Chemical Messengers, Calcium and Neutrophils

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell. They play a vital role in defending us from infections, by engulfing and destroying bacteria and viruses or cancerous cells. A new study by UC Davis engineering student Emmet Francis, working with Professor Volkmar Heinrich in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, adds to our knowledge of how neutrophils are drawn towards infection sites and how they can attack their targets.

First, Francis and Heinrich looked at how isolated neutrophils respond to chemical messengers called anaphylatoxins. These molecules guide immune cells to their targets but can cause severe illness in excessive amounts.

Podcast: Restored Putah Creek Blooms With Bird Life

Until about twenty years ago, Putah Creek near the UC Davis campus was a dry, trash-filled ditch. Then a lawsuit led to the Putah Creek Accord, which mandated year-round water flows to help protect fish and habitat. In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, Kat Kerlin hears how restoring water has brought the creek back to life.

More information

Feature story: Little Creek, Big Impact

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Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin

Understanding How Rice Root Microbiome Can Promote Agricultural Growth

By Greg Watry

Your body plays host to a microbial ecosystem that’s ever-evolving, and its composition has implications for your overall health. The same holds true for plants and their microbiomes and the relationship is of pivotal importance to agriculture.

In a paper appearing in PLOS Biology, Joseph Edwards, ’17 Ph.D. in Plant Biology, Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, Departments of Plant Biology and Plant Sciences and their colleagues tracked root microbiome shifts throughout the life-cycle of rice plants (Oryza sativa). The research could help inform the design of agricultural probiotics by introducing age-appropriate microbes that promote traits like nutrient efficiency, strong roots and increased growth rates in the plants.  

Taking Cues From Speech Recognition, New Machine Learning Algorithm Finds Patterns in RNA Structures

By Greg Watry

Software inspired by speech recognition technology could help scientists understand the secret language inside cells. A machine learning algorithm called patteRNA, designed by UC Davis researchers, rapidly mines ribonucleic acid, commonly called RNA, for specific structures, providing a new method to establish links between structure, function and disease.

The study, co-authored by integrative genetics and genomics Ph.D. student Mirko Ledda and Assistant Professor Sharon Aviran, UC Davis Genome Center, appears in Genome Biology.

Deciphering the biological role of RNA structures

RNA is essential to all biological processes, from gene expression and regulation to protein synthesis. While DNA stores an organism’s genetic information, RNA puts that genetic information to use.

Receptors Key to Strong Memories

When we create a memory, a pattern of connections forms between neurons in the brain. New work from UC Davis shows how these connections can be strengthened or weakened at a molecular level. The study is published Feb. 27 in the journal Cell Reports.

AMPA-type glutamate receptors are responsible for fast synaptic transmission in the brain. (Wikipedia image)

Neurons branch into many small fibers, called dendrites, that connect to other neurons across tiny gaps called synapses. Messages travel across synapses as chemical signals: A molecule, or neurotransmitter, is released on one side of the synapse and connects with a receptor on the other side, a bit like tossing a ball and a fielder catching it in a mitt.

How Population Genetics Can Help Breed a Hardier Honey Bee

by Greg Watry

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera), the world’s most important pollinator for agriculture, is facing a crisis. Parasitic mites, colony collapse and climate change threaten hives. California, as the seasonal home of nearly half of the continental United States’ managed honey bee colonies, is a prime location for monitoring bee populations. And honey bee health, key to the nation’s largest fresh produce economy, is vital to the Golden State.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

Synchrony in Ecology: What Magnets Have To Do With Pistachios

By Kat Kerlin

Did you ever pass an orchard with branches bursting with flowers and wonder how the trees “know” when to blossom or bear fruit all at the same time? Or perhaps you’ve walked through the woods, crunching loads of acorns underfoot one year but almost none the next year.


A new study shows why pistachio trees are like magnets, mathematically speaking.

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have given such synchronicity considerable thought. In 2015, they developed a computer model showing that one of the most famous models in statistical physics, the Ising model, could be used to understand why events occur at the same time over long distances.

Scientist’s Talk on TEDGlobal Stage Featured on

By Kat Kerlin

Mike Gil is used to spreading the word about his love of science through his nonprofit and its YouTube channel, but he’s about to get a bigger audience. His TED Talk, recorded last summer, was posted today on TED’s main channel. Only a fraction of talks given at TED conferences are posted to the main website, which has millions of subscribers.

“Who here is fascinated by life under the sea?” he asked the audience in his opening line. All hands go up.

How the Cell’s Roadways are Remodeled for Cell Division

By Greg Watry

Within every cell is a transportation system that rivals our most complex roadways and interchanges. Known collectively as the cytoskeleton, this system is used by molecular machines called motor proteins to transport cargo throughout the cell. It’s also essential to the vital process of cell division.


Image of the mitotic spindle in a human cell showing microtubules in green, chromosomes (DNA) in blue, and kinetochores in red. (Wikimedia Commons)

Looking for New Pollutants in the Ashes of Sonoma

In this month’s episode of Three Minute Egghead, UC Davis graduate student Gabrielle Black talks about collecting samples of ash from neighborhoods burned by last year’s northern California wildfires. The intense heat on a wide range of household items from insulation to electronics may have created new chemical pollutants. Thanks to modern analytic technology, Black plans to search for both known pollutants and new compounds, and compare them to the ashes of burned wild land.

Listen to the podcast here.

More information

Testing Sonoma Ash and Air for Fire-Formed Pollutants

WHAT-NOW Survey (UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center)