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.

Podcast: Science at the Root

In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.

Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.

New Technique Provides Earthquake Risk for Major Cities Worldwide

By Larry O’Hanlon

Scientists have developed snapshots of the likelihood of major earthquakes occurring in megacities around the world using a new statistical approach for estimating earthquake risk. The work will be presented today, May 22 at the joint meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan.

A “nowcast” for Tokyo. The red thermometer at right shows how far along the Tokyo region is in its cycle of smaller quakes between quakes of at least 6.5 magnitude. (John Rundle, UC Davis)

Wallflower or Center of the Pack? Baboons Find Their Place

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Are you the kind of person who, at a party, tends to be surrounded by friends in the middle of the crowd, or do you prefer to find a quiet corner where you can sit and talk? Recent work by scientists at UC Davis shows that wild baboons behave similarly to humans —  with some animals consistently found in the vanguard of their troop while others crowd to the center or lag in the rear.

Refining the Ocean’s Thermometer

By Becky Oskin

Chronicling Earth’s past temperature swings is a basic part of understanding climate change. One of the best records of past ocean temperatures can be found in the shells of marine creatures called foraminifera.

The foraminiferan Neogloboquadrina dutertrei forms a record of ocean conditions as it builds its shell. Photo by J. Fehrenbacher

Known as “forams” for short, these single-celled plankton build microscopic calcite shells. When forams die, their shells fall to the ocean floor and accumulate in sediments that provide a record of past climate. The surface-feeding plankton are natural thermometers because the chemical makeup of foram shells is linked to the environmental conditions they grow in. For example, the levels of magnesium in foram shells reflect the seawater temperature in which they lived.

For Better Or Worse: Links Between Genetics And Stress

By Diane Nelson

Our genes can influence how we respond to stress. Science shows that some people are more genetically predisposed than others to develop depression and anxiety in response to stressful situations.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky have found that genetic traits that make people vulnerable to stress-related mental health problems, are also those best equipped to respond to positive interventions.

What’s more, researchers say that chronic exposure to stressful conditions—such as poverty, family discord, and poor nutrition—can alter the way genes behave in children and adolescents, making them more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other negative effects of stress.

UC Davis Joins Initiative to Fight Malaria in Africa

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Scientists hope to control the spread of malaria using genetically modified mosquitoes that are resistant to the parasite.

By Trina Wood

UC Davis vector biologist Greg Lanzaro is taking part in the newly-announced UC Irvine Malaria Initiative to genetically engineer new strains of mosquitoes to fight malaria in Africa. The project, led by UCI’s pioneering vector biologist Anthony James, will bring together experts in molecular biology, entomology, public health and community engagement from across the UC system.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.

Successful CRISPR Gene Editing in Non-Human Primates

By Carlos Villatoro

Imagine a world where maladies such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, or sickle cell anemia no longer exist. While the U.S. is far from achieving this lofty goal, it recently came a step closer at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), where scientists have efficiently used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify the genes of rhesus macaque embryos.

The research, recently published in the latest edition of Human Molecular Genetics, paves the way for future studies where the possibility of birthing gene-edited monkeys that can serve as models for new therapies is greatly increased.

Costs and Benefits of Improving Rice Yields for Farmers in Haiti

By Alex Russell

At one time, rice farmers in Haiti could meet demand for all Haitians. Today, national rice production accounts for less than one-fifth of consumption. Increasing the amount of rice farmers can grow could be key to reducing poverty and improving food security in Haiti, especially among the 1.6 million people who live in the Artibonite Valley, the largest rice-producing region in the nation.

Rice farmers in Haiti's Artibonite Valley could boost yield with new practices, but at a cost, say UC Davis researchers.

Rice farmers in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley could boost yield with new practices, but at a cost, say UC Davis researchers.

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.