Understanding How Rice Root Microbiome Can Promote Agricultural Growth

By Greg Watry

Your body plays host to a microbial ecosystem that’s ever-evolving, and its composition has implications for your overall health. The same holds true for plants and their microbiomes and the relationship is of pivotal importance to agriculture.

In a paper appearing in PLOS Biology, Joseph Edwards, ’17 Ph.D. in Plant Biology, Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, Departments of Plant Biology and Plant Sciences and their colleagues tracked root microbiome shifts throughout the life-cycle of rice plants (Oryza sativa). The research could help inform the design of agricultural probiotics by introducing age-appropriate microbes that promote traits like nutrient efficiency, strong roots and increased growth rates in the plants.  

Synchrony in Ecology: What Magnets Have To Do With Pistachios

By Kat Kerlin

Did you ever pass an orchard with branches bursting with flowers and wonder how the trees “know” when to blossom or bear fruit all at the same time? Or perhaps you’ve walked through the woods, crunching loads of acorns underfoot one year but almost none the next year.


A new study shows why pistachio trees are like magnets, mathematically speaking.

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have given such synchronicity considerable thought. In 2015, they developed a computer model showing that one of the most famous models in statistical physics, the Ising model, could be used to understand why events occur at the same time over long distances.

Multi-state E. coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

 By Heidi Meier and Ann Filmer

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a media statement in late December profiling a multi-state outbreak of food poisoning caused by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7 with 17 reported illnesses. Romaine and leafy greens are among the suspected sources of contamination, but no definitive source or location has been confirmed at this time, according to the CDC.

A lettuce field in California (photo by Trevor Suslow, UC Davis)

Humans Gathered Grapes Long Before They Cultivated Them

By Diane Nelson

About 22,000 years ago, as the ice sheets that consumed much of North America and Europe began retreating, humans started to eat a fruit that today brings joy to millions of wine drinkers around the world: grapes.

People have been making wine from grapes for at least 8,000 years, but genetic evidence shows that humans influenced grape vines long before that (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis).

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.

$1.6M from NSF to Study Water, Land Use in Disadvantaged Communities

By Kat Kerlin

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.6M to the University of California, Davis to analyze the complex relationships between surface water and groundwater supply, agricultural land use and the economic wellbeing of rural, disadvantaged communities.

The project is led by principal investigator Helen Dahlke, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. The team will develop models to help guide decision-making regarding water management and land use in the state.

Helen Dahlke in field

Helen Dahlke studies how groundwater is used and replenished in California. (Tiffany Kocis/UC Davis)

Hybrid Maize Boosts Yields for Kenyan Farmers

New Varieties Bred for Local Conditions

By Alex Russell

Hybrid maize seeds and the yields they make possible can make a big difference for small-scale farmers in developing economies worldwide, especially those who are at risk of poverty and food insecurity. However, low adoption rates are common, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kenyan farmer

Farmer Joshua Oyugi took part in trials of new hybrid seeds for mid-altitude conditions in Kenya. Most commercial maize seed in Kenya is created for conditions in the “White Highlands” over 5,000 meters. Photo credit AMA Innovation Lab.

From a Student Competition to a Potential Treatment for Celiac Disease

Synthetic DNA Approach is Key to Startup’s New Drug

By Lisa Howard

The way Justin Siegel describes it, ordering synthetic DNA is almost as easy as ordering a pair of shoes online.

“You just type it in — or if the protein has been sequenced at one point, we can copy and paste — order it, and it shows up five days later.”

UC Davis chemist Justin Siegel is a co-founder of PvP Biologics. The company is developing a new treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten. (UC Davis/Karin Higgins)

“Insect Allies” Enlisted to Protect Maize Crops from Pests

Researchers at UC Davis, the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University, the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University have received a four-year, $10.3 million “Insect Allies” award from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to engineer viruses carried by insects  that can help in combatting disease, drought, and other yield-reducing stresses in maize.

Corn leaf aphids feeding on maize. The VIPER “Insect Allies” project funded by DARPA will study using viruses carried by such insects to make mature maize plants resistant to pests. Photo by Meena Haribal.

Live-pig Markets and Traders Could Provide Insight to Controlling African Swine Fever

By Trina Wood

Understanding how live pigs are traded between villages and backyard farmers can help health agencies better understand how devastating swine diseases spread, according to a study published recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

Woman with pig

A Georgian pig owner with her animal. Backyard pigs are usually raised for home consumption, and loss of one to disease is a significant blow. Photo credit: FAO