The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Geology.

The switch from a planet with very little available oxygen to one with an atmosphere much like today’s was one of the major events in Earth’s history, and it was all because some bacteria evolved the ability to photosynthesize. By about 2.4 billion years ago, geochemical records show that oxygen was present all the way to the upper atmosphere, as ozone.

What is not clear is what happened in between, or how long the transition – called the Great Oxidation Event – lasted, said Dawn Sumner, professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis and an author on the paper. Scientists have speculated that here may have been “oxygen oases,” local areas where was abundant before it became widespread around the planet.

The new discovery in Lake Fryxell in the McMurdo Dry Valleys could be a modern example of such an ancient oxygen oasis, and help geochemists figure out what to look for in ancient rocks, Sumner said.

Diving in Lake Fryxell, Antarctica, researchers found an oasis of oxygen mimicking conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago. (Tyler Mackey/UC Davis)

Diving in Lake Fryxell, Antarctica, researchers found an oasis of oxygen mimicking conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago. (Tyler Mackey/UC Davis)

Sumner and collaborators including Ian Hawes of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand have been studying life in these ice-covered lakes for several years. The microbes that survive in these remote and harsh environments are likely similar to the first forms of life to appear on Earth, and perhaps on other planets.

The discovery occurred “a little by accident,” Sumner said. Hawes and Tyler Mackey, a UC Davis graduate student working with Sumner, were helping out another research team by diving in Lake Fryxell. The lakes of the Dry Valleys typically contain oxygen in their upper layers, but are usually anoxic further down, Sumner said. Lake Fryxell is unusual because it becomes anoxic at a depth where light can  still penetrate.

During their dives below the oxygen zone, Hawes and Mackey noticed some bright green bacteria that looked like they could be photosynthesizing. They took measurements and found a thin layer of oxygen, just one or two millimeters thick, being generated by the bacteria.

Something similar could have been happening billions of years ago, Sumner said.

“The thought is, that the lakes and rivers were anoxic, but there was light available, and little bits of oxygen could accumulate in the mats,” she said.

The researchers now want to know more about the chemical reactions between the “oxygen oasis” and the anoxic water immediately above it and sediments below. Is the oxygen absorbed? What reactions occur with minerals in the water?

Understanding how this oxygen oasis reacts with the environment around it could help identify chemical signatures preserved in rocks. Researchers could then go looking for similar signatures in rocks from ancient lake beds to find “whiffs of oxygen” prior to the Great Oxidation Event.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

More: 

Dawn Sumner’s Antarctic blog

Tyler Mackey’s Antarctic blog

Follow Dawn Sumner on Twitter: @sumnerd.

 

Fourth wheat gene is key to flowering and climate adaptation

By Pat Bailey

In the game of wheat genetics, Jorge Dubcovsky’s laboratory at UC Davis has hit a grand slam, unveiling for the fourth time in a dozen years a gene that governs wheat vernalization, the biological process requiring cold temperatures to trigger flower formation.

Identification of the newly characterized VRN-D4 gene and its three counterpart genes is crucial for understanding the vernalization process and developing improved varieties of wheat, which provides about one-fifth of the calories and proteins that we humans consume globally.

The new study, reported Aug. 31 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also shows how the spring growth habit in some wheat varieties traces back to ancient wheat that grew in what is now Pakistan and India.

Different wheat for different climates

Wheat first appeared about 8,000 years ago in the coastal area of the Caspian Sea, where Europe and Asia converge. It quickly spread through both continents and now grows worldwide. Scientists attribute its adaptability to its rapidly changing genome and the fact that most types of wheat have two or three sets of chromosomes.

In cold climates, the vernalization process ensures that the cold-sensitive flowering parts of the wheat plant develop only after winter’s harshest months have passed and just in time for the warmer weeks of spring.  Such “winter wheat” is planted in the fall and harvested in early summer.

In contrast, “spring wheat” varieties don’t have a vernalization requirement and can be planted in spring and harvested in fall. This is essential for regions where winters are so severe that wheat cannot be sown in fall and grown through the winter months.

