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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, I talk to John Henderson of the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain about a new paper from his lab that overturns current thinking about visual attention.
It’s usually thought that our eyes are drawn to objects that are salient or “stand out” from the background. But this “magpie theory” of attention is wrong, Henderson says. He and postdoc Taylor Hayes show instead that our eyes are drawn by parts of a scene that have “meaning.”
Visual Attention Drawn to Meaning, not What Stands Out (news release)
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.”
By Holly Ober
Creating a model of atrial fibrillation with live human heart cells on a chip is the goal of a new $6 million, five-year grant to Professor Steven George at the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat caused when the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers, leading to a variety of health problems including stroke and death. Nearly one in ten people over the age of 65 suffer from atrial fibrillation at a cost of around $6 billion.