Foreclosed McMansions = Mosquito heaven

Home mortgage delinquencies in Bakersfield, Calif. increased 300 percent in 2007, while cases of West Nile virus almost tripled in the same year, according to a study by UC Davis entomologist William Reisen and colleagues.

The link? Neglected swimming pools and jacuzzis turning green and providing a perfect habitat for mosquitoes. More alarmingly, many of the pools were colonized Culex tarsalis, a species of mosquito usually found in more rural areas, which is better at transmitting West Nile virus than the mosquitoes it has replaced.

This aerial photo from the paper shows green and neglected pools in Bakersfield.  The paper is published in the current edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Tennis and visual perception

Disputing line calls has sometimes seemed like a second sport at tennis tournaments, especially Wimbledon. Now a detailed study by UC Davis psychologist David Whitney and colleagues at the Center for Mind and Brain shows that umpires are pretty good at getting those calls right — but when they do err, they are more likely to wrongly call an “out” when the ball is in, thanks to an optical illusion.

The researchers studied tapes from 57 matches from the Wimbledon tournaments in 2007 and 2008, more than 4,000 points in all. Of those, they found 83 incorrect rulings, 70 of which were balls called “out” when they were actually in play.

Build the Peripheral Canal, task force urges

A blue ribbon task force appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to look at solutions to the problems of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta voted 6-0 last week to recommend building a peripheral canal around the Delta.

The task force’s plan holds the environmental health of the Delta as co-equal to the interests of farmers and others who rely on water pumped from the Delta, according to Capital Press.

Best college town downtown?

California’s large public universities tend to be in big cities or suburbs rather than small towns, notes the California Planning and Development Report. But the state has a smattering of true college towns, writes blogger Paul Shigley.

#1 on Shigley’s list? Go on, guess.

Obama, Snapple and Rumors

What do presidential candidate Barack Obama and Snapple Iced Tea have in common? Patricia Turner, professor of African American and African studies at UC Davis, will answer that question in a presentation at the American Folklore Society in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, Oct. 23.

Turner, whose research focuses on urban legends and conspiracy theories, notes that Snapple had to grapple with two false rumors when it became a sensation in 1993. According to one, the company had ties to pro-life extremists. According to the other, it was owned by the Ku Klux Klan. Similarly, Obama has had to confront false rumors that he is Muslim, refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag and exchanges terrorist hand signals with his wife.

Micro blood pressure

William Ristenpart, now an assistant professor at UC Davis, and his former colleagues at Harvard have an interesting paper out this week on how red blood cells regulate blood pressure.

It is know that red blood cells play a role in regulating local blood pressure in small vessels, by releasing chemicals that cause the vessel walls to relax. Understanding exactly how this process works could further our understanding of circulatory diseases, diabetes and other conditions.

Freeman Dyson on campus and on the radio

Physicist, pacifist and all-round big thinker Freeman Dyson gives a public lecture on campus tomorrow, Tuesday Oct. 21 at 7 pm in the Alumni and Visitors Center. Professor Dyson’s topic will be, “The Individual or the Group.”

Dyson, whose interests have ranged from atomic physics to the origins of life and from space colonization to nuclear disarmament, is professor emeritus at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Dyson will also be a guest on Capital Public Radio’s Insight show tomorrow afternoon, 2-3 p.m. Tune to 90.9 FM locally or listen to a live audio stream here.

Mr Green Genes is a fluorescent feline

Researchers at the Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species in New Orleans have created a cat that glows in the dark. The six-month-old tabby, named “Mr Green Genes,” is apparently the world’s first transgenic cat, carrying the gene for Green Fluorescent Protein. Earlier this month, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to three researchers for their work on isolating and developing GFP, a protein originally found in jellyfish that is now a vital tool in biomedical research.

Leslie Lyons, a cat genetics expert at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, tells the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the point of using GFP is to show that a foreign gene can be inserted into cat DNA and work properly.

Sleepy seals in an MRI

An elephant seal can hold its breath for up to 80 minutes at a time while diving. How do they do that? Thomas Jue of the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, Paul Poganis of the Scripps Insititute at UC San Diego and colleagues used some advanced MRI machines at GE Medical Systems in Fremont to find out.

Using highly sensitive MRI, they could measure how oxygen bound to myoglobin in seal muscle. Myoglobin is an oxygen-binding protein, similar to the hemoglobin found in red blood cells, but located in muscle. Seals have about 20 times as much myoglobin in their muscles as humans do.

Rauchway on 1929 versus 2008

UC Davis historian Eric Rauchway talks to the Sacramento Bee’s Jim Downing about the parallels between the Great Depression and the current financial crisis.

The Hoover administration, Rauchway says, tried to ease a credit crunch by buying up bad debt. But Hoover was unwilling to go further and buy a government stake in banks.

(Federal Reserve Chairman) Ben Bernanke is a student of the Great Depression. He’s intent on not making the same mistakes the Fed made in the late 1920s. He’s intent on throwing some kind of fire wall to keep the high-level, high-finance crisis from being transmitted from the big banks and the rich people to the ordinary person.