Vernalization key to wheat’s adaptability

“We’re extremely interested in understanding the adaptive changes, especially vernalization, which occurred in wheat during the early expansion of agriculture, said study first-author Nestor Kippes, a doctoral candidate in the Dubcovsky lab.

UC Davis research Nestor Kippes has discovered a fourth gene that controls response to cold winters in wheat.

UC Davis research Nestor Kippes has discovered a fourth gene that controls response to cold winters in wheat.

Because vernalization governs flowering time, it’s important to a plant’s reproductive success and key to maximizing grain production in wheat, barley and other cereal crops, Kippes said.

Although the world produces more than 700 million tons of wheat annually, the rapidly growing global human population continues to press for even greater production of wheat and other staple crops. And long-term global climate change promises to make that task even more challenging.

“The VRN-D4 gene and the other three vernalization genes can be used by plant breeders to modify vernalization requirements as they work to develop wheat varieties that are better adapted to different regions or changing environments,” Kippes said.

The Dubcovsky lab collaborated on this study with colleagues at Sabanci University in Turkey; Okayama University in Japan; the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Biosciences Research Lab in Fargo, North Dakota; Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas; and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland.

The study was funded by the USDA, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization of France.

More about the Dubcovsky lab’s earlier research on wheat vernalization genes can be found at:

Newly Cloned Gene Key to More Adaptable Wheat Varieties (2006)

Newly Cloned Gene Key to Global Adaptation of Wheat (2004)

Wheat Gene Controlling Cold-Weather Requirement Cloned (2003)

Previously: 

Wheat geneticist Jorge Dubcovsky receives Wolf Prize in Agriculture

Follow Pat on Twitter: @UCDavis_Bailey

Fanconi anemia gene poisons DNA repair

Fanconi anemia is a rare, inherited disorder that affects about one in 350,000 births. It affects the blood and bone marrow and many other organs, can cause physical abnormalities and vulnerability to cancer. Recently, the case of a child with serious Fanconi-like symptoms has helped researchers at The Rockefeller University in New York and UC Davis better understand the causes of the disease, and discover a new role for a protein already known to be involved in DNA repair and protection from cancer. The work was published recently in the journal Molecular Cell.

Rockefeller University maintains an international registry of people with Fanconi anemia or similar conditions, with the goal of helping researchers understand what causes the disease. Some 18 genes have been linked to Fanconi anemia, all involved in repair of “interstrand crosslinks” where two strands of DNA get stuck together. These crosslinks can be caused by chemicals generated during normal cell metabolism, by anticancer drugs and alcohol metabolism, and they can cause serious damage to DNA if not quickly removed.

Agata Smogorzewska and colleagues at the Rockefeller looked at the case of a child born with Fanconi anemia-like symptoms, identified through the registry. Sequencing of the child’s genome showed that she did not have any of the known genetic mutations linked to the condition. She did have just one unusual mutation in one of two copies of the gene for

Researchers treated patient cells with an agent that caused DNA cross links. The cells failed to repair them, producing broken chromosomes that fused with one another (red arrows). Laboratory of Genome Maintenance at The Rockefeller University/Molecular Cell

Researchers treated patient cells with an agent that caused DNA cross links. The cells failed to repair them, producing broken chromosomes that fused with one another (red arrows). Laboratory of Genome Maintenance at The Rockefeller University/Molecular Cell

RAD51, a protein involved in a different DNA repair process. This was something of a puzzle, because generally one “good” copy of a gene is sufficient for normal cellular functions. Neither of the girl’s parents had the mutation or symptoms.

Working in cell lines, Smogorzewska’s group was able to show that introducing this mutation made cells vulnerable to DNA damage from interstrand crosslinks, and cutting it out of the patient’s cell lines “cured” the problem in those cells.

They then turned to Professor Stephen Kowalczykowski at UC Davis, whose laboratory has extensively studied RAD51 and other related proteins involved in DNA repair. Kowalczykowski’s lab has shown, for example, how RAD51 plays a crucial role in homologous recombination, in which missing DNA is repaired by using the matching DNA strand as a template. RAD51 forms a filament with single-stranded DNA to line up with its sister DNA molecule and begin the copying process.

