Curiosity Finds Organic (Carbon-based) Material in Gale Crater, Mars

The Mars Curiosity rover team announced today (June 7) finding organic matter – carbon-based compounds – in three billion year old mudstone sediments from Gale Crater. They also found seasonal changes in the amount of methane in the local atmosphere.

Scientist and Mars rover

Dawn Sumner is a member of the Mars Curiosity team.

Dawn Sumner, professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis, is a member of the Mars Curiosity team and coauthor on the first paper. She helps with sample selection and mission planning and was instrumental in promoting Gale Crater as a landing site for Curiosity.

Of Mice and…Gorillas? Mouse Gene Catalog as a Conservation Tool

Gorilla

Mice share a similar set of genes to humans and gorillas. A catalog of the functions of all mouse genes could help in conservation efforts for endangered species.

A new study from the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, which includes the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, shows how the growing catalog of mouse genes could be applied to save endangered species. The paper was published May 24 in the journal Conservation Genetics.

Volcanologists Watch Kilauea Eruption

Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii continues to erupt, creating spectacular footage of lava shooting out of vents and eating cars. While the lava flows are slow moving, and so far no one has been hurt, U.S. Geological Survey scientists were today (May 10) warning that the volcano might erupt explosively, sending large rocks flying through the air.

This 8-10 ton boulder fell on a landing strip about a kilometer from Halema‘uma‘u crater during the eruption of May, 1924 (USGS photo collection).

Bio-Inspired Natural Hazards Design-a-Thon is April 28

Teams of undergraduate engineers from UC Davis and nearby colleges and universities will be pulling an all-nighter this weekend, working on using the inspiration or processes of nature to prevent or mitigate natural hazards.

The Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics Design-a-thon runs from 11 a.m. Saturday, April 28 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 in room 1065, Kemper Hall.

Registration is still open: click here

Student teams will select a natural hazard such as fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, and come up with an engineering solution that is affordable, sustainable, has minimal environmental impact and is equitable for all. There will be cash prizes for first, second and third places.

Podcast: The Earth BioGenome Project

This month I talk to Professor Harris Lewin, one of the organizers of the Earth BioGenome Project. The ambitious project to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic life on Earth within ten years is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: The Earth BioGenome Project

More information

Earth BioGenome Project Aims to Sequence DNA from All Complex Life on Earth (news release)

Earth BioGenome Project to Sequence All Life: Partnership Announced at World Economic Forum in Davos (news release)

Why Whales? What Sends Land Animals Back to Sea

Whales, the largest animals we know of that have lived on Earth, are descended from deer-like creatures that splashed around in creeks about 50 million years ago. It’s not just the mammals that went back to sea: Birds and reptiles also re-colonized the oceans after living on land.

Blue whale

A blue whale off the coast of Southern California. Photo by D Ramey Logan, via Wikipedia.

What drives species to move into such a different habitat? One prevailing idea is that following mass extinction events, surviving species occupy the habitats left empty in a burst of biological creativity. But there could be other, less dramatic reasons: perhaps there were too many predators on land, or an abundance of resources in marine environments.

Model of Blobs in Earth’s Interior Explains Unusual Pacific Volcanism

By Becky Oskin

Deep inside the Earth are two huge blobs of dense rock splayed across the core-mantle boundary. One of the underground structures sits under the South Pacific and the other is underneath Africa.

Plumes rising from these deep masses feed some of the planet’s most spectacular volcanic island chains, such as the Hawaiian Islands. Because the volcanoes fed by the plumes have an unusual chemical fingerprint, scientists think the blobs are made of rock different from the rest of Earth’s mantle. Scientists also know these continent-size structures are not like typical mantle rock because seismic waves pass through the structures more slowly than in the surrounding mantle. This observation gives the two large blobs their jargony name — “large low shear velocity provinces” or LLSVPs.

Investigating the Seagrass Microbiome

By Karley Marie Lujan

Seagrass carpets the seafloor creating a unique and vital ecosystem in shallow marine environments. Sea turtles graze on seagrass leaves while smaller organisms seek refuge in the green fields but, on the microscopic level, seagrass is also home to microbial communities. Such microbes compose the seagrass microbiome and potentially play a role in seagrass ecology.

Turtle and seagrass

Sea turtles and other marine animals browse on seagrass meadows. (NOAA photo)

UC Davis graduate student Cassie Ettinger identifies and characterizes seagrass-associated microbial communities. A study published last year in the journal PeerJ suggests how understanding the role of these microbes could reveal new information about seagrass sulfur cycling and establish seagrass as a model organism.

Treating Koalas for Chlamydia Alters Gut Microbes

Koalas are one of Australia’s iconic animals, but they have been hard hit by an epidemic of Chlamydia infections contributing to a steep decline in numbers. Sick koalas brought to wildlife hospitals may be treated with antibiotics to clear up the chlamydia, but the antibiotics themselves can have severe side effects in the animals.

Koala

Koalas feed almost exclusively on eucalyptus leaves. They depend on gut bacteria to make the leaves digestible. (Photo via Tourism Australia)

A new study led by Katherine Dahlhausen, a graduate student at the UC Davis Genome Center, published in the journal PeerJ, shows that those antibiotics may be changing the balance of gut microbes thought to allow koalas to digest eucalyptus leaves.

Podcast: Restored Putah Creek Blooms With Bird Life

Until about twenty years ago, Putah Creek near the UC Davis campus was a dry, trash-filled ditch. Then a lawsuit led to the Putah Creek Accord, which mandated year-round water flows to help protect fish and habitat. In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, Kat Kerlin hears how restoring water has brought the creek back to life.

https://soundcloud.com/andy-fell/restored-creek-blooms-with-bird-life

More information

Feature story: Little Creek, Big Impact

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Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin