$1.6M from NSF to Study Water, Land Use in Disadvantaged Communities

By Kat Kerlin

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.6M to the University of California, Davis to analyze the complex relationships between surface water and groundwater supply, agricultural land use and the economic wellbeing of rural, disadvantaged communities.

The project is led by principal investigator Helen Dahlke, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. The team will develop models to help guide decision-making regarding water management and land use in the state.

Helen Dahlke in field

Helen Dahlke studies how groundwater is used and replenished in California. (Tiffany Kocis/UC Davis)

Hybrid Maize Boosts Yields for Kenyan Farmers

New Varieties Bred for Local Conditions

By Alex Russell

Hybrid maize seeds and the yields they make possible can make a big difference for small-scale farmers in developing economies worldwide, especially those who are at risk of poverty and food insecurity. However, low adoption rates are common, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kenyan farmer

Farmer Joshua Oyugi took part in trials of new hybrid seeds for mid-altitude conditions in Kenya. Most commercial maize seed in Kenya is created for conditions in the “White Highlands” over 5,000 meters. Photo credit AMA Innovation Lab.

From a Student Competition to a Potential Treatment for Celiac Disease

Synthetic DNA Approach is Key to Startup’s New Drug

By Lisa Howard

The way Justin Siegel describes it, ordering synthetic DNA is almost as easy as ordering a pair of shoes online.

“You just type it in — or if the protein has been sequenced at one point, we can copy and paste — order it, and it shows up five days later.”

UC Davis chemist Justin Siegel is a co-founder of PvP Biologics. The company is developing a new treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten. (UC Davis/Karin Higgins)

Haiti Adopts Food Fortification, Following UC Davis Advice

The government of Haiti recently announced a program to fortify wheat flour with iron and folic acid, following a recommendation by UC Davis researchers who calculated that adding these nutrients to wheat flour during milling would prevent infant deaths and improve the health especially of women and children.

Farmers in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley

The new Haitian program, known by its French acronym RANFOSE, is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition to adding folic acid and iron to wheat flour, it will fortify vegetable oils with Vitamin A and salt with iodine. RANFOSE will increase the availability of high-quality, fortified staple foods across the country and expand the local production and importation of fortified foods, according to a US Embassy news release.

Farming, Cheese, Chewing Changed Human Skull Shape

The advent of farming, especially dairy products, had a small but significant effect on the shape of human skulls, according to a recently published study from anthropologists at UC Davis.

Skull models

David Katz measured specific points on human skull bones (top) to create a wire frame model of the skull and jaw (bottom). Blue dashes indicate changes in skull shape from foragers to dairy farmers.

Put another way, our skulls were changed by the invention of cheese.

“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.

Not All “Good Fats” Are Created Equal

Could too much linoleic acid be making us sick?

By Diane Nelson

There are good and bad fats, nutritionists say. But not all polyunsaturated fats, the so-called good fats, are created equal. A food chemist at UC Davis is exploring whether eating too much linoleic acid—a type of polyunsaturated fat found mainly in vegetable oils—can cause chronic inflammation, headaches, and other health problems.

Food such as salmon that are high in omega-3 fatty acids may be healthier than foods with some vegetable oils. (RafalStachura/Getty Images)

Microbes Could Bring Tea to California

Key to Tea’s Benefits May Be in the Soil

By Becky Oskin

Tea has long been linked to human health benefits like preventing cancer and heart disease. But with hundreds of chemical compounds hidden in tea leaves, it is unclear which substances have the strongest effects.

The slew of “healthy” chemicals in tea varies with the variety of plant, how and where it is grown, and how the leaves are processed. Even soil bacteria contribute to a plant’s chemical profile, including its color, taste and aroma.

Live-pig Markets and Traders Could Provide Insight to Controlling African Swine Fever

By Trina Wood

Understanding how live pigs are traded between villages and backyard farmers can help health agencies better understand how devastating swine diseases spread, according to a study published recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

Woman with pig

A Georgian pig owner with her animal. Backyard pigs are usually raised for home consumption, and loss of one to disease is a significant blow. Photo credit: FAO

DNA Sequencer Gifted to African Orphan Crops Consortium

By Diane Nelson

The bioinformatics company Illumina has donated a state-of the-art DNA sequencer to a global plant-breeding effort to fight malnutrition and poverty in Africa by improving the continent’s traditional crops. UC Davis is partnering in the African Orphan Crop Consortium, which is working to map and make public the genomes of 101 indigenous African foods.

These “orphan” crops are crucial to African livelihood and nutrition, but have been mostly ignored by science and seed companies because