Taeho Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in Kowalczykowski’s lab, purified the protein made by the mutated gene and carried out biochemical studies to see how it functioned both in repairing interstrand crosslinks and in homologous recombination.

“It was evident right away that it was altered, and altered in a very unique way,” he said.

Not only does the mutant RAD51 protein not work properly, but it poisons the ability of the healthy protein made by the normal copy of the gene to deal with crosslinks, Kowalczykowski said.

The patient is only alive at all, although with severe disabilities, because she has one good copy of the gene, Kowalczykowski said, and her cells contain higher levels of the normal than the mutant protein.

“In this patient, DNA repair is normal, but protection from crosslinks is not, and we don’t completely understand why,” he said.

The discovery could open up new studies of interstrand crosslink repair, Kowalczykowski said. This is an important type of DNA damage whose repair is still not well understood.

The new mutant gene, designated FANCR, is the first example of a “co-dominant” DNA repair gene in homologous recombination in humans. While, for simplicity, genetic counselors often think of genes as being completely “dominant” or “recessive,” real mutations are more subtle, Kowalczykowski noted. In this case, the FANCR mutation partially poisons RAD51’s function, but not completely. Kowalczykowski’s lab has previously discovered co-dominant mutations in bacterial genes – notably in the protein RecA, which is the equivalent of RAD51 in E. coli bacteria.

Kowalczykowski predicted that many more such co-dominant mutations would be found in human DNA repair, potentially making it harder to unravel the causes of disease and making genetic counseling more difficult.

In addition to UC Davis and the Rockefeller, the authors include researchers at the University of Minnesota, the Broad Institute and the New York Genome Center.

Read the original paper here

News article from The Rockefeller University

 

 

 

 

Galaxy cluster collision revives “radio phoenix”

The collision of two massive galaxy clusters 1.6 billion light years from Earth revived a radio source in a fading cloud of electrons, creating a “radio phoenix.” The phenomenon was recorded by a team of astronomers including William Dawson of the UC Davis physics department and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Composite image of colliding galaxy cluster Abell 1033 combines X-ray data from Chandra (pink) along with radio data (green) and optical data that reveals the density of the galaxies (blue). (NASA)

Composite image of colliding galaxy cluster Abell 1033 combines X-ray data from Chandra (pink) along with radio data (green) and optical data that reveals the density of the galaxies (blue). (Chandra X-ray Observatory)

According to a news release from the Chandra X-ray observatory,

Astronomers think that the supermassive black hole close to the center of Abell 1033 erupted in the past. Streams of high-energy electrons filled a region hundreds of thousands of light years across and produced a cloud of bright radio emission. This cloud faded over a period of millions of years as the electrons lost energy and the cloud expanded.

The radio phoenix emerged when another cluster of galaxies slammed into the original cluster, sending shock waves through the system. These shock waves, similar to sonic booms produced by supersonic jets, passed through the dormant cloud of electrons. The shock waves compressed the cloud and re-energized the electrons, which caused the cloud to once again shine at radio frequencies.

The “phoenix” can be seen as the bright white splotch in the center of this image. X-rays are shown in pink and dark matter in blue.

Galaxy clusters are the most massive objects in the universe held together by gravity. Understanding how they grow is important for understanding how the universe has evolved over time.

Previously, Dawson and colleagues observed how the collision of another pair of galaxy clusters caused a new burst of star formation in a dormant area.

Neutrinos leave mark on early universe

Much of the time, popular stories about science emphasize the broader impact, the implications for the field, what it might mean for our lives. But in reality, science is often about finding that some detail of the universe works the way we had already predicted, and for scientists that’s pretty cool too.

In one such discovery, UC Davis physicists have for the first time seen the signature of neutrinos spreading through the hot plasma of the early universe, at a time when light itself was still trapped in the plasma. The work is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

 

The Planck sky map shows how neutrinos influenced the structure of the early universe. (ESA)

The Planck sky map shows how neutrinos influenced the structure of the early universe. (ESA)

The result, noted Professor Lloyd Knox, who lead the research team, was completely expected. Nonetheless, Knox said: “I feel really privileged that I got to lead the team that first detected this. It’s like we’ve reached out and touched the Big Bang.”

