Could Prison Studies End the Salt Wars?

Medical research studies involving prison inmates have a bad reputation, but now a group of nutrition researchers proposes to use prisoners to answer a long running question in nutrition: what is the connection between salt intake and health? They recently published their proposal in the journal Hypertension, reported by Gina Kolata in the New York Times.

Arguments over the role of dietary salt in heart health — the “Salt Wars” — have been raging for years. David McCarron, a nephrologist and former faculty member with UC Davis’s Department of Nutrition is a prominent “Salt Skeptic,” arguing that Americans eat about the same amount of salt now as 40 years ago, and that salt intake in humans is regulated by the brain, not by how much is added to food.

Data Dump: 11,000 Donate Stool Samples to Gut Microbiome Project

By Greg Watry

The American Gut Project has just produced the largest study yet of microbial diversity in human poop. With “contributions” from more than 11,000 citizen scientists, the team led by researchers at UC San Diego has compiled a public reference database on the human gut microbiome, published May 15 in the journal mSystems. The study is a step forward in understanding how factors such as diet, antibiotics and mental health relate to the microbes living in the human gut.

Engineered Yeast Makes Hoppy Flavors

Can you brew a hoppy beer without hops? Beer purists might regard the idea with suspicion, but researchers at UC Berkeley, with some help from UC Davis’ “Pope of Foam,” have shown that you can brew a tasty hoppy beer using gene-edited yeast to replace hop flavors.

According to Charles Denby, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley, growing hops uses a lot of water – 50 pints of water to grow enough hops (the crumbly flowers of the hop vine) for a pint of craft beer.

Understanding How Rice Root Microbiome Can Promote Agricultural Growth

By Greg Watry

Your body plays host to a microbial ecosystem that’s ever-evolving, and its composition has implications for your overall health. The same holds true for plants and their microbiomes and the relationship is of pivotal importance to agriculture.

In a paper appearing in PLOS Biology, Joseph Edwards, ’17 Ph.D. in Plant Biology, Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, Departments of Plant Biology and Plant Sciences and their colleagues tracked root microbiome shifts throughout the life-cycle of rice plants (Oryza sativa). The research could help inform the design of agricultural probiotics by introducing age-appropriate microbes that promote traits like nutrient efficiency, strong roots and increased growth rates in the plants.  

‘Food Desert’ Label Often Inaccurate: Lack of a Supermarket Does Not Cause Obesity and Diabetes, but Poverty Might

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Access to healthy food does not always relate to the presence of a nearby supermarket, but instead requires a deeper look at poverty, race and other factors in a community, a UC Davis study suggests.

Lack of a supermarket does not necessarily make a county a “food desert,” argues Catherine Brinkley, who studies food systems and community development.

The study shifts the conversation begun in the 1990s, in which “food deserts” were described as communities that were either sparsely populated or had too many low-income residents to support a supermarket. The past research said this lack of access led to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. The popular policy response then was to leverage public funds to establish a supermarket.

Podcast: A New Book Explores The Glass of Wine

Glass and wine have gone together for thousands of years. A new book, “The Glass of Wine,” delves into the science, history and artistry of this pairing. The book is by Jim Shackelford, distinguished professor emeritus of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering, and writer and blogger Penelope Shackelford.

Glass scientist Jim Shackelford and blogger Penelope Shackelford are the authors of a new book, “The Glass of Wine” that explores the relationship between the drink and its perfect host. Photo by Daniela Wood.

Synchrony in Ecology: What Magnets Have To Do With Pistachios

By Kat Kerlin

Did you ever pass an orchard with branches bursting with flowers and wonder how the trees “know” when to blossom or bear fruit all at the same time? Or perhaps you’ve walked through the woods, crunching loads of acorns underfoot one year but almost none the next year.

Pistachios

A new study shows why pistachio trees are like magnets, mathematically speaking.

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have given such synchronicity considerable thought. In 2015, they developed a computer model showing that one of the most famous models in statistical physics, the Ising model, could be used to understand why events occur at the same time over long distances.

Multi-state E. coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

 By Heidi Meier and Ann Filmer

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a media statement in late December profiling a multi-state outbreak of food poisoning caused by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7 with 17 reported illnesses. Romaine and leafy greens are among the suspected sources of contamination, but no definitive source or location has been confirmed at this time, according to the CDC.

A lettuce field in California (photo by Trevor Suslow, UC Davis)

Diet and the Brain: Exploring the Food-Brain Axis

by Greg Watry

Nearly 47 million people worldwide live with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to rise to 76 million by 2030. While there is no cure for dementia, scientists are investigating various drugs to help mitigate cognition loss associated with the condition.

UC Davis researchers propose that foods provide signals that influence the brain and other body systems.

When it comes to understanding and preventing age-related cognitive dysfunction, Professor Raymond Rodriguez, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis, looks to food for answers.

Humans Gathered Grapes Long Before They Cultivated Them

By Diane Nelson

About 22,000 years ago, as the ice sheets that consumed much of North America and Europe began retreating, humans started to eat a fruit that today brings joy to millions of wine drinkers around the world: grapes.

People have been making wine from grapes for at least 8,000 years, but genetic evidence shows that humans influenced grape vines long before that (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis).