Plant Genes May Lack Off Switch, But Have Volume Control

By Jenna Gallegos

Scientists at the University of California, Davis have discovered that DNA sequences thought to be essential for gene activity can be expendable. Sequences once called junk sometimes call the shots instead.

Jenna Gallegos with an Arabidopsis plant. Arabidopsis thaliana or "thale cress" is a popular plant for laboratory studies.

Jenna Gallegos with an Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Sometimes called “thale cress,” Arabidopsis is a popular plant for laboratory studies.

Professor Alan Rose has been working for over two decades to unravel a mechanism called “intron-mediated enhancement.” I’m a graduate student in Rose’s lab, and we made an exceptional discovery in an unexceptional plant called Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress.

Gene Salad: Lettuce Genome Assembly Published

Represents Most Successful Group of Flowering Plants 

By Pat Bailey

Today (April 12), UC Davis researchers announced in Nature Communications that they have unlocked a treasure-trove of genetic information about lettuce and related plants, releasing the first comprehensive genome assembly for lettuce and the huge Compositae plant family.

Lettuce flower

Lettuce belongs to a large Compositae family of plants. A lettuce flower shows the similarity to plants such as ragweed and sunflowers. (Gregory Urquiaga)

Garden lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is the plant species that includes a salad bar’s worth of lettuce types, ranging from iceberg to romaine. With an annual on-farm value of more than $2.4 billion, it is the most valuable fresh vegetable and one of the 10 most valuable crops, overall, in the United States.

New Lattice Light-Sheet Microscope To Boldly Go

New Instrument Will Enable Discovery in Biology

By Cassaundra Baber

The addition of a ground-breaking microscope to the College of Biological Sciences’ arsenal of research tools will transform the way UC Davis life scientists conduct research, researchers say. The lattice light-sheet microscope — one of approximately 25 of its type in the world — has the potential to revolutionize what is known about the living cell.

“Think about Galileo and his telescope,” said Michael Paddy, scientific coordinator for the Light Microscopy Imaging Facility in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “His invention changed astronomy and our understanding of our place in the world.”

New Type of Insulin-Producing Cell Discovered

Possible new route to regenerating function lost in diabetes

In people with type I diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas die and are not replaced. Without these cells, the body loses the ability to control blood glucose. Researchers at the University of California, Davis have now discovered a possible new route to regenerating beta cells, giving insight into the basic mechanisms behind healthy metabolism and diabetes. Eventually, such research could lead to better treatment or cures for diabetes.

Video Games a Viable Treatment for Depression

People play more often when they receive reminders, study finds

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Video games and “brain training” applications are increasingly touted as an effective treatment for depression. A new UC Davis study carries it a step further, though, finding that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

“Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts … mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” according to the study.

People’s Romantic Choices Share Characteristics, But for Different Reasons

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Ever wondered what your exes have in common, and how they differ from people you never dated?

The people one dates share many similarities – both physically and personality-wise — a new UC Davis study has found.

For observable qualities like attractiveness, similarity emerges because attractive people seduce other attractive people. But, researchers said, for qualities that vary greatly depending on where you live (like education or religion) similarity emerges because educated or religious people tend to meet each other, not because educated or religious people actively select each other.

Soil Microbes to Help African Farmers Fight Striga

Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With a grant of $8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team including UC Davis researchers will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating the five-year project.

Striga on sorghum field

A sorghum field infested with Striga (purple flowers). The parasitic plant destroys up to half of Africa’s sorghum crop. (Taye Tessema, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)

UC Davis Scientists Boost Production in Green Cell Factories

By Becky Oskin

Cyanobacteria, one of Earth’s oldest life forms, offer a promising new source of petroleum-free fuels and chemicals. However, economies of scale currently make it challenging for these tiny creatures to compete with fossil fuels. Now, scientists at UC Davis are closer to meeting these challenges with a new advance that improves the production and growth rate of cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria culture

UC Davis chemist Shota Atsumi is engineering these cyanobacteria to produce biofuels. (Photo by T.J. Ushing)

Visiting scholar Masahiro Kanno, graduate student Austin Carroll and chemistry professor Shota Atsumi introduced new genetic pathways into cyanobacteria that could help make microbe-based chemical production systems smaller and easier to operate.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.

Flour, Oil and Bouillon Cubes, Improving Health Worldwide

Nutritionist Looks at Fortifying Staple Foods To Boost Health

By Lisa Howard

Reina Engle-Stone was halfway through her biology degree at Cornell University when she discovered global nutrition.

Her introduction was a nutritional epidemiology class, and almost immediately she was hooked. “You could take biology and apply it to other things. I thought, this is great, this is what I want to do,” she says.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.