With climate changing, Southern plants do better than Northern locals

Can plants and animals evolve to keep pace with climate change? A study published May 19 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that for at least one widely-studied plant, the European climate is changing fast enough that strains from Southern Europe already grow better in the north than established local varieties.

Small and fast-growing, Arabidopsis thaliana is widely used as the “lab mouse” of plant biology. The plant grows in Europe from Spain to Scandinavia and because Arabidopsis is so well-studied, there is a reference collection of seeds derived from wild stocks across its native range. Originally collected from 20 to 50 years ago, these plants have since been maintained under controlled conditions in the seed bank.

Algae “see” a wide spectrum of light

Aquatic algae can sense an unexpectedly wide range of color, allowing them to sense and adapt to changing light conditions in lakes and oceans. The study by researchers at UC Davis was published earlier this year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Phytochromes are the eyes of a plant, allowing it to detect changes in the color, intensity, and quality of light so that the plant can react and adapt. “They control all aspects of a plant’s life,” said Professor Clark Lagarias, senior author on the study. Typically about 20 percent of a plant’s genes are regulated by phytochromes, he said. Phytochromes use bilin pigments that are structurally related to chlorophyll, the molecule that plants use to harvest light and use it to turn carbon dioxide and water into food.

Name that pupfish!

Getting to name new species must be one of the small pleasures of being a biologist. And if you’ve spent much of your Ph.D. painstakingly breeding thousands of hybrids of tiny fish, then flown with them to the Bahamas, you might as well have some fun with the naming, too.

Chris Martin, a graduate student working with Peter Wainwright in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, has been studying species of pupfish in some small lakes on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. There are about 50 species of pupfish across the Americas, and they are all pretty much the same — except in these lakes, where Martin found some oddities including a pupfish that crushes snails in its jaws and a fish that eats scales off other fish.

BGI, UC Davis to host international genomics conference this Fall

The cutting-edge role of genomics — large-scale sequencing and analysis of DNA — in medicine, agriculture and science will be the topics of  the Second International Conference on Genomics in the Americas, to be held in Sacramento, Sept. 12-13. The conference is being organized by BGI, the world’s largest DNA-sequencing institute and UC Davis.

More information and registration available here.

“The conference will present a powerful platform to share research in basic and applied genomics and advance new approaches to sequencing and bioinformatics,” write Huanming (Henry) Yang, chairman of BGI and Harris Lewin, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis, in announcing the conference.

Tour campus museums on Super Science Saturday, Feb. 2

Museum Day FlierThe day before Super Bowl Sunday, take an afternoon for some super science museums. UC Davis’s second annual Biodiversity Museum Day will take place Saturday, February 2, from 1 to 4 pm.  The event is a special opportunity to go behind-the-scenes to learn how research is conducted and to see some of the curators’ favorite pieces. Visitors are invited to spend time exploring displays, talking with scientists, and participating in fun activities and crafts.

“Mothers and Others” wins book awards

UC Davis Professor emerita of Anthropology Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has been awarded the J. I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe for her book, Mothers and Others: The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding (Harvard University Press, 2009). The Staley Prize, which includes a cash award of $10,000, is awarded to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding, innovative scholarship and writing in anthropology, especially books that cross disciplinary boundaries.

BGI President Yang: “Let’s collaborate” on century of life science

Big numbers — of DNA base pairs sequenced, numbers of genomes completed, volumes of data collected and dollars invested — were in the air Nov. 9 when Dr. Huanming (Henry) Yang, president and cofounder of BGI (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) gave a talk on campus.

Henry Yang

Huanming (Henry) Yang, president of BGI, answering a question following his talk at UC Davis, Nov. 9. (Joe Proudman)

During his visit to campus, Yang visited the new BGI@UC Davis joint facility at the Sacramento campus as well as the Genome Center on the Davis campus. His visit was sponsored by the Office of Research and the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

Yak genome shows high-altitude adaptations


Yak (Dennis Jarvis/Wikipedia)

The genome of the yak, a hairy bovine found on the high Tibetan plateau, has been sequenced by an international team led by Chinese scientists and including Harris Lewin, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. The results were published July 2 in the journal Nature Genetics, and could help improve meat and milk production from the animals.

“The really cool discovery was that the same genes involved in adaptation of humans to high altitude were found to be under strong selection in the yak,” Lewin said.

New Frog species found in exotic habitat…New York

It’s not every day that science adds a new vertebrate species, and you might think the likely place to find undiscovered animals would be a remote rainforest or island. But researchers from UC, Rutgers and the University of Alabama have now identified a new frog species living in and around New York City.

The so-far unnamed frog is a type of leopard frog, the spotted frogs found in ponds and meadows across North America. It looks a lot like other leopard frogs but has a distinct croak, and is only found in a fairly small range between Trenton, N.J. and Putnam County, N.Y..

Did stinging evolve before seeing?

The human eye has sometimes been held up as a problem for evolutionary theory — how did such a complex structure evolve from simple parts? Evolutionary scientists, beginning with Charles Darwin, have pointed out that the eye could have evolved incrementally, with even basic functions presenting a selective advantage.

A study from UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara published today shows how the light-sensitive pigments which now let our eyes translate light into nerve signals could have played a role in much simpler, eyeless organisms.