Diet and the Brain: Exploring the Food-Brain Axis

by Greg Watry

Nearly 47 million people worldwide live with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to rise to 76 million by 2030. While there is no cure for dementia, scientists are investigating various drugs to help mitigate cognition loss associated with the condition.

UC Davis researchers propose that foods provide signals that influence the brain and other body systems.

When it comes to understanding and preventing age-related cognitive dysfunction, Professor Raymond Rodriguez, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis, looks to food for answers.

Protein Synthesis Machinery from Bacterial Consortia in One Shot

By Holly Ober

A new technique developed at UC Davis may have broken the barrier to rapid assembly of pure protein synthesis machinery outside of living cells.

Colored bacteria

E. coli bacteria tagged with different colors produced different mixtures of proteins. Together, the bacterial consortium makes all the proteins needed for mRNA translation/protein synthesis (Fernando Villarreal, UC Davis)

In order to reconstitute cellular reactions outside of biological systems, scientists need to produce the proteins involved. Rapid yet high purity reconstitution of the cellular reactions is critical for the high-throughput study of cellular pathways and cell-free diagnostic tests for various diseases. Reconstituting cellular reactions outside cells, however, requires the separate expression and purification of each protein required to execute the reactions. This process is expensive and time consuming, making the production of more than several proteins at once extremely challenging.

Exploring Role of Fish Oil Derivatives in Kidney Injury

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Newly published research by an international team of scientists, headed by the Jun-Yan Liu lab of Tongji University, Shanghai, China, and Bruce Hammock’s lab at UC Davis gives insight into how fish oils may be protective or harmful in animal models of acute kidney injury. This knowledge may provide promising therapeutic strategies for those suffering from acute kidney injury, formerly called acute renal failure.

Jun-Yan Liu is exploring how metabolites from oils influence kidney disease.

See-through Zebrafish May Hold Clues to Ovarian Cancer

by Greg Watry

For thousands of years, animals have helped humans advance biomedical research. Early Greeks, such as Aristotle and Galen, studied animals to gain insights into anatomy, physiology and pathology. Today, model organisms, like mice, help researchers understand human diseases, opening the door to potential defenses and new therapies.

Postdoc Dena Leerberg, and Bruce Draper, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, study reproductive development in zebrafish. David Slipher/UC Davis

Crowdsourced Game Aims to Find Solutions to Aflatoxin

Mars, Inc., UC Davis and partners have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to solve the problem of aflatoxin contamination of crops. A series of aflatoxin puzzles will go online on Foldit, a platform that allows gamers to explore how amino acids are folded together to create proteins. The puzzles provide gamers with a starting enzyme that has the potential to degrade aflatoxin. Gamers from around the world then battle it out to redesign and improve the enzyme so that it can neutralize aflatoxin. Successful candidates from the computer game will be tested in the laboratory of Justin Siegel, assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis.

Hear This: Knockout Mice Show Genes Linked to Deafness

Fifty-two newly discovered genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing gene-modified ‘knockout’ mice. The newly identifed genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans. The study published Oct. 12 in Nature Communications was carried out by the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), which includes the Mouse Biology Program at the University of California, Davis.

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)

New Cardiac Catheter Combines Light and Ultrasound to Measure Plaques

By Holly Ober

To win the battle against heart disease, cardiologists need better ways to identify the composition of plaque most likely to rupture and cause a heart attack. Angiography allows them to examine blood vessels for constricted regions by injecting them with a contrast agent before X-raying them. But because plaque does not always result in constricted vessels, angiography can miss dangerous buildups of plaque. Intravascular ultrasound can penetrate the buildup to identify depth, but lacks the ability to identify some of the finer details about risk of plaque rupture.

From a Student Competition to a Potential Treatment for Celiac Disease

Synthetic DNA Approach is Key to Startup’s New Drug

By Lisa Howard

The way Justin Siegel describes it, ordering synthetic DNA is almost as easy as ordering a pair of shoes online.

“You just type it in — or if the protein has been sequenced at one point, we can copy and paste — order it, and it shows up five days later.”

UC Davis chemist Justin Siegel is a co-founder of PvP Biologics. The company is developing a new treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten. (UC Davis/Karin Higgins)

NIH Funds Project to Model Atrial Fibrillation with Heart-on-a-Chip

By Holly Ober

Creating a model of atrial fibrillation with live human heart cells on a chip is the goal of a new $6 million, five-year grant to Professor Steven George at the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis.

Steven George headshot

UC Davis biomedical engineer Steven George will grow heart cells on a chip to study atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat caused when the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers, leading to a variety of health problems including stroke and death. Nearly one in ten people over the age of 65 suffer from atrial fibrillation at a cost of around $6 billion.

Haiti Adopts Food Fortification, Following UC Davis Advice

The government of Haiti recently announced a program to fortify wheat flour with iron and folic acid, following a recommendation by UC Davis researchers who calculated that adding these nutrients to wheat flour during milling would prevent infant deaths and improve the health especially of women and children.

Farmers in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley

The new Haitian program, known by its French acronym RANFOSE, is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition to adding folic acid and iron to wheat flour, it will fortify vegetable oils with Vitamin A and salt with iodine. RANFOSE will increase the availability of high-quality, fortified staple foods across the country and expand the local production and importation of fortified foods, according to a US Embassy news release.