iGEM competition stretches student researchers

By Pat Bailey

As 2015 draws to a close, a team of UC Davis undergraduates can look back with pride and a sigh of relief on one of the most grueling but rewarding experiences of their college career.

Students Gabriel Freund, Muntaha Samad, Andrew Shepherd, Logan Vinson and Joanne Wu, were selected last spring as members of UC Davis’ 2015 iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) team. They were joined by Andrew Michelmore, who is from Davis but attends Santa Clara University.

Gabriel Freund in the lab

Gabriel Freund in the lab

Innovation event jumpstarts dialogue on food, agriculture and health

By Kyeema Zerbe and Jennifer Hebets

The first ever event by the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) struck surprising consensus in the food, agriculture and health agenda. The Challenge Definition Workshop held Oct. 29 set the stage for dialogue around such issues as crop selection, soil health, nutrition education, consumer decision-making, and technology feasibility – all under the overarching themes of health, sustainability, knowledge and governance. Next week, focus groups will deliberate the research questions behind such challenges, in preparation for the tour, hackathon and conference scheduled at the Solution Summit on December 2 and 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

Innovation Institute kicks-off “uncommon collaboration” for food and health with workshop

By Kyeema Zerbe

The Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) at UC Davis is kicking off a uniquely open collaboration on solving critical challenges in food, agriculture and health with an open workshop Oct. 29 inviting participants from all disciplines to provide input on the institute’s strategic focus.

Food and nutrition insecurity remain serious issues for more than 50 developing countries, according to the 2015 Global Hunger Index. And even as many as 10 percent of populations in developed countries go hungry, including in the fertile lands of California’s Central Valley. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that almost 800 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished. With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, society faces an uncertain future that demands a coordinated response from all sectors to improve access to adequate nutrition.

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.