Soil Microbes to Help African Farmers Fight Striga

Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With a grant of $8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team including UC Davis researchers will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating the five-year project.

Striga on sorghum field

A sorghum field infested with Striga (purple flowers). The parasitic plant destroys up to half of Africa’s sorghum crop. (Taye Tessema, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.

Flour, Oil and Bouillon Cubes, Improving Health Worldwide

Nutritionist Looks at Fortifying Staple Foods To Boost Health

By Lisa Howard

Reina Engle-Stone was halfway through her biology degree at Cornell University when she discovered global nutrition.

Her introduction was a nutritional epidemiology class, and almost immediately she was hooked. “You could take biology and apply it to other things. I thought, this is great, this is what I want to do,” she says.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.

Honey Bee Genetics Sheds Light on Bee Origins

Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.

10-cent DryCard to Help Farmers Keep Harvest Safe From Mold

Molds that contaminate dry foods, especially ground nuts and maize cause significant postharvest losses in the developing world.  Mold contamination results in poor flavor, loss of dry matter, and most importantly, is a health hazard.  Aflatoxin, produced by several fungi, contaminates up to one quarter of the world’s food crops and is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It causes acute poisoning, liver cancer and is associated with stunting and suppression of the immune system.  It is estimated to cause about 100,000 cases of liver cancer per year and a world-wide loss of 1-2 million daily adjusted life years per year.

Changes In Breast Milk Sugars Impact Babies’ Health And Growth

By Pat Bailey

A UC Davis-led study of nursing mothers in The Gambia shows how environment changes breast milk content

In a newly published study, UC Davis researchers and their colleagues, paint the picture of an elegant web of  cause-and-effect that connects climate, the breast milk of nursing moms, gut microbes and the health of breast fed infants.

The research is part of a long-running. cross-disciplinary project at UC Davis studying milk and its role in nutrition. For example, last year UC Davis scientists and colleagues at Washington University St. Louis worked with both children and animal models to show how milk compounds could alter gut microbe composition and affect health. UC Davis researchers also led a consortium to study the “milk genome,” the collection of all genes related to producing milk.

Wheat Gene Database is Tool for Improved Yield and Nutrition

By Ann Filmer

Plant scientists and wheat breeders now have a new tool to develop more nutritious and productive wheat varieties: A public online database of 10 million mutations in wheat genes. Scientists at UC Davis and three institutions in the UK created the database, which will allow scientists worldwide to study the function of every gene of wheat. The research will be reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor, Jorge Dubcovsky is working to improve the yield and nutritional value of wheat, one of the world's most important crops.

UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor, Jorge Dubcovsky is working to improve the yield and nutritional value of wheat, one of the world’s most important crops.

Grounds For Concern: Is Your Coffee Consistent?

UC Davis entomologist Christian Nansen trained some high-tech analysis on coffee beans, showing that brands were not consistent in content. Photo: Kathy Garvey

UC Davis entomologist Christian Nansen trained some high-tech analysis on coffee beans, showing that brands were not consistent in content. Photo: Kathy Garvey

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

If your particular brand of coffee doesn’t seem to taste the same from week to week or month to month, you may be  right. And it’s not you, it’s the coffee beans.

Agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and four colleagues analyzed 15 brands of roasted coffee beans, purchased at an area supermarket on two dates about six months apart, and using hyperspectral imaging technology, found “they were all over the board.”

UC Davis scientists explore the microbiome

Today’s White House announcement of the National Microbiome Initiative will bring new funding and attention to better understand the billions of microbes that swarm around in and around us and probably play an important role in our health, food and environment. At UC Davis, many scientists are already exploring this hidden world. Here are a few of them.

Jonathan Eisen is one of the pioneers of studying microbe communities through genetic sequencing. His lab is involved in understanding the complete “Tree of Life,” and projects on microbial communities associated with buildings, as well as communities on different plants and animals, including people, dogs and cats. A prolific blogger, Eisen regularly calls out examples of excessive microbiome hype.

How antibiotics open door to “bad” gut bacteria: more oxygen

By Carole Gan

Antibiotics are essential for fighting bacterial infection, but they can also make the body more prone to infection and diarrhea. Exactly how do antibiotics foster growth of disease-causing microbes – and how can resident “good” microbes in the gut protect against pathogens, such as Salmonella?

Now research led by Andreas Bäumler, professor of medical immunology and microbiology at UC Davis Health System, has identified the chain of events that occur within the gut lumen of mice after antibiotic treatment that allow “bad” bugs to flourish.