“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.

DNA Repair Gone Wrong Leads to Cascade of Chromosome Rearrangements

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.

UC Davis Joins DARPA-funded “Safe Genes” Program

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.

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

UC Davis Launches Cross-Campus Microbiome Initiative

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.”

Surprise Result: Increasing Dispersal Increases Ecological Diversity

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

A study of microbes that live in the nectar of flowers has turned up an unexpected result that challenges a common assumption in ecology.

It’s been widely assumed that the more easily organisms can disperse between habitats, the more similar the mix of species in those habitats will be.

Sticky Monkeyflower

The flowers of Sticky Monkeyflower contain a mix of microbes that live on nectar. A new study shows how microbial diversity changes between flowers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis Mouse Biology Program Developing “Green” Mouse House

By Dawn Rowe

The UC Davis Mouse Biology Program (MBP) has received an award of $414,000 from the National Institutes of Health to move towards sustainable, environment-friendly technology for its high-containment vivarium for mutant mice.  The grant will also improve animal health and welfare, ergonomics for vivarium staff, and operational efficiencies.

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)

Going ‘green” is a multi-step process that will take place over the next 12 months, and led by Kristin Grimsrud, associate director of vivaria and veterinary care for the program.

Podcast: Science at the Root

In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.

Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.

Wallflower or Center of the Pack? Baboons Find Their Place

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Are you the kind of person who, at a party, tends to be surrounded by friends in the middle of the crowd, or do you prefer to find a quiet corner where you can sit and talk? Recent work by scientists at UC Davis shows that wild baboons behave similarly to humans —  with some animals consistently found in the vanguard of their troop while others crowd to the center or lag in the rear.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.

Successful CRISPR Gene Editing in Non-Human Primates

By Carlos Villatoro

Imagine a world where maladies such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, or sickle cell anemia no longer exist. While the U.S. is far from achieving this lofty goal, it recently came a step closer at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), where scientists have efficiently used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify the genes of rhesus macaque embryos.

The research, recently published in the latest edition of Human Molecular Genetics, paves the way for future studies where the possibility of birthing gene-edited monkeys that can serve as models for new therapies is greatly increased.