“Insect Allies” Enlisted to Protect Maize Crops from Pests

Researchers at UC Davis, the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University, the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University have received a four-year, $10.3 million “Insect Allies” award from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to engineer viruses carried by insects  that can help in combatting disease, drought, and other yield-reducing stresses in maize.

Corn leaf aphids feeding on maize. The VIPER “Insect Allies” project funded by DARPA will study using viruses carried by such insects to make mature maize plants resistant to pests. Photo by Meena Haribal.

Control of Dengue Fever With Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes

Virus-suppressing Bacteria Could Control Transmission by Mosquitoes

Mosquitos infected with the bacteria Wolbachia are significantly worse vectors for dengue virus, but how to establish and spread Wolbachia in an urban mosquito population is unclear. A study published May 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology shows that over time, strategic releases of mosquitoes infected with the dengue-suppressing bacteria may be enough to allow the virus-resistant insects to spread across large cities.

Leading the work are Professor Michael Turelli, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, and colleagues from Scott O’Neill’s “Eliminate Dengue Program” based at Monash University, Melbourne.

UC Davis Veterinary Student Shares in Zika Virus Discoveries

By Pat Bailey

Hannah Laurence, a third-year student in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow, had the privilege of doing biomedical research during the past year in the laboratory of Professor Jeff Kieft at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Vet student with horse

UC Davis veterinary student Hannah Laurence studied Zika virus through a HHMI fellowship.

Recently, the Kieft lab announced in the journal Science discovery of the molecular process used by the Zika virus to “hijack” the cells that it infects and potentially how the virus makes molecules that are directly linked to disease.

Microbe studies zoom in on effects of HIV in the gut

By Pat Bailey

The curtain cloaking how AIDS and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) impact the human digestive and immune systems has been drawn back a bit further, thanks to a team of researchers from UC Davis’ departments of Food Science and Technology and Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

The small intestine­ is extremely difficult to study because of its location in the body but plays a critical role in human health. Its inner lining offers both a portal for absorbing nutrients and a barrier against toxins or invasive microbes.

UC Davis entomologists on the trail of virus-carrying mosquito

Aedes aegypti, a daytime-biting mosquito that predominantly feeds on humans, has spread to at least seven counties since June 2013, according to UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Aedes aegypti carries yellow fever, Zika and other viruses. (CDC photo)

Aedes aegypti carries yellow fever, Zika and other viruses. (CDC photo)

“It’s an issue of great concern, especially as current control methods do not appear to be working well,” said Cornel, who does research on the mosquito in Clovis, Fresno County, where it was discovered in June 2013. Simultaneously, the insect was found in the cities of Madera and San Mateo.

Hepatitis virus-like particles as potential cancer treatment

UC Davis researchers have developed a way to use the empty shell of a Hepatitis E virus to carry vaccines or drugs into the body. The technique has been tested in rodents as a way to target breast cancer, and is available for commercial licensing through UC Davis Office of Research.

Hepatitis E virus is feco-orally transmitted, so it can survive passing through the digestive system, said Marie Stark, a graduate student working with Professor Holland Cheng in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

How antiviral from Hepatitis C could damage other viruses

A new virus-killing peptide springs from an unexpected source: another virus, Hepatitis C.

Now biomedical engineers at UC Davis and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore show how the HCV alpha-helical (AH) peptide can make holes in the types of membranes that surround viruses. The work is published Jan. 5 in Biophysical Journal.

HCV-AH is known to be active against a wide range of viruses including West Nile, dengue, measles and HIV.

The HCV-AH peptide appears to target an Achilles’ heel common to many viruses, most likely a property of the lipid coating or envelope, said study author Atul Parikh, professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis. That means that it’s less likely that viruses can readily evolve to become resistant to the peptide.

Network of tubes plays a key role in plants’ immune defense

Chloroplasts, better known for taking care of photosynthesis in plant cells, play an unexpected role in responding to infections in plants, researchers at UC Davis and the University of Delaware have found.

Infection causes tubes called stromules (blue) to grow from chloroplasts (purple) to the nucleus of a plant cell (yellow) carrying signals that boost immune defenses.

Infection causes tubes called stromules (blue) to grow from chloroplasts (purple) to the nucleus of a plant cell (yellow) carrying signals that boost immune defenses.

When plant cells are infected with pathogens, networks of tiny tubes called stromules extend from the chloroplasts and make contact with the cell’s nucleus, the team discovered. The tubes likely deliver signals from the chloroplast to the nucleus that induce programmed cell death of infected cells and prepare other cells to resist infection. The work is published online June 25 in the journal Developmental Cell.

How to slow a flu epidemic: Stay home, watch it on TV

Encouraging people to stay home instead of going out, along with other “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as handwashing and wearing facemasks, can limit the spread of influenza virus during an outbreak according to a new study published in the open access journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

The article by researchers at UC Davis, Arizona State University, Georgia State University and Yale University provides evidence that the novel A/H1N1 influenza outbreak that hit Mexico City in April 2009 could have been worse, but spread of the virus was reduced by people’s behavioral response of distancing themselves from each other.

Advances in electron microscopy reveal secrets of HIV and other viruses

UC Davis researchers are getting a new look at the workings of HIV and other viruses thanks to new techniques in electron microscopy developed on campus.

The envelope (or Env) protein of HIV is a key target for vaccine makers: it is a key component in RV144, an experimental vaccine that is so far the only candidate to show promise in clinical trials. Also called gp120, the Env protein associates with another protein called gp41 and three gp120/gp41 units associate to form the final trimeric structure. The gp120 trimer is the machine that allows HIV to enter and attack host cells.