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.

Six Takeaways from the International One Health Congress

By Tracey Goldstein

I recently returned from the 2018 International One Health Congress(#IOHC) in beautiful Saskatoon, Canada. Insight, inspiration and networking were in abundance at the biennial conference, which drew more than 800 participants from 60 countries to hear renowned experts and researchers in One Health. It was a privilege to share the work of the UC Davis One Health Institute (OHI) and PREDICT.

Back in my office, many IOHC sessions and conversations remain top of mind. Here are my key takeaways:

Zika Virus May Pose Greater Threat Of Miscarriages Than Previously Thought

26 Percent Of Nonhuman Primates Lost Pregnancies Despite Not Showing Symptoms

By AJ Cheline

Research from several institutions, including the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis, suggests that more women could be losing their pregnancies to the Zika virus without knowing they are infected.

The study, published in Nature Medicine July 2, found 26 percent of nonhuman primates infected with Zika during early stages of pregnancy experienced miscarriage or stillbirth even though the animals showed few signs of infection.

Young monkeys

Non-human primates such as these Rhesus macaques have similar brain development and reproductive physiology to humans, making them a good model to study Zika virus infection. (Photo by K. West, CNPRC)

Data Dump: 11,000 Donate Stool Samples to Gut Microbiome Project

By Greg Watry

The American Gut Project has just produced the largest study yet of microbial diversity in human poop. With “contributions” from more than 11,000 citizen scientists, the team led by researchers at UC San Diego has compiled a public reference database on the human gut microbiome, published May 15 in the journal mSystems. The study is a step forward in understanding how factors such as diet, antibiotics and mental health relate to the microbes living in the human gut.

Biology Researchers Make Cell Metabolism “Best of 2017”           

Two different teams of researchers from the College of Biological Sciences are represented in the “Best of 2017” issue of the prominent journal Cell Metabolism. Their papers, on insulin-producing beta cells and on the effects of a low-carb diet on longevity in mice, are among just five research articles chosen to appear in the special issue along with two clinical reports and four review articles.

Pancreatic islet

Pancreatic islets make insulin in response to blood glucose. Mark Huising/UC Davis

Breast Milk Nourishes Probiotics for Healthy Babies

Earlier this week NPR broadcast a story about growing interest in giving probiotics – beneficial bacteria that live in the gut – to babies. Mark Underwood, professor of pediatrics, explained that in UC Davis neonatal care unit, all premature babies under a certain weight are given a probiotic to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC),a potentially deadly inflammation of the intestine. It’s becoming a common practice in premature infants, and Underwood and colleagues have carried out a clinical trial in full-term infants. They showed that newborns fed a supplement containing Bifidobacterium bacteria (thought to be beneficial) had more “good bacteria” and fewer “bad bacteria” in their guts two months later.

Chemical Messengers, Calcium and Neutrophils

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell. They play a vital role in defending us from infections, by engulfing and destroying bacteria and viruses or cancerous cells. A new study by UC Davis engineering student Emmet Francis, working with Professor Volkmar Heinrich in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, adds to our knowledge of how neutrophils are drawn towards infection sites and how they can attack their targets.

First, Francis and Heinrich looked at how isolated neutrophils respond to chemical messengers called anaphylatoxins. These molecules guide immune cells to their targets but can cause severe illness in excessive amounts.

Receptors Key to Strong Memories

When we create a memory, a pattern of connections forms between neurons in the brain. New work from UC Davis shows how these connections can be strengthened or weakened at a molecular level. The study is published Feb. 27 in the journal Cell Reports.

AMPA-type glutamate receptors are responsible for fast synaptic transmission in the brain. (Wikipedia image)

Neurons branch into many small fibers, called dendrites, that connect to other neurons across tiny gaps called synapses. Messages travel across synapses as chemical signals: A molecule, or neurotransmitter, is released on one side of the synapse and connects with a receptor on the other side, a bit like tossing a ball and a fielder catching it in a mitt.