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.

From Lab Fruit Flies to Mosquito Extermination in 30 Years

Louis Pasteur famously compared science and its application to a tree and it’s fruit. The path from a fundamental discovery to application can be a long and winding one, but rewarding none the less.

Mosquito

Discoveries in basic genetics have now enabled scientists to wipe out lab populations of the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. (Anthony Cornel)

Professor Ken Burtis, faculty advisor to the Chancellor and Provost, recently came across an exciting example. Burtis was looking for a study for his first year seminar class when he found a paper from Andrea Crisanti’s lab at Imperial College London. Crisanti’s team was able to wipe out a lab population of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes by introducing a disrupted gene for sex determination and using CRISPR “gene drive” technology to spread it through the population. Within eight generations, there were no female mosquitoes left for breeding.

Grants for Quantum Information Science

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced $218 million in new grants for “Quantum Information Science” and researchers with the Center for Quantum Mathematics and Physics (QMAP) at UC Davis are among the recipients.

The QMAP initiative at UC Davis is aimed at fundamental research in theoretical and mathematical physics.

Professors Veronika Hubeny and Mukund Rangamani were awarded $348,000 over two years for work on “Entanglement in String Theory and the Emergence of Geometry.” They will explore connections between the nature of spacetime, quantum entanglement and string theory. Entanglement, famously described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance,” is a phenomenon in quantum physics where the properties of pairs of particles are correlated even when they are widely separated.

Podcast: Wine Country Wildfires Leave Questions for Vintners

Seeking Solutions to Smoke Taint in Wine

By Amy Quinton

A year ago this week, a series of fires broke out in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. The area is one of California’s best-known wine growing regions. While 90 percent of the grapes in Napa County had been harvested, a few vineyards still had grapes on the vine, including at the University of California, Davis’s experimental station in Oakville.

Anita Oberholster

UC Davis Extension Specialist Anita Oberholster is looking at the effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes and whether “smoke taint” can be mitigated. (Joe Proudman/UC Davis)

Physics Nobel for Optical Tweezers, Enabled Single Molecule DNA Work

The 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin of Bell Labs, Gérard Mourou, École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France
and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo, Canada for work on laser pulses that led to the development of “optical tweezers” that use lasers to manipulate small objects. 

The invention of optical tweezers made it possible for UC Davis biologists led by Professor Stephen Kowalczykowski and the late Professor Ron Baskin to design experiments where they could manipulate and observe single DNA molecules being copied in real time. In 2001, they used optical tweezers to move a tiny bead with a piece of DNA attached under a microscope, where they could watch a helicase enzyme unwind the DNA — the first step to copying or repairing it.

Open Source Data Base of Non-Human Primate Brain Imaging

An international team, including researchers at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis,  has released the first open-source data sets of non-human primate brain imaging. Details of the PRIMatE Data Exchange (PRIME-DE) consortium are published today (Sept. 27) in the journal Neuron.

The project will greatly augment progress on in vivo brain imaging of non-human primates, said John Morrison, director of the CNPRC and Professor of Neurology at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

MRI images

PRIME-DE collects MRI images of brains of non-human primates. It will be a global resource for researchers. (PRIME-DE)

“Cellular Memory” of DNA Damage in Oocyte Quality Control

By Sofie Bates

Females are born with a finite number of eggs that are steadily depleted throughout their lifetime. This reserve of eggs is selected from a much larger pool of millions of precursor cells, or oocytes, that form during fetal life. So there is a substantial amount of quality control during the process of forming an egg cell, or ovum, that weeds out all but the highest quality cells. New research from Neil Hunter’s laboratory at UC Davis reveals the surprising way that this critical oocyte quality control process works.

Breakthrough in Designing a Better Salmonella Vaccine

By Trina Wood

UC Davis researchers announce in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week a breakthrough in understanding which cells afford optimal protection against Salmonella infection—a critical step in developing a more effective and safe vaccine against a bacterium that annually kills an estimated one million people worldwide.

Salmonella bacteria (red) invading human cells. Salmonella infections can cause severe disease and current vaccines are inadequate. New work in mouse models shows which cells are responsible for immunity to Salmonella and may lead to improved vaccines. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

First Particle Tracks at Prototype for DUNE Underground Neutrino Experiment

By Andre Salles 

The largest liquid-argon neutrino detector in the world has just recorded its first particle tracks, signaling the start of a new chapter in the story of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

The top of the steel cage for one of the two ProtoDUNE detectors is hoisted into position by crane. The prototype contains 800 tons of liquid argon: the final DUNE detector will be 20 times larger. Photo: CERN

How Do You Make an Earth-like Planet?

Astronomers have spotted many Earth-like worlds around other stars, but are these exoplanets really similar to our home, and could they support life? The CLEVER Planets project, including UC Davis professor Sarah Stewart, has received a $7.7 million NASA grant to explore how rocky planets like Earth acquire, sustain, and nurture the chemical conditions necessary for life.

Recipe for a planet

Credit: Courtney Dressing, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

If Pigeons Were Brilliant, Would They Flock?

UC Davis Study Finds People Flock, or Behave Similarly to Others, Despite Reasoning Abilities

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Crowd panics, market bubbles, and other unpredictable collective behaviors would not happen if people were smart about these things and just thought through their behavior before they acted. Right? That’s the perspective in economics, and even psychology and sociology.

Pigeons

“Let’s be smart about this, guys” (Via PBS.org)

But a UC Davis researcher looked at how people behave in simple reasoning games and found that people are usually driven to “flock,” or behave similarly to others in a given situation. Seth Frey, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, said this happens “even when people use the fancy reasoning processes that are supposed to make humans so special.”