Deep in the ocean, a clam that acts like a plant

How does life survive in the black depths of the ocean? At the surface, sunlight allows green plants to “fix” carbon from the air to build their bodies. Around hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean live communities of giant clams with no gut and no functional digestive system, depending on symbiotic bacteria to use energy locked up in hydrogen sulfide to replace sunlight. Now, the genome of this symbiont has been completely sequenced and published in Science.

“The difference here is that while plants get their energy and carbon via photosynthesis by chloroplast symbionts, this clam gets its energy via chemosynthesis,” said Jonathan Eisen, a professor at the UC Davis Genome Center and an author on the paper.

Inside Bay Area – Romance in a bottle

Seguing from chocolate to red, red wine, David Stevens, who teaches wine chemistry through the UC Davis Extension Program, compares Syrah to high-end chocolate, comparing both to “symphonies” of flavor.

‘”You take an organic compound, chocolate or wine, and they both have phenols, suites of flavors that are similar and invoke similar reactions,” he says. Let a piece of dark chocolate melt on your mouth. Taste that dark fruit and earth? Its like a good syrah. Wine has alcohol, which gives viscosity. Chocolate has fat. Chocolate contains acids. We know wine has lots of acids. And they both make us feel pretty loopy.

AAAS: Two takes on chocolate

It was standing room only for the session on the neurobiology of chocolate at the AAAS meeting Sunday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee. Panelists included Hagen Schroeter, a scientist with candymaker Mars, Inc. who also has an appointment at UC Davis.

The session discussed flavanols, compounds found in cocoa beans that have been shown to have benefits on heart health. New evidence suggests that they also help retain memories and increase blood flow to some parts of the brain. (Not to be confused with flavonols, another active chemical found in plants.) The Chronicle’s Carl Hall presents a slightly whimsical write up of the session, which is after all about chocolate, a subject dear to the tastebuds of many.

ABC News: Infants Form Memories Early in Life, but Also Forget

From the AAAS Meeting: A report from this morning’s session on baby minds. Lisa Oakes, a researcher at UC Davis’s Center for Mind and Brain and a co-organizer of the session, notes that babies are extremely intelligent — but they have an overwhelming task in learning to comprehend the world.

UC Davis at the AAAS Meeting

As mentioned below the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco began yesterday and runs through the long weekend. Usually, the meeting generates some high profile news stories, partly because some big science news gets announced at the meeting, and partly because the reporters attending have been ordered by their editors to file lots of copy to justify letting them out of the newsroom for a few days.

If you want to follow up to the minute news, Science magazine’s reporters are blogging from the conference. And AAAS senior writer Edward W. Lempinen is collecting news reports originating from the meeting and posting them on a blog.

NASA Orbiter: More evidence for water on Mars

New pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show yet more evidence for water flowing on Mars, at least in the past. Bleaching along fissures in rock shows that water once flowed along those cracks causing chemical alterations, according to the NASA scientists.

NASA’s press release is here. The results were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which kicked off in San Francisco yesterday.

It seems that by this point, it’s pretty much certain that Mars was once a wetter world. But how much wetter, for how long, and how long ago?

Tracking Climate Change Through Ocean Currents

ABC7 News from the Bay Area recently tagged along with Tessa Hill, a geologist at UC Davis and the Bodega Marine Laboratory on a research cruise. Hill is collecting samples of sediments from the ocean bottom to learn more about climate change in the past 20,000 years, and she’s concerned about where we might be headed in the future.

Last year Hill published a paper suggesting that climate change during the last Ice Age could have caused massive release of methane from stores in ocean sediments. Because methane is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, that would have had the effect of reinforcing global warming at the time.

Catalysis expert elected to the National Academy of Engineering

Bruce GatesBruce Gates, distinguished professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Gates’ research speciality is in catalysis, developing new materials that make chemical reactions occur more quickly and efficiently. That’s a central concern for the chemical industry.

Catalysis picThe home page for the Catalysis Research Group includes a gallery of images from his work. In 2002 I wrote about a paper in Nature from his group, on using clusters of irridium atoms, four atoms in a tiny pyramid, as catalysts.

Nodding lizards in the New York Times

Henry Fountain’s column in the New York Times Science Section today picks up on some new work by Terry Ord, a postdoc at UC Davis. He’s been studying how some tiny lizards communicate in the jungle, and he’s found that when it’s noisy, they shout.

Not so surprising? The twist is that the lizards are communicating visually. Male Anole lizards signal ownership of their territory by sitting up on a tree trunk, bobbing their heads up and down and blowing out a colorful throat pouch. They can spot a rival lizard up to 25 meters away.

Marking Lincoln’s birthday, and Darwin’s

Today is the joint birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin — both were born on February 12, 1809. It is perhaps a mark of the continuing influence of both men that editing of their Wikipedia pages is currently disabled.

While public schools here are closed for Lincoln’s birthday (and AGAIN next week for Washington’s birthday) Darwin Day Celebrations are taking place around the world. Locally, UC Davis geology professor Geerat (Gary) Vermeij spoke at a Darwin Day event in Carmichael last night, talking about his work on sea shells and evolution.