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 Strategic Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.

Crowdsourced Game Aims to Find Solutions to Aflatoxin

Mars, Inc., UC Davis and partners have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to solve the problem of aflatoxin contamination of crops. A series of aflatoxin puzzles will go online on Foldit, a platform that allows gamers to explore how amino acids are folded together to create proteins. The puzzles provide gamers with a starting enzyme that has the potential to degrade aflatoxin. Gamers from around the world then battle it out to redesign and improve the enzyme so that it can neutralize aflatoxin. Successful candidates from the computer game will be tested in the laboratory of Justin Siegel, assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis.

Explaining Life’s Rapid Evolution on Land

By Becky Oskin

Although life arose in the sea, some of its most astonishing evolutionary leaps happened after organisms conquered land, according to UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of evolutionary change in the fossil record,

Living on land brought new challenges and new opportunities for leaps in evolution, argues UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

Vermeij has identified 11 major innovations that appeared first among terrestrial creatures. Vermeij describes the “irreversible shift” in evolutionary dominance from sea to land in a new study published online October 2017 in the journal Current Biology.

Hear This: Knockout Mice Show Genes Linked to Deafness

Fifty-two newly discovered genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing gene-modified ‘knockout’ mice. The newly identifed genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans. The study published Oct. 12 in Nature Communications was carried out by the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), which includes the Mouse Biology Program at the University of California, Davis.

Prof. Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, in the lab. Gene-edited and “knockout” mice have become a vital tool in biomedical research. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Fabric from Fermented Tea in the Biomaker Lab

The Molecular Prototyping and BioInnovation Laboratory, or “Biomaker Lab” at UC Davis is a place where students can try out their ideas and develop their own projects in biotechnology. It reflects as “maker culture”  that is well-established in engineering, and growing in biological sciences.

“Kombucha couture” clothes made by artist Sacha Laurin (center) for Paris Fashion Week and National Geographic magazine. With Laurin are, from left, models Ghazal Gill, Grace Sanders and Ericah Howard, and reporter Bethany Crouch of CBS13 and Good Day Sacramento.

“Smart” Immune Cells: Emerging Cancer Therapy Research at UC Davis Boosted with NIH Award

By David Slipher

Assistant Professor Sean Collins, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, has received a $1.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of “smart” immune cells for therapies to treat cancer and other diseases. The five-year NIH Director’s New Innovator Award aims to provide new insight into how to engineer immune cells to control their recruitment and response to tumors.

Sean Collins

Assistant professor Sean Collins has received a NIH New Innovator award for work to make cancer therapies safer. Fred Greaves, UC Davis

Anxiety and Children with Fragile X Syndrome

By Kathleen Holder

Anxiety is a common problem for children and adults with fragile X syndrome, magnifying their struggles living with an inherited intellectual disability. New UC Davis research could lead to new ways to identify and treat their anxiety at a young age—even in infancy.

The study led by developmental psychologists Jessica Burris and Susan Rivera found that infants and young children with fragile X syndrome, unlike typically developing children, tend to have their attention specifically captured by angry faces rather than happy ones. That sort of “attentional bias” toward angry faces is a pattern associated with anxiety.

New Cardiac Catheter Combines Light and Ultrasound to Measure Plaques

By Holly Ober

To win the battle against heart disease, cardiologists need better ways to identify the composition of plaque most likely to rupture and cause a heart attack. Angiography allows them to examine blood vessels for constricted regions by injecting them with a contrast agent before X-raying them. But because plaque does not always result in constricted vessels, angiography can miss dangerous buildups of plaque. Intravascular ultrasound can penetrate the buildup to identify depth, but lacks the ability to identify some of the finer details about risk of plaque rupture.

Commuting by Skateboard at UC Davis

Lots of people travel to class and work at UC Davis by bicycle, some walk and some drive their cars. But there is another, growing class of commuters: skateboarders. Kevin Fang and Susan Handy at the UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies have conducted the a survey of skateboard commuters, based on interviews at UC Davis, and they reported the findings in the journal Transportation recently.

Worker on skateboard

Skateboards offer the speed of bicycles with the access of walking. A new UC Davis survey shows a significant use of skateboards to commute to work or class. (UC Davis photo)

Podcast: Visual Attention and Meaning

In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, I talk to John Henderson of the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain about a new paper from his lab that overturns current thinking about visual attention.

It’s usually thought that our eyes are drawn to objects that are salient or “stand out” from the background. But this “magpie theory” of attention is wrong, Henderson says. He and postdoc Taylor Hayes show instead that our eyes are drawn by parts of a scene that have “meaning.”

Listen here.

 

More information

Visual Attention Drawn to Meaning, not What Stands Out (news release)

How Useful Are Earthquake Early Warning Systems?

Mexico’s earthquake early warning system may have helped save lives in the Sept. 19 earthquake. Sirens in Mexico City sounded seconds before the earthquake struck the city, giving a brief window to shut down vital infrastructure and evacuate buildings. There was more warning, about 90 seconds, before the larger earthquake that occurred off the coast of Mexico Sept. 8.

ShakeAlert is an Earthquake Early Warning system for the US West Coast. It is being developed by the US Geological Survey and a consortium of universities.

A similar system has been tested for the U.S. West Coast including California and is expected to begin limited public operation in 2018.