Wine, genomics and headaches

The health page on reports that David Mills, an associate professor in viticulture and enology, is using genetic mapping to take on the red wine headache. Mills is using genomic technology to look for bacteria that make the chemicals that cause the problem. Vintners should then be able to get rid of them by tweaking the fermentation conditions.

Mills approach might be called ecological genomics — instead of studying all the genes and DNA of one bug, he is trying to capture all the dozens of yeast and bacteria that live in a wine fermentation and see how they interact. The “-omics” approach is the new wave in biology, being applied to topics such as metabolism, milk and mosquitoes. More about the UC Davis Genome Center, here.

Living a Second Life with Schizophrenia

This week’s Economist leads off an article on the virtual world “Second Life” with psychiatry professor Peter Yellowlees, who is using it to show his students what it’s like to experience schizophrenic hallucinations. He has recreated his Sacramento clinic on an island in Second Life, and holds lectures there for his students. Previously, he could never really explain to his students what it was like to suffer from schizophrenia, but now, “It’s so powerful that some get quite upset,” he told the magazine.

More about schizophrenia research at UC Davis — from the dark ages of 2001 — here. More about Second Life, here.

More on Open Source

Premkumar Devanbu’s project on open source software continues to buzz, with articles on, an interview on and an article on the blog Dr Dobb’s Journal, all off our science news tip from last week. Devanbu told ComputerWorld that while their project is specifically about open source, “the lessons learned are universally applicable to software projects, and perhaps more broadly to complex human endeavours.”

It’s That Time of Year Again…

…When scientists move the phone a bit closer to the bed in case they get a call from Stockholm at 2 am (apparently the Swedes always call during their own office hours). Thomson Scientific is running a poll of possible Nobel laureates in medicine, physics, chemistry and economics.

No UC Davis representatives in Thomson’s predictions, although Mario Capecchi, tipped as a possibility for the medicine prize, has connections to campus through the Mouse Biology Program. He spoke on campus in April, as part of the College of Biological Sciences’ Storer lecture series.
Not on Thomson’s list is UCSF’s Elizabeth Blackburn, a winner of this year’s Lasker Prize for basic medical research, often considered a tip for the Nobel.

Early career award to Simon Chan

SimonChanSimon Chan, an assistant professor in the Section of Plant Biology, has won an early career award from the American Society of Plant Biology. The award recognizes “outstanding creative and independent research by scientists in the first five years after receiving their Ph.D.,” according to the Society’s press release. Chan is interested in how genetic information is correctly passed along — a question with wide relevance, and not just in plants. Here’s his lab web page.

What do you think about airline security?

People might not like standing in line to get through security screening at the airport, but what travellers are really looking for is consistency in how long screening procedures take, according to a new study by Deb Niemeier at UC Davis and colleagues at Purdue University.

According to their survey of travellers, men were a bit less likely to be dissatisfied at the time spent waiting for screening, high-earners were a bit more likely to be satisfied, and people who were reluctant to fly after the 9/11 attacks were most likely to be dissatisfied.

What to do next week: Bionetworks and computation symposium

Just back on campus? Looking for something to do? Dive straight in: The UC Davis Biological Networks Initiative is holding a symposium Monday Sept. 25 on “biological networks and computation.” Speakers from UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Stanford, Duke and Iowa State will be talking about their work.

According to the initiative’s web site, many aspects of biology can be represented as networks (food webs, biochemical pathways, interactions between genes) and these can be simulated on computers. In fact they are so complicated that they can probably only be understood with computers.

Science tips: DNA repair, building software, busy bees

This month’s batch of science tips includes a new twist on a story I have covered previously: Steve Kowalczykowski’s work on DNA repair. Back in 2001, Kowalczykowski and Ron Baskin developed a method for trapping single pieces of DNA and watching a single enzyme, called RecBCD, at work on them. RecBCD’s job is to unwind the DNA double helix so that the two strands can be copied, and Kowalczykowski’s group was able to film this happening in real time. A video of this was posted on the San Francisco Chronicle’s web site in January 2001 and was the most popular download of the month, beating a clip of President Bush’s first inauguration.

It’s an Egg!

Alan Balch’s lab in the Chemistry Department just published an article about this egg-shaped fullerene. Fullerenes, or “buckyballs” (after Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome) are usually spherical soccer-ball type molecules made out of carbon atoms. A relative is the carbon nanotube.


Chevron funds biofuels project

Chevron Corp. will award up to $25 million over the next five years to fund biofuel research projects at UC Davis. The main area of focus is on turning “lignocellulosic biomass” (or “wood,” basically) into fuels such as ethanol.

“Chevron’s interest in next-generation biofuels is a very good fit with UC Davis’ expertise in alternative fuels and transportation systems, said UC Davis vice chancellor for research Barry Klein.”