$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)

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

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.

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.

Mosquito

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.

“Cellular Memory” of DNA Damage in Oocyte Quality Control

By Sofie Bates

Females are born with a finite number of eggs that are steadily depleted throughout their lifetime. This reserve of eggs is selected from a much larger pool of millions of precursor cells, or oocytes, that form during fetal life. So there is a substantial amount of quality control during the process of forming an egg cell, or ovum, that weeds out all but the highest quality cells. New research from Neil Hunter’s laboratory at UC Davis reveals the surprising way that this critical oocyte quality control process works.

Breakthrough in Designing a Better Salmonella Vaccine

By Trina Wood

UC Davis researchers announce in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week a breakthrough in understanding which cells afford optimal protection against Salmonella infection—a critical step in developing a more effective and safe vaccine against a bacterium that annually kills an estimated one million people worldwide.

Salmonella bacteria (red) invading human cells. Salmonella infections can cause severe disease and current vaccines are inadequate. New work in mouse models shows which cells are responsible for immunity to Salmonella and may lead to improved vaccines. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

Maureen Kinyua: Waste Not

By Aditi Risbud Bartl

As an undergraduate physics major, Maureen Kinyua discovered her passion for science—combined with a sincere interest in helping others—could lead to a fruitful career in engineering.

Maureen Kinyua is taking new approaches to recycling animal waste. (UC Davis College of Engineering)

“I liked how you could combine physics, chemistry and biology into something more applied,” she said. “Engineering also gave me a way to mix my interest in science while actually doing good for the environment.”

Karen Moxon: Decoding the Brain

Engineering professor in lab

Karen Moxon, professor of biomedical engineering, in her lab at UC Davis. Photo by Reeta Asmai/UC Davis.

By Aditi Risbud Bartl 

In the last decade, researchers in academia and the technology sector have been racing to unlock the potential of artificial intelligence. In parallel with federally-funded efforts from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, heavy-hitters such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google are deeply invested in artificial intelligence.

As part of the BRAIN Initiative, many UC Davis investigators are studying the nervous system and developing new technologies to investigate brain function.

Markers of Cellular Aging Improve During Insight Meditation Retreat

By Anahita Hamidi

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences that act as protective “caps” at the end of DNA strands. As cells age, either as a function of time or as a result of stress and poor health, telomeres tend to shorten. As such, telomere length can be used as a crude biological marker of health and well-being.

Telomeres are caps at the end of a chromosome. They become shorter with aging. (Getty Images)

A recent study by researchers at the University of California Davis, Center for Mind and Brain, measured changes in telomere length, telomerase (the enzyme which replenishes telomeres), and telomere-regulating genes in a group of individuals who participated in a month-long Insight meditation retreat.