Surprise Result: Increasing Dispersal Increases Ecological Diversity

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

A study of microbes that live in the nectar of flowers has turned up an unexpected result that challenges a common assumption in ecology.

It’s been widely assumed that the more easily organisms can disperse between habitats, the more similar the mix of species in those habitats will be.

Sticky Monkeyflower

The flowers of Sticky Monkeyflower contain a mix of microbes that live on nectar. A new study shows how microbial diversity changes between flowers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis Mouse Biology Program Developing “Green” Mouse House

By Dawn Rowe

The UC Davis Mouse Biology Program (MBP) has received an award of $414,000 from the National Institutes of Health to move towards sustainable, environment-friendly technology for its high-containment vivarium for mutant mice.  The grant will also improve animal health and welfare, ergonomics for vivarium staff, and operational efficiencies.

Prof. Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, in the lab. Gene-edited and “knockout” mice have become a vital tool in biomedical research. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Going ‘green” is a multi-step process that will take place over the next 12 months, and led by Kristin Grimsrud, associate director of vivaria and veterinary care for the program.

Podcast: Science at the Root

In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.

Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.

Wallflower or Center of the Pack? Baboons Find Their Place

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Are you the kind of person who, at a party, tends to be surrounded by friends in the middle of the crowd, or do you prefer to find a quiet corner where you can sit and talk? Recent work by scientists at UC Davis shows that wild baboons behave similarly to humans —  with some animals consistently found in the vanguard of their troop while others crowd to the center or lag in the rear.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.

Successful CRISPR Gene Editing in Non-Human Primates

By Carlos Villatoro

Imagine a world where maladies such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, or sickle cell anemia no longer exist. While the U.S. is far from achieving this lofty goal, it recently came a step closer at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), where scientists have efficiently used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify the genes of rhesus macaque embryos.

The research, recently published in the latest edition of Human Molecular Genetics, paves the way for future studies where the possibility of birthing gene-edited monkeys that can serve as models for new therapies is greatly increased.

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

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.

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)