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

DNA Sequencer Gifted to African Orphan Crops Consortium

By Diane Nelson

The bioinformatics company Illumina has donated a state-of the-art DNA sequencer to a global plant-breeding effort to fight malnutrition and poverty in Africa by improving the continent’s traditional crops. UC Davis is partnering in the African Orphan Crop Consortium, which is working to map and make public the genomes of 101 indigenous African foods.

These “orphan” crops are crucial to African livelihood and nutrition, but have been mostly ignored by science and seed companies because they are not traded internationally like commodities such as rice, corn, and wheat.

Paris Soil Carbon Goals Not Feasible, Because of Nitrogen

By Ann Filmer

Goals for carbon reduction from sequestration in soils set in the 2015 Paris Agreement are not feasible, according to an international team of climate scientists. Regardless of whether the U.S. remains part of the Paris climate accord, scientists at the University of California, Davis, are developing additional agricultural methods to offset increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, thereby reducing the potential for global warming.

Subsurface drip irrigation

Subsurface drip irrigation in a tomato field at UC Davis. This irrigation method saves water, reduces fertilizer use and reduces emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Photo by Martin Burger, UC Davis.

Podcast: Science at the Root

In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.

Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.

Brady’s lab is looking at the network of genes that work together to control how xylem cells develop and grow, looking especially at the lab plant Arabidopsis, domestic tomato and its wild relatives, and the African staple crop sorghum.