If Pigeons Were Brilliant, Would They Flock?

UC Davis Study Finds People Flock, or Behave Similarly to Others, Despite Reasoning Abilities

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Crowd panics, market bubbles, and other unpredictable collective behaviors would not happen if people were smart about these things and just thought through their behavior before they acted. Right? That’s the perspective in economics, and even psychology and sociology.

Pigeons

“Let’s be smart about this, guys” (Via PBS.org)

But a UC Davis researcher looked at how people behave in simple reasoning games and found that people are usually driven to “flock,” or behave similarly to others in a given situation. Seth Frey, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, said this happens “even when people use the fancy reasoning processes that are supposed to make humans so special.”

Newly Discovered Enzyme is “Firing Pin” for Plant Immunity

SIK1 Gene Opens Possibilities for Treating Disease, Breeding Resistant Crops

Just like humans, plants have an immune system that helps them fight off infections. Plant immunity has some important differences: they don’t make antibodies and can’t fight off the same bug more quickly months or years later. However, plant cells can identify pathogens and react to them, often by producing a burst of reactive oxygen which is toxic to bacteria or fungi. Cells around an infected site will go into programmed cell death to seal off the disease.

Podcast: Intensive Training for Parents Referred to CPS Improves Child Physiology

Traumatic experiences, such as maltreatment as children, can influence how our mind and body react to stressful situations. UC Davis psychologist Paul Hastings and colleagues at the University of Washington have shown that intensive training for parents referred to Child Protective Services can improve physiological reactions to stress in their young children.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: Parenting and Child Physiology (Soundcloud)

More information

Training for Parents Referred to CPS Improves Toddler’s Physiological Regulation (UC Davis News)

Listen to more episodes of Three Minute Egghead on Soundcloud or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Maureen Kinyua: Waste Not

By Aditi Risbud Bartl

As an undergraduate physics major, Maureen Kinyua discovered her passion for science—combined with a sincere interest in helping others—could lead to a fruitful career in engineering.

Maureen Kinyua is taking new approaches to recycling animal waste. (UC Davis College of Engineering)

“I liked how you could combine physics, chemistry and biology into something more applied,” she said. “Engineering also gave me a way to mix my interest in science while actually doing good for the environment.”

Beetle Adapts Chemical Mimicry To Parasitize Different Bee Species

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

A beetle that tricks bees into carrying it into their nests where it can live off their pollen, nectar and eggs adapts its deceptions to local hosts, according to research by Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a graduate student in entomology at UC Davis.

Aggregations of the larvae of Meloe franciscanus beetles lure male digger bees (genus Habropoda) with chemical signals that mimic female sex pheromones. The larvae, also known as triungulins, attach themselves to males, transfer to female bees during copulation and hitch a ride back to the nest, where they feed on bee eggs and provisions and emerge as adult beetles the following winter.

Karen Moxon: Decoding the Brain

Engineering professor in lab

Karen Moxon, professor of biomedical engineering, in her lab at UC Davis. Photo by Reeta Asmai/UC Davis.

By Aditi Risbud Bartl 

In the last decade, researchers in academia and the technology sector have been racing to unlock the potential of artificial intelligence. In parallel with federally-funded efforts from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, heavy-hitters such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google are deeply invested in artificial intelligence.

As part of the BRAIN Initiative, many UC Davis investigators are studying the nervous system and developing new technologies to investigate brain function.

Seabird Study Provides Insights into Sexual Selection

By Greg Watry

What scent attracts a seabird’s mate?

Gabrielle Nevitt holds a Leach's storm-petrel.

Professor Gabrielle Nevitt has studied Leach’s storm-petrels since 1996, first on Kent Island and then Bon Portage Island. (Courtesy photo)

It’s a question on the mind of Professor Gabrielle Nevitt, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. An expert on the chemical senses of birds, Nevitt and members of her lab have been studying Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucohoa) for over 20 years with the goal of making the species a model for chemical ecology in birds.

Markers of Cellular Aging Improve During Insight Meditation Retreat

By Anahita Hamidi

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences that act as protective “caps” at the end of DNA strands. As cells age, either as a function of time or as a result of stress and poor health, telomeres tend to shorten. As such, telomere length can be used as a crude biological marker of health and well-being.

Telomeres are caps at the end of a chromosome. They become shorter with aging. (Getty Images)

A recent study by researchers at the University of California Davis, Center for Mind and Brain, measured changes in telomere length, telomerase (the enzyme which replenishes telomeres), and telomere-regulating genes in a group of individuals who participated in a month-long Insight meditation retreat.

Study Challenges Evolution of How Humans Acquired Language

By Karen Nikos-Rose

A gene implicated in affecting speech and language, FOXP2, is held up as a “textbook” example of positive selection on a human-specific trait. But in a paper in the journal Cell on Aug. 2, researchers challenge this finding. Their analysis of genetic data from a diverse sample of modern people and Neanderthals saw no evidence for recent, human-specific selection of FOXP2 and revises the history of how we think humans acquired language.

Brain graphic

What makes us human? The FOXP2 gene has been associated with uniquely human language abilities. But a new study with a wider variety of people shows no evidence of selection for FOXP2 in modern humans. (Image by Brenna Henn, UC Davis)

Gene Discovery Pushes Back Origins of Insect Sense of Smell

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Doctoral candidate Philipp Brand and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, had just finished compiling the genome, or complete set of genetic material of the firebrat — a tiny wingless, nocturnal insect found throughout much of the world — when something surprised him.

Adult firebrat (left) and developmental stages. Firebrats are among the most ancient types of insects and can be pests attacking paper and fabrics. Photo by Dong-Hwan Choe, UC IPM.

There they were–odorant receptor genes, the scent-detecting genes thought to have evolved with winged insects more than 400 million years ago. But this groundbreaking discovery indicates they evolved millions of years earlier.