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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Homologous Recombination Can Cause More Breaks As It Fixes Them
The traditional view of cancer is that a cell has to sustain a series of hits to its DNA before its defenses break down enough for it to turn cancerous. But cancer researchers have also found that cells can experience very rapid and widespread DNA damage that could quickly lead to cancer or developmental defects.
Now researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that these complex chromosomal rearrangements can be triggered in a single event when a process used to repair DNA breaks, homologous recombination, goes wrong. The work is published Aug. 10 in the journal Cell.
Initiative Aims to Support Responsible CRISPR Gene Editing
By Trina Wood
The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last week announced the Safe Genes program to explore innovative genetic techniques to support bio-innovation and combat biological threats. The effort, supported by a $65 million grant from DARPA over four years, aims to harness gene editing tools in a safe, responsible manner to maximize the benefits of these technologies while minimizing their inherent risks.
Could too much linoleic acid be making us sick?
By Diane Nelson
There are good and bad fats, nutritionists say. But not all polyunsaturated fats, the so-called good fats, are created equal. A food chemist at UC Davis is exploring whether eating too much linoleic acid—a type of polyunsaturated fat found mainly in vegetable oils—can cause chronic inflammation, headaches, and other health problems.
By Ana Lucia Cordova-Kreylos
The UC Davis Office of Research this week (July 10) announced the launch of the Microbiome Special Research Program (SRP), designed to leverage and build upon the broad and deep expertise in microbiome science across the university.
“UC Davis has incredible breadth and depth in microbiome research with over 100 laboratories actively pursuing projects with links to agriculture, environment, energy and human and animal health,” said Cameron Carter, interim vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “The decision to invest in a platform to empower these teams was obvious given our strength in these areas and our potential to charter new frontiers that address some of our world’s most pressing issues.”