The only surprise was that the effect was detectable at all, Knox said.

Tens to hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang, before there were stars or galaxies, the universe was filled with super-hot plasma, hotter than the surface of the sun. Light particles (photons) could not make their way through the plasma, because they kept bumping off other particles.

But neutrinos could start flowing much earlier than light, because neutrinos interact very weakly with other particles.

Very small density variations led to acoustic waves in the plasma. Looking back today, we see those variations as ripples in the cosmic microwave background. Eventually, those variations – or anisotropies – would allow galaxies to form, giving structure to the universe.

Using data from the Planck space telescope, Knox and graduate students Brent Follin, Marius Millea and Zhen Pan looked for the gravitational influence of the neutrinos on these plasma waves. It had been predicted that the neutrinos would cause a very slight shift in the phase of the waves, and that is what they found: that the waves are just a little bit further along than they would be without the effect of neutrinos.

“It’s one thing to predict it and talk about it, but then you look and it’s there!” Knox said. “It’s astounding.”

The Planck Space Observatory

The Planck Space Observatory

Launched in 2009 by the European Space Agency with NASA participation, the Planck telescope is positioned about a million miles from Earth to collect light from the beginnings of the universe. Knox leads the U.S. team analyzing Planck data to determine the basic parameters of the cosmos. The satellite has now stopped observations, but a final set of sky maps will be released next year, Knox said.

Read the paper: First detection of the acoustic oscillation phase shift expected from the cosmic neutrino background

What’s a neutrino, anyways? (via the IceCube experiment, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Previously: 

Planck’s new map brings universe into focus

UC Davis solution for better nitrogen climate modeling adopted by IPCC

By Kat Kerlin

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers who provide global climate models to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have publicly thanked UC Davis associate professor Ben Houlton and his colleagues for creating a new solution to more accurately forecast nitrogen’s effects on global warming.

In an opinion piece in Nature Climate Change, the authors discuss how they have modified their model equations so that they now provide realistic predictions  anchored in Houlton’s benchmarking technique, published in that journal in April.

“We agree that terrestrial models must represent these losses accurately if they are to credibly estimate emissions of nitrogen- and carbon-containing greenhouse gases important in climate change predictions,” wrote authors Qing Zhu and William Riley of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We believe the … estimates produced by Houlton, et. al., are valuable benchmarks for Earth system models.”

Nitrogen is a critical component of climate change. It determines how much carbon dioxide emissions natural ecosystems can absorb, and it directly warms the climate as nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. It occurs naturally in the air and water and also enters the environment through man-made agricultural fertilizers. Recent analyses suggest that excess nitrogen in the air from human actions causes $400 billion dollars of economic and human welfare damages worldwide.

“Nitrogen has so many different effects on climate change, and is a centerpiece in people’s health and our global food economy,” Houlton said. “It’s really exciting to see how our new nitrogen tracking scheme is being used to substantially improve how the world’s leaders will confront the most pressing issues of our time”.

Follow Kat on Twitter at @UCDavis_Kerlin

Molecular machine, not assembly line, assembles microtubules

When they think about how cells put together the molecules that make life work, biologists have tended to think of assembly lines: Add A to B, tack on C, and so on. But the reality might be more like a molecular version of a 3-D printer, where a single mechanism assembles the molecule in one go.

Take, for example, tubulin. Building from two subunits, alpha and beta tubulin, this protein assembles into microtubules that play a vital role inside cells – giving structure, pushing or pulling other things around, or providing a track on which other molecules can pull themselves along.

Perhaps most crucially, when cells divide, microtubules form the spindle structure that first aligns the chromosomes in the middle of the cell then pulls them apart, so that each new cell gets one chromosome from each pair. This process often goes wrong in cancer cells, resulting in chromosomal instability.

Jawdat Al-Bassam at the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and colleagues have now taken a close look at the proteins that assemble tubulin, and found that they comprise a single machine, not a stepped pathway as previously thought. The work is published online in the journal eLife.

The basic unit of tubulin is a dimer of alpha- and beta- tubulin. This dimer gives microtubules directionality, which is key to many of their other properties, such as being able to assemble or disassemble from either end, and allowing motor proteins to walk along them in a specific direction.  This unique organization of tubulin is preserved among all living plant and animal cells, because it is essential for way in which microtubules assemble, Al-Bassam said.

Assembling alpha-beta tubulin dimers involves six known genes, Al-Bassam said. The conventional model arranged these proteins as an assembly line starting with alpha and beta subunits and ending with the finished alpha-beta dimer.

Four proteins come together to make the machine that assembles tubulin, the building block of microtubules.

Four proteins come together to make the machine that assembles tubulin, the building block of microtubules.

“What we showed instead is that largest four of these six genes form a machine that functions as a single entity,” Al-Bassam said. They also discovered that a newly discovered subunit, a GTP-ase enzyme of a type usually thought to act as a switch, in fact powers the whole machine using chemical energy.  The energy maybe required to build stable alpha and beta tubulin assembly.

“We didn’t expect it ourselves,” Al-Bassam said.

The researchers worked with the tubulin system from yeast, but the human genes are very similar.

They first tried to reconstitute the system by working with one or two genes at a time, but this “assembly line” approach just didn’t work. Then they put all six genes into a single piece of DNA, so that they would all be transcribed together – and found that they could reconstitute the “3-D printer” that assemble tubulin dimers.

Even small defects in the genes that assemble tubulin are associated with serious developmental disorders, such as Kenny-Caffey syndrome and Giant Axonal Neuropathy. Cancer cells often show an inability to separate chromosomes properly during cell division, due to problems with microtubules.

Al-Bassam said the results open up new ways of thinking about tubulin, tubulin-related disorders and molecular biology in general.  Understanding this system may provide a new strategy to control microtubules, particularly in cells that are dividing out of control such as in certain cancers.

“It turns out there are lots of things we can think about as these kinds of machines,” he said. “Most important functions in cells are carried by molecules that work in groups.”

More information: Tubulin cofactors and Arl2 are cage-like chaperones that regulate the soluble αβ-tubulin pool for microtubule dynamics (eLife)

 

Finding biomarkers for early lung cancer diagnosis

Despite decades of warnings about smoking, lung cancer is still the second-most common cancer and the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. Patients are often diagnosed only when their disease is already at an advanced stage and hard to treat. Researchers at the West Coast Metabolomics Center at UC Davis are trying to change that, by identifying biomarkers that could be the basis of early tests for lung cancer.

“Early diagnosis is the key to fighting lung cancer,” said Oliver Fiehn, director of the metabolomics center and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis.

Oliver Fiehn's metabolomics lab uses high-tech equipment to capture metabolism in progress.

Oliver Fiehn’s metabolomics lab uses high-tech equipment to capture metabolism in progress.

Lung cancer can be diagnosed early with regular low-dose CT (computed tomography) scans of people at risk. But these tests are very expensive, and also involve exposing patients to X-ray radiation. Instead, Fiehn, project scientist William Wikoff and colleagues set out to look for biomarkers of developing lung cancer in blood from patients.

Fiehn’s lab specializes in “metabolomics,” an approach that involves analyzing all the biochemical products of metabolism in cells and tissues at the same time. Like other “-omics” approaches, it’s made possible by new technology and computing power, and it’s opening up new ways to understand living processes.

To find early biomarkers for lung cancer, the team needed to look at blood samples collected from people who developed the disease, months or years before they were diagnosed. Fortunately, they were able to access samples stored from the CARET clinical trial. The CARET study, which ran from 1985 until it was halted in 1996, attempted to test whether doses of antioxidant vitamins could prevent cancer in heavy smokers and other people at high risk. The trial failed, but the collection of blood, serum, and tissues and related data are maintained as the CARET Biorepository.

Applying metabolomics, Wikoff and Fiehn found that one molecule, diacetylspermine, was almost doubled in serum collected from patients up to six months before they were diagnosed with lung cancer, compared to healthy controls.

They then combined diacetylspermine with another previously identified biomarker, a protein called pro-surfactant protein B (pro-SFTPB), and tested for both markers in another set of sera collected from CARET patients months before they developed lung cancer.

