Nanoporous gold sponge makes pathogen detector

By Jocelyn Anderson

Sponge-like nanoporous gold could be key to new devices to detect disease-causing agents in humans and plants, according to UC Davis researchers.

In two recent papers in Analytical Chemistry (here & here), a group from the UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering demonstrated that they could detect nucleic acids  using nanoporous gold, a novel sensor coating material, in mixtures of other biomolecules that would gum up most detectors. This method enables sensitive detection of DNA in complex biological samples, such as serum from whole blood.

Molecular machine, not assembly line, assembles microtubules

When they think about how cells put together the molecules that make life work, biologists have tended to think of assembly lines: Add A to B, tack on C, and so on. But the reality might be more like a molecular version of a 3-D printer, where a single mechanism assembles the molecule in one go.

Take, for example, tubulin. Building from two subunits, alpha and beta tubulin, this protein assembles into microtubules that play a vital role inside cells – giving structure, pushing or pulling other things around, or providing a track on which other molecules can pull themselves along.

Finding biomarkers for early lung cancer diagnosis

Despite decades of warnings about smoking, lung cancer is still the second-most common cancer and the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. Patients are often diagnosed only when their disease is already at an advanced stage and hard to treat. Researchers at the West Coast Metabolomics Center at UC Davis are trying to change that, by identifying biomarkers that could be the basis of early tests for lung cancer.

“Early diagnosis is the key to fighting lung cancer,” said Oliver Fiehn, director of the metabolomics center and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis.

Bio-shock resistant: New center to apply biology to earthquakes, civil engineering

Taking lessons from nature and biology into civil engineering is the goal of the new Center for Bio-inspired and Bio-mediated Geotechnics, including the University of California, Davis, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and funded with a five-year, $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The center’s director will be Edward Kavazanjian, a professor of civil engineering and senior scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The UC Davis team will be headed by Jason DeJong, professor of geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Engineering new routes to biochemicals

Living cells can make a vast range of products for us, but they don’t always do it in the most straightforward or efficient way. Shota Atsumi, a chemistry professor at UC Davis, aims to address that through “synthetic biology:” designing and building new biochemical pathways within living cells, based on existing pathways from other living things.

Engineered bacteria use both glucose and acetate, instead of just glucose, as raw material to make isobutyl acetate, which can be used in chemical manufacturing and as fuel.

Engineered bacteria use both glucose and acetate, instead of just glucose, as raw material to make isobutyl acetate, which can be used in chemical manufacturing and as fuel.

KVIE documentary highlights the latest in genomics, precision medicine

On Wednesday, June 24 KVIE public television will air “A Path to Healing: Genomics and Disease Prevention,” examining how California doctors and patients are using the new science of genomics and DNA sequencing to treat cancer, muscular dystrophy and other diseases. It airs at 7 p.m. on KVIE channel 6.

The documentary features a number of experts from UC Davis including Ralph deVere White, director UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Richard Michelmore, director of the UC Davis Genome Center, as well as the stories of patients offered hope by new treatments.

“Chromosome shattering” seen in plants, cancer

Plants can undergo the same extreme “chromosome shattering” seen in some human cancers and developmental syndromes, UC Davis researchers have found. Chromosome shattering, or “chromothripsis,” has until now only been seen in animal cells. A paper on the work is published in the online journal eLife.

The process could be applied in plant breeding as a way to create haploid plants with genetic material from only one parent, said Ek Han Tan, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Davis Department of Plant Biology and first author on the paper. Although plants don’t get cancer, it might also allow cancer researchers to use the laboratory plant Arabidopsis as a model to study chromosome behavior in cancer.

UC Davis lands three new USDA food safety grants

By Pat Bailey

UC Davis scientists are leading three new research projects on food safety, recently funded with more than $5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

These grants are part of USDA’s $19 million effort to ensure the availability of a safe, nutritious and economically competitive food supply.

Preventing cross-contamination in produce processing

One project will focus on preventing foodborne illnesses by developing and eventually commercializing new fresh-produce processing technologies and methods. The new systems will minimize the risk of bacterial cross-contamination while the produce is washed, handled and packaged.

Video from UC Davis/Mars symposium on innovation in food and health

Video streams from the Jan. 14 symposium on innovation in food, agriculture and health are now available online. The morning session can be found here and the afternoon, here.

The complete program is available here.

The morning session included a keynote address by Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn of UCSF and a panel discussion on “Scientific discovery and innovation: What can the future look like at the nexus of food, agriculture and health?”

The afternoon included a presentation on the African Orphan Crops Consortium by Howard Yana Shapiro and Allen Van Deynze, and panel discussions on solving agriculture’s greatest challenges and the role of venture capital in innovation.

Engineering self-assembling amyloid fibers

Nature has many examples of self-assembly, and bioengineers are interested in copying or manipulating these systems to create useful new materials or devices. Amyloid proteins, for example, can self-assemble into the tangled plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease — but similar proteins can also form very useful materials, such as spider silk, or biofilms around living cells. Researchers at UC Davis and Rice University have now come up with methods to manipulate natural proteins so that they self-assemble into amyloid fibrils. The paper is published online by the journal ACS Nano.