Cancer and the DNA repair balancing act

Our DNA is constantly at risk of damage from chemicals or radiation, or routine processes in the cell. Sustained damage to DNA can lead to cancer, so quick and accurate repair is vital. A new study by researchers at UC Davis, published Oct. 23 in the journal Nature, shows how the mechanisms of repairing and copying DNA are balanced.

“The ultimate aim is to be able to push the balance in cancer cells away from repairing their DNA,” said Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, professor of microbiology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper. That would make cancer more vulnerable to drugs and radiation.

Talk: Mathematics and melting polar ice caps

The precipitous decline of the summer Arctic sea ice pack is probably the most visible, large scale change on Earth’s surface in recent years. Most global climate models, however, have significantly underestimated these losses. Kenneth Golden, professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, will give a talk Tuesday, Nov. 1 on campus on how math is being used to study melting ice.

The talk begins at 4.10 p.m. in Math Sciences, room 1147.

Video: Diving into past climate

These two beautifully produced videos show how UC Davis geologist Howard Spero and colleagues are using tiny marine animals to study the climate of the distant past.

Sediments from the bottom of the ocean are thick with the shells of planktonic animals callled foraminifera or ‘forams.’ These shells contain chemical traces that reflect the state of the ocean when they lived, and that can tell researchers about the climate millions of years ago.

Spero’s team dives around the Catalina islands to collect forams and bring them back to the lab, where they are cultured under different conditions so that they can calibrate their reconstructions of ancient climate.

UC Davis team places second, collects $1,000 in ‘chemical car’ competition

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) yesterday announced that the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez took top honors at the international Chem-E-Car competition in Minneapolis Sunday, while a team of UC Davis students placed second.

The winning team’s car, “CoKi Stroj” uses pneumatic pressure to run and a color changing reaction to stop. Coki Stroj defeated 31 other shoe-box sized cars bedecked with cougars, tiger tails and school logos.

The UC Davis car, “Stroeve,” was powered by an aluminum air battery with an iodine clock stopping mechanism.

Verosub teaches emergency response in Italy

Ken Verosub, Distinguished Professor in the geology department, spent two weeks in September in Pavia, Italy, teaching a short course on Earth Sciences and Natural Disasters in a masters program on risk and emergency management.

(Photo: Verosub, center leads the class)

The program is part of the Understanding and Managing Extremes Graduate School of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Pavia. Students from 8 countries (Italy, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Brazil and Mexico) are enrolled in the program, which focuses on the assessment, mitigation and management of extreme events, especially those arising from natural disasters.

Energy-efficient UC Davis West Village opens its doors

UC Davis West Village, the largest planned zero net energy community in the country, opened its doors to visitors and the media Saturday. The development, which includes both student, faculty and staff housing as well as commercial space, is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes.

Students began moving into the community’s Viridian and Ramble Apartments in August, with nearly all of the apartments now leased. Final build-out is expected in fall 2013. Today, the two apartment complexes are home to about 800 students, faculty and staff. Single-family homes, for sale to staff and faculty, are slated to be completed in late 2012.

Video: Pumpkin science

Here at UC Davis, pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. They are also used for research year-round. Professor Bill Lucas of the Department of Plant Biology uses pumpkins for his research on communications in plants because it is easy to tap their abundant sap. See more in this video.


Prehistoric Kraken “fun but implausible”

Geologist Mark McMenamin from Mount Holyoke College has been getting a lot of press this week after a presentation at the Geological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis about a giant octopus-like creature that attacked and ate bus-sized ichthyosaurs and made pictures out of their bones. If that sounds more like a made-for-cable movie plot than a scientific theory, it didn’t stop it getting a lot of largely non-skeptical media coverage.

Or there may be a simpler explanation that has more to do with ocean currents and how bones fall into piles than with monstrous, artistically-inclined cephalopods. Ryosuke Motani, a geology professor at UC Davis and an expert on ichthyosaurs and other swimming reptiles, told National Geographic that the ‘Kraken’ theory was “fun to think about…but very implausible.”

Chemistry Nobel: Almost-crystals, bathroom floors and Islamic art

The 2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Dan Shechtman of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa for work that has a lot to do with math as well as chemistry.

The Nobel committee honored Shechtman for discovering natural ‘quasicrystals’ (‘almost-crystals’).

True crystals are materials built up in a repeating pattern. As every chemist learns, a true crystal can only have certain kinds of symmetry — two-, three-, four-  or six-fold. In other words, you can build a cubic crystal out of a lot of small cubes, or a lot of hexagons. But you can’t build a real crystal out of a symmetric shape with five, seven or eight sides.

Physics Nobel for “astounding” cosmic acceleration

This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded for a “landmark in the history of human knowledge,” said Andy Albrecht, professor and chair of the physics department at UC Davis. Albrecht said he’d already emailed the recipients to congratulate them on “making an amazing field stupendous.”

“It’s very well deserved. The discovery was a huge surprise to many, and it made a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place, while simultaneously raising deeper questions,” said Lloyd Knox, professor of physics.