$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

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.

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.

Detecting E.coli Strains Using Molecular Electronics

New technology developed by Josh Hihath and colleagues at UC Davis uses atomically fine electrodes to suspend a DNA probe that binds target RNA. The device is able to detect as little as a one-base change in RNA, enough to detect toxic strains of E. coli.

By Aditi Risbud Bartl

Finding a fast and inexpensive way to detect specific strains of bacteria and viruses is critical to food safety, water quality, environmental protection and human health. However, current methods for detecting illness-causing strains of bacteria such as E. coli require either time-intensive biological cell cultures or DNA amplification approaches that rely on expensive laboratory equipment.

Study Explores How Fruit Flies Navigate Unstable Convective Air

By Greg Watry

Drosophila melanogaster

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster lives in deserts and also urban environments with many hot surfaces and resulting air currents. (Photo: Sanjay Acharya)

When insects migrate over vast distances, many take advantage of a natural phenomenon called thermal convection, which causes flow movement when air at different temperatures interact. Hitching a ride on invisible rollercoasters called convection cells, insects—like aphids and spiders—follow the flow of warm air upwards and cold air downwards.

“They are floating up to 3,000 feet,” said Victor Ortega-Jimenez, an assistant project scientist in the Combes Lab at UC Davis, of this movement. “All these clouds of insects are floating up there and moving in these convection cell patterns.”

Seeing Plants in Three Dimensions

Scientists are taking a new look at the inner workings of plants by imaging and modeling them in three dimensions.

“We’ve realized tremendous advances in technology for 3-D imaging of leaves,” said Tom Buckley, assistant professor of plant sciences at UC Davis.

Plant scientists are getting new insight by imaging and modeling leaves in three dimensions. (Image: University of Sydney)

Recent developments are summarized in an article in Trends in Plant Sciences, which sprang from a 2017 workshop at the University of Sydney organized by Buckley and Professor Margaret Barbour, University of Sydney.

From Lab Fruit Flies to Mosquito Extermination in 30 Years

Louis Pasteur famously compared science and its application to a tree and it’s fruit. The path from a fundamental discovery to application can be a long and winding one, but rewarding none the less.


Discoveries in basic genetics have now enabled scientists to wipe out lab populations of the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. (Anthony Cornel)

Professor Ken Burtis, faculty advisor to the Chancellor and Provost, recently came across an exciting example. Burtis was looking for a study for his first year seminar class when he found a paper from Andrea Crisanti’s lab at Imperial College London. Crisanti’s team was able to wipe out a lab population of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes by introducing a disrupted gene for sex determination and using CRISPR “gene drive” technology to spread it through the population. Within eight generations, there were no female mosquitoes left for breeding.