Wilsaan Joiner: Understanding the Neuroscience of Movement, Vision and Perception

“What are the unmined frontiers of human knowledge?”

As an adolescent, Wilsaan Joiner was asked this question by his father, but in classic parental fashion, his dad already had a couple of answers in mind. Space exploration was one.

Wilsaan Joiner

Assistant Professor Wilsaan Joiner explores how sensory inputs, like vision, influence our motor actions and vice versa. David Slipher/UC Davis

“I hate to fly, so that was out,” said Joiner. “And the other area he thought was understanding how the brain works. He strongly suggested that neuroscience was an area where there was a potential amount of room to explore and grow and really contribute.”

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

Gelatin supplements, good for your joints?

A new study from Keith Baar’s Functional Molecular Biology Laboratory at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences and the Australian Institute of Sport suggests that consuming a gelatin supplement, plus a burst of intensive exercise, can help build ligaments, tendons and bones. The study is published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Connective tissue and bone injuries are common in both athletes and the elderly, and interfere with peoples’ ability (and enthusiasm) for exercise, whether they are an elite athlete or just trying to lose weight and maintain fitness and flexibility. Steps that can prevent injury and enhance recovery are therefore of great interest.

Calculating just how fast Usain Bolt runs

With gold medals in three sprinting events at three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt has written himself into the record books as arguably the fastest human of all time. But just how fast is the Jamaican sprinter?

Three mathematicians, Sebastian Schreiber of UC Davis, Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley and Karl Smith of Santa Rosa Junior College, show how to calculate Bolt’s maximum velocity in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their 2014 textbook, “Calculus for the Life Sciences.”

This plot shows Usain Bolt's velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

This plot shows Usain Bolt’s velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

UC Davis/Chile research targets muscle disease

Keith Baar’s laboratory in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior is beginning a collaboration on inherited muscle disease with at team at the University of Finis Terrae in Santiago, Chile supported by an anonymous donation to the Chilean university.

The project will focus on disorders related to desmin, a protein within muscle that transmits force, said Baar, associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences.

Keith Baar studies how muscle and connective tissue grow and function.

Keith Baar studies how muscle and connective tissue grow and function.

Muscles that lack desmin due to a genetic defect are unable to transmit force and as a result get injured more easily and over time get more connective tissue, he said.

Upcoming: Friday talks on science of elite sports

If you’re interested in a scientific approach to athletic performance or coaching, an upcoming series of visiting lectures at UC Davis is for you. Beginning on April 4, the first three speakers are: Stuart Kim, Stanford University, on using genetics to improve performance of elite athletes; Asker Jeukendrup, global head of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, on fueling elite performance; and Chip Schaefer, director of athletic performance for the Sacramento Kings, on screening to decrease injury and improved performance.

A full program is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/mjk3gz201h2jtk6/Syllabus.pdf

Expert on head injuries in youth football to speak on campus

Stefan Duma, a national expert on concussion, will talk about his work on head impacts in youth football at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 8, in room 1005 of the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility on the UC Davis campus.

Duma is professor and department head at the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences and Director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics.

Duma’s research on head impacts in second graders playing youth league football has received wide attention. His group found high-level impacts in both practices and games, and made recommendations to reduce serious head impacts in practices.

Bike controls and the pedal desk

Professors Mont Hubbard and Ron Hess in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering are running a project to study bicycle-human control systems. It turns out, says Hess, that this is a harder problem to study than his usual field: pilots flying airplanes.

“What makes riding a bicycle unique is that you have to use all the sensory information available,” Hess said. That includes not just vision and hearing, but motion, orientation, awareness of where your limbs are, and the movement of muscle groups.

Optical illusions and tennis

Disputed line calls are as much a part of the Wimbledon tennis tournament as rain and overpriced strawberries. Tuesday’s New York Times has a long article on research by David Whitney and his lab at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, which found that judges are far more likely to call a ball out when it was actually in, than the reverse.

Whitney’s team watched video of the 2007 Wimbledon tournament and identified 83 incorrect line calls. Of those, 70 (84 percent) were ruled out when they should have been in.

Tennis and visual perception

Disputing line calls has sometimes seemed like a second sport at tennis tournaments, especially Wimbledon. Now a detailed study by UC Davis psychologist David Whitney and colleagues at the Center for Mind and Brain shows that umpires are pretty good at getting those calls right — but when they do err, they are more likely to wrongly call an “out” when the ball is in, thanks to an optical illusion.

The researchers studied tapes from 57 matches from the Wimbledon tournaments in 2007 and 2008, more than 4,000 points in all. Of those, they found 83 incorrect rulings, 70 of which were balls called “out” when they were actually in play.