Science in the Palm of Your Hand: How Citizen Science Transforms Passive Learners into Engaged Scientists

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Third-grader Jessica was quiet in group discussions and did not see herself as a strong science student. But after an eight-week unit in school where she was able to read, write about, collect data on and even draw and photograph ladybugs for a project, she began to see herself as scientist in her own right – explaining the life stages and lifestyles of ladybugs to grownups with conviction.

Citizen science projects can engage kids, a UC Davis study finds.

Jessica became a citizen scientist.

Data Dump: 11,000 Donate Stool Samples to Gut Microbiome Project

By Greg Watry

The American Gut Project has just produced the largest study yet of microbial diversity in human poop. With “contributions” from more than 11,000 citizen scientists, the team led by researchers at UC San Diego has compiled a public reference database on the human gut microbiome, published May 15 in the journal mSystems. The study is a step forward in understanding how factors such as diet, antibiotics and mental health relate to the microbes living in the human gut.

Biology Researchers Make Cell Metabolism “Best of 2017”           

Two different teams of researchers from the College of Biological Sciences are represented in the “Best of 2017” issue of the prominent journal Cell Metabolism. Their papers, on insulin-producing beta cells and on the effects of a low-carb diet on longevity in mice, are among just five research articles chosen to appear in the special issue along with two clinical reports and four review articles.

Pancreatic islet

Pancreatic islets make insulin in response to blood glucose. Mark Huising/UC Davis

Using DNA Databases to Track Down the Golden State Killer Suspect

It’s been widely reported that investigators got a break in the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case when they uploaded a DNA profile to a genealogy database, GEDmatch, and identified relatives of the suspect, Joseph DeAngelo. Did they get lucky, or did they have a good chance of finding him? UC Davis population biologists Graham Coop and M. D. “Doc” Edge have written a nice explainer of the science behind this search.

DNA overlap between first cousins and their common grandmother (GCBias.org)

Breast Milk Nourishes Probiotics for Healthy Babies

Earlier this week NPR broadcast a story about growing interest in giving probiotics – beneficial bacteria that live in the gut – to babies. Mark Underwood, professor of pediatrics, explained that in UC Davis neonatal care unit, all premature babies under a certain weight are given a probiotic to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC),a potentially deadly inflammation of the intestine. It’s becoming a common practice in premature infants, and Underwood and colleagues have carried out a clinical trial in full-term infants. They showed that newborns fed a supplement containing Bifidobacterium bacteria (thought to be beneficial) had more “good bacteria” and fewer “bad bacteria” in their guts two months later.

Podcast: The Earth BioGenome Project

This month I talk to Professor Harris Lewin, one of the organizers of the Earth BioGenome Project. The ambitious project to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic life on Earth within ten years is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: The Earth BioGenome Project

More information

Earth BioGenome Project Aims to Sequence DNA from All Complex Life on Earth (news release)

Earth BioGenome Project to Sequence All Life: Partnership Announced at World Economic Forum in Davos (news release)

Why Whales? What Sends Land Animals Back to Sea

Whales, the largest animals we know of that have lived on Earth, are descended from deer-like creatures that splashed around in creeks about 50 million years ago. It’s not just the mammals that went back to sea: Birds and reptiles also re-colonized the oceans after living on land.

Blue whale

A blue whale off the coast of Southern California. Photo by D Ramey Logan, via Wikipedia.

What drives species to move into such a different habitat? One prevailing idea is that following mass extinction events, surviving species occupy the habitats left empty in a burst of biological creativity. But there could be other, less dramatic reasons: perhaps there were too many predators on land, or an abundance of resources in marine environments.

Podcast: Plant Biochemist is Top Teacher

In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, meet Judy Callis, professor of molecular and cellular biology, who has just received the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

Professor Judy Callis studies the ubiquitin system in plants. She is recipient of the 2018 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

Callis teaches biochemistry and her lab studies the ubiquitin system in plants. Once thought to be a way to tag proteins inside cells for “garbage disposal,” ubiquitin turns out to have a ubiquitous role in regulating metabolism.

Listen: https://soundcloud.com/andy-fell/plant-biochemist-is-uc-davis-top-teacher

Study That Cast Doubt on Mouse CRISPR-Cas9 Retracted

A study that cast doubt on the usefulness of CRISPR-Cas9 “gene editing” technology to introduce genetic changes in animals has been retracted by the journal Nature Methods. Among those refuting the work were Professor Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, and colleagues from the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, whose letter was one of five published by the journal March 30.

CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to introduce very specific edits into DNA. In laboratory mice, the technology could be used to make edits in embryos that are then grown to adult mice. One of the attractions of CRISPR-Cas9 is that it is supposed to make these edits without affecting other genes.

Investigating the Seagrass Microbiome

By Karley Marie Lujan

Seagrass carpets the seafloor creating a unique and vital ecosystem in shallow marine environments. Sea turtles graze on seagrass leaves while smaller organisms seek refuge in the green fields but, on the microscopic level, seagrass is also home to microbial communities. Such microbes compose the seagrass microbiome and potentially play a role in seagrass ecology.

Turtle and seagrass

Sea turtles and other marine animals browse on seagrass meadows. (NOAA photo)

UC Davis graduate student Cassie Ettinger identifies and characterizes seagrass-associated microbial communities. A study published last year in the journal PeerJ suggests how understanding the role of these microbes could reveal new information about seagrass sulfur cycling and establish seagrass as a model organism.