Wilsaan Joiner: Understanding the Neuroscience of Movement, Vision and Perception

“What are the unmined frontiers of human knowledge?”

As an adolescent, Wilsaan Joiner was asked this question by his father, but in classic parental fashion, his dad already had a couple of answers in mind. Space exploration was one.

Wilsaan Joiner

Assistant Professor Wilsaan Joiner explores how sensory inputs, like vision, influence our motor actions and vice versa. David Slipher/UC Davis

“I hate to fly, so that was out,” said Joiner. “And the other area he thought was understanding how the brain works. He strongly suggested that neuroscience was an area where there was a potential amount of room to explore and grow and really contribute.”

Blending In: Grace Ha Investigates Camouflage in Eelgrass Meadows

By Greg Watry

Morning fog hugs Horseshoe Cove, a wispy veil of gray masking the Pacific Ocean. As it rolls towards the beach by the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, students explore the cove’s tide pools. A sea star engages in a slow motion life-or-death battle with a mussel, a bright yellow nudibranch traverses a kelp blade and a quarter-sized crab scurries among wet rocks.

“We’re in a region with a Mediterranean climate and upwelling— what’s cool is that both of these are associated with high levels of biodiversity,” says Grace Ha, a graduate student in ecology. In upwelling zones, nutrient-rich waters from the deep ocean are transported to coastal regions, which makes them hotspots for biodiversity.

$5.66 Million CIRM Grant Strengthens Researchers’ Spina Bifida Work

By Brady Oppenheim

UC Davis researchers have received a $5.66 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) supporting their research on stem-cell therapies for spina bifida.

Professor Aijun Wang of the UC Davis Departments of Biomedical Engineering and of Surgery and Professor Diana Farmer, chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery, will use the CIRM funding to continue their decade-long research efforts exploring stem-cell therapies that show promise for both animals and humans with the congenital condition.

Biomedical engineer Aijun Wang is collaborating with UC Davis surgeon Diana Farmer on research to treat spina bifida with stem cells in both human and animal patients. (UC Davis Health)

Microbial Genomics Gold Found in Old Data

By Scott Edmunds

There’s gold in those old databases. Analyses of genomic data often miss a large amount of information, but genome scientists at UC Davis have now created an automated analysis pipeline to dig out this hidden information. 

C. Titus Brown is associate professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Genome Center.

In a new study published in the journal GigaScience the researchers mine a huge marine microbial dataset from the Microbial Transcriptome Sequencing Project (MMETSP) to find new results.

Uncovering How Dengue, Zika Viruses Manipulate Hosts

A new, holistic approach to biology is giving researchers new insights into how the Dengue and Zika viruses attack their hosts and, in the case of Zika, affect brain development. Published Dec. 13 in the journal Cell, the work may open up new ways to think about treating virus infections or mitigating their effects.

Priya Shah in lab

Priya Shah’s work in systems biology spans the Colleges of Engineering and of Biological Sciences. The approach is giving new insight into how dengue and Zika viruses attack human cells. Credit: David Slipher, College of Biological Sciences

Rapid Genetic Evolution Linked to Lighter Skin Pigmentation in a Southern African Population

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Populations of indigenous people in southern Africa carry a gene that causes lighter skin, and scientists have now identified the rapid evolution of this gene in recent human history.

The gene that causes lighter skin pigmentation, SLC24A5, was introduced from eastern African to southern African populations just 2,000 years ago. Strong positive selection caused this gene to rise in frequency among some KhoeSan populations.

Brenna Henn

UC Davis anthropologist Brenna Henn and colleagues have shown that a gene for lighter skin spread rapidly among people in southern Africa in the last 2000 years.

How Plant Cells Build The Wall

By Ann Filmer

Animations and models of plant cell division are part of a new project investigating how plant cells form their distinctive walls.

Cell division is a fundamental aspect of life. Without cell division, living organisms do not grow. The last step of cell division, also called cytokinesis, is uniquely different in plants from that in animals and fungi due to the presence of cell walls in plants.

This 4D time sequence imaging from Georgia Drakakaki’s lab at UC Davis shows how new plant cell walls form between divided plant cells. Green, vesicles forming cell wall and red, cell membranes.

Visualizing “Unfurling” Microtubule Growth

Living cells depend absolutely on tubulin, a protein that forms hollow tube-like polymers, called microtubules, that form scaffolding for moving materials inside the cell. Tubulin-based microtubule scaffolding allows cells to move, keeps things in place or moves them around. When cells divide, microtubule fibers pull the chromosomes apart into new cells. Cells with defects in tubulin polymerization die.

Microtubule fibers are hollow rods made of much smaller tubulin subunits that spontaneously assemble at one end of the rod, but exactly how they do this inside the crowded environment of living cells has been a mystery. Now researchers at UC Davis have uncovered the mechanism that puts these blocks in place, illustrated in a new animation.

The Whole Tooth: New Method to Find Biological Sex From a Single Tooth

A team led by UC Davis researchers have come up with a new way to estimate the biological sex of human skeletal remains based on protein traces from teeth.

Tooth of a European-American buried in San Francisco in the 1850s. A new technique developed at UC Davis allows archaeologists
to find a person’s biological sex based on a single tooth. (Jelmer Eerkens)

Estimating the sex of human remains is important for archaeologists who want to understand ancient societies and peoples. Researchers can measure features of bones that differ between males and females, usually the pelvis. But skeletons of children and adolescents don’t show these structural changes, and often sites may only yield a few pieces of bone.

Exploring the Role of Redox and Bioelectric Players in Tissue Regeneration

Regeneration of a lost limb is arguably one of the seven wonders of biology. While you can’t grow a new arm, a humble tadpole can grow a new tail in a week. Seeking a better understanding of limb regeneration, Min Zhao, professor of dermatology and ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis, and graduate student Fernando Ferreira (also at University of Minho, Portugal) are studying the relationship of redox players, like oxygen and hydrogen peroxide, with bioelectricity, including membrane potential and electric currents, to pinpoint how a tadpole can regrow an amputated tail.