“Individually, the markers were about 70 percent predictive but in combination, that rose to 80 percent,” Fiehn said. In other words, eight out of ten people with early-stage cancer would be correctly identified by the combined test.

If the double biomarker were in use as a clinical test, those patients could then be referred for a low-dose CT scan to confirm the presence of cancer.

The study is published August 17 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The next step, Fiehn said, is to work with bigger cohorts of cancer patients to validate the approach.

Other partners on the work include Brian De Felice, West Coast Metabolomics Center; Suzanne Miyamoto and David Gandara, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center; Samir Hanash, Yang Zhao, Ziding Feng, and Ayumu Taguchi, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; and Matt Barnett and Gary Goodman, Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, Seattle.

The work was funded by the NIH and Department of Defense through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program; the Canary Foundation, the Rubenstein Family Foundation, and the Lyda Hill Foundation.

More information: Link to the paper

Bio-shock resistant: New center to apply biology to earthquakes, civil engineering

Taking lessons from nature and biology into civil engineering is the goal of the new Center for Bio-inspired and Bio-mediated Geotechnics, including the University of California, Davis, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and funded with a five-year, $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The center’s director will be Edward Kavazanjian, a professor of civil engineering and senior scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The UC Davis team will be headed by Jason DeJong, professor of geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The center will analyze fundamental processes of natural biological systems to develop a new generation of ecologically friendly, cost-effective solutions for the development and rehabilitation of resilient and sustainable civil infrastructure systems.

UC Davis engineer Jason DeJong holds a piece of sandstone-like material created in his lab by the action of microbes on loose sand. (UC Davis College of Engineering)

UC Davis engineer Jason DeJong holds a piece of sandstone-like material created in his lab by the action of microbes on loose sand. (UC Davis College of Engineering)

“The point is to shift from the construction profession’s historically cement-heavy, brute-force approach to infrastructure, and replace it with optimized, efficient and sustainable solutions to geotechnical practice,” DeJong said.

For example, tree root systems are far more efficient soil stabilizers than the best man-made soil-reinforcing elements and foundations. Ants are 100 times more energy-efficient than human tunneling technology, and ant excavations almost never collapse.

Center researchers will build on nature’s work in a variety of ways, from developing bio-based methods of strengthening soils to prevent erosion and combat the soil liquefaction during earthquakes, to devising technologies that match the burrowing capabilities of insects and small mammals. The researchers hope that such breakthroughs will lead to the construction of resilient roads, bridges, dams, power plants, pipelines and buildings, along with more efficient and effective resource recovery operations.

In 2006, DeJong’s lab published research showing that bio-mediated processes could improve the solidification of loose sands, a key technology in the new center. Other UC Davis collaborators include: Professor Tim Ginn and Associate Professor Alissa Kendall, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Professor Doug Nelson, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; and Professor Bruce Kutter, Center for Geotechnical Modeling. The interdisciplinary nature of the multi-university NSF-funded Engineering Research Center and its focus on sustainability reflects UC Davis’ culture, DeJong said.

DeJong hopes that the new center will help move the work from the research lab into full-scale private or government projects. The center has more than a dozen industrial affiliates, including GEI Consultants, Geosyntec Consultants, Golder Associates, Arup and Hayward Baker. Public agencies such as the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also have agreed to collaborate with research and field-testing.

More information: 

News release from Arizona State University

Center for Biomediated and Bioinspired Geotechnics 

Video (Arizona State University)

Q and A: Information theory and social evolution

Big Data has a problem right now. We produce an avalanche of information every day by just walking around with our smartphones or posting on social media. Researchers in the social sciences today are collaborating across disciplines to turn this wealth of information into knowledge.

Martin Hilbert, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, is developing new ways to think about how social scientists can use this data to understand societies. In this Q&A, he discusses what Big Data and living in an information society could mean for our social evolution.

Read the Q&A at the ISS website: http://socialscience.ucdavis.edu/iss-journal/research/turning-big-data-into-big-knowledge.

– by Alex Russell

Related: Ants to earthquakes: Grants for network, complexity research