Explaining Life’s Rapid Evolution on Land

By Becky Oskin

Although life arose in the sea, some of its most astonishing evolutionary leaps happened after organisms conquered land, according to UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of evolutionary change in the fossil record,

Living on land brought new challenges and new opportunities for leaps in evolution, argues UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

Vermeij has identified 11 major innovations that appeared first among terrestrial creatures. Vermeij describes the “irreversible shift” in evolutionary dominance from sea to land in a new study published online October 2017 in the journal Current Biology.

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)

Fabric from Fermented Tea in the Biomaker Lab

The Molecular Prototyping and BioInnovation Laboratory, or “Biomaker Lab” at UC Davis is a place where students can try out their ideas and develop their own projects in biotechnology. It reflects as “maker culture”  that is well-established in engineering, and growing in biological sciences.

“Kombucha couture” clothes made by artist Sacha Laurin (center) for Paris Fashion Week and National Geographic magazine. With Laurin are, from left, models Ghazal Gill, Grace Sanders and Ericah Howard, and reporter Bethany Crouch of CBS13 and Good Day Sacramento.

“Smart” Immune Cells: Emerging Cancer Therapy Research at UC Davis Boosted with NIH Award

By David Slipher

Assistant Professor Sean Collins, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, has received a $1.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of “smart” immune cells for therapies to treat cancer and other diseases. The five-year NIH Director’s New Innovator Award aims to provide new insight into how to engineer immune cells to control their recruitment and response to tumors.

Sean Collins

Assistant professor Sean Collins has received a NIH New Innovator award for work to make cancer therapies safer. Fred Greaves, UC Davis

Anxiety and Children with Fragile X Syndrome

By Kathleen Holder

Anxiety is a common problem for children and adults with fragile X syndrome, magnifying their struggles living with an inherited intellectual disability. New UC Davis research could lead to new ways to identify and treat their anxiety at a young age—even in infancy.

The study led by developmental psychologists Jessica Burris and Susan Rivera found that infants and young children with fragile X syndrome, unlike typically developing children, tend to have their attention specifically captured by angry faces rather than happy ones. That sort of “attentional bias” toward angry faces is a pattern associated with anxiety.

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.

Podcast: Visual Attention and Meaning

In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, I talk to John Henderson of the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain about a new paper from his lab that overturns current thinking about visual attention.

It’s usually thought that our eyes are drawn to objects that are salient or “stand out” from the background. But this “magpie theory” of attention is wrong, Henderson says. He and postdoc Taylor Hayes show instead that our eyes are drawn by parts of a scene that have “meaning.”

Listen here.

 

More information

Visual Attention Drawn to Meaning, not What Stands Out (news release)

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.