See-through Zebrafish May Hold Clues to Ovarian Cancer

by Greg Watry

For thousands of years, animals have helped humans advance biomedical research. Early Greeks, such as Aristotle and Galen, studied animals to gain insights into anatomy, physiology and pathology. Today, model organisms, like mice, help researchers understand human diseases, opening the door to potential defenses and new therapies.

Postdoc Dena Leerberg, and Bruce Draper, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, study reproductive development in zebrafish. David Slipher/UC Davis

Genome Project Aims to Restore Health of Redwood and Giant Sequoia Forests

By Ann Filmer

Some trees are better at surviving drought, fire, pests, and diseases than others. By identifying the genes responsible for these adaptations, scientists can compile a scalable database that will aid resource managers as they plan long-term conservation strategies, particularly as the climate changes.

UC Davis, Johns Hopkins University and Save the Redwoods League are working together to protect this iconic tree.

Professor David Neale, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, showed in preliminary research that it is feasible to sequence the redwood, which has a genome 10 times larger than ours. Redwoods are “hexaploid” with  six copies of each chromosome compared to humans’ two copies.

Live Fast Die Young: Updating Signal Detection Theory

Signal Detection Theory is a popular and well-established idea that has influenced behavioral science for around 50 years. Essentially, the theory holds that in a predator-prey relationship, prey animals will show more wariness and be more prone to flee as predators become more common. Danger signals are ambiguous, so in what appears to be a threatening situation, animals are better off running than hanging around to see if a predator really does strike.

Now Pete Trimmer, a postdoctoral research at UC Davis, has taken a fresh look at signal detection theory and come up with what at first look like counterintuitive results. In many cases, he says, animals should actually become less cautious as the risk of predation rises.

Crowdsourced Game Aims to Find Solutions to Aflatoxin

Mars, Inc., UC Davis and partners have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to solve the problem of aflatoxin contamination of crops. A series of aflatoxin puzzles will go online on Foldit, a platform that allows gamers to explore how amino acids are folded together to create proteins. The puzzles provide gamers with a starting enzyme that has the potential to degrade aflatoxin. Gamers from around the world then battle it out to redesign and improve the enzyme so that it can neutralize aflatoxin. Successful candidates from the computer game will be tested in the laboratory of Justin Siegel, assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis.

Explaining Life’s Rapid Evolution on Land

By Becky Oskin

Although life arose in the sea, some of its most astonishing evolutionary leaps happened after organisms conquered land, according to UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of evolutionary change in the fossil record,

Living on land brought new challenges and new opportunities for leaps in evolution, argues UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

Vermeij has identified 11 major innovations that appeared first among terrestrial creatures. Vermeij describes the “irreversible shift” in evolutionary dominance from sea to land in a new study published online October 2017 in the journal Current Biology.

Hear This: Knockout Mice Show Genes Linked to Deafness

Fifty-two newly discovered genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing gene-modified ‘knockout’ mice. The newly identifed genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans. The study published Oct. 12 in Nature Communications was carried out by the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), which includes the Mouse Biology Program at the University of California, Davis.

Prof. Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, in the lab. Gene-edited and “knockout” mice have become a vital tool in biomedical research. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Fabric from Fermented Tea in the Biomaker Lab

The Molecular Prototyping and BioInnovation Laboratory, or “Biomaker Lab” at UC Davis is a place where students can try out their ideas and develop their own projects in biotechnology. It reflects as “maker culture”  that is well-established in engineering, and growing in biological sciences.

“Kombucha couture” clothes made by artist Sacha Laurin (center) for Paris Fashion Week and National Geographic magazine. With Laurin are, from left, models Ghazal Gill, Grace Sanders and Ericah Howard, and reporter Bethany Crouch of CBS13 and Good Day Sacramento.

“Smart” Immune Cells: Emerging Cancer Therapy Research at UC Davis Boosted with NIH Award

By David Slipher

Assistant Professor Sean Collins, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, has received a $1.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of “smart” immune cells for therapies to treat cancer and other diseases. The five-year NIH Director’s New Innovator Award aims to provide new insight into how to engineer immune cells to control their recruitment and response to tumors.

Sean Collins

Assistant professor Sean Collins has received a NIH New Innovator award for work to make cancer therapies safer. Fred Greaves, UC Davis

Anxiety and Children with Fragile X Syndrome

By Kathleen Holder

Anxiety is a common problem for children and adults with fragile X syndrome, magnifying their struggles living with an inherited intellectual disability. New UC Davis research could lead to new ways to identify and treat their anxiety at a young age—even in infancy.

The study led by developmental psychologists Jessica Burris and Susan Rivera found that infants and young children with fragile X syndrome, unlike typically developing children, tend to have their attention specifically captured by angry faces rather than happy ones. That sort of “attentional bias” toward angry faces is a pattern associated with anxiety.

New Cardiac Catheter Combines Light and Ultrasound to Measure Plaques

By Holly Ober

To win the battle against heart disease, cardiologists need better ways to identify the composition of plaque most likely to rupture and cause a heart attack. Angiography allows them to examine blood vessels for constricted regions by injecting them with a contrast agent before X-raying them. But because plaque does not always result in constricted vessels, angiography can miss dangerous buildups of plaque. Intravascular ultrasound can penetrate the buildup to identify depth, but lacks the ability to identify some of the finer details about risk of plaque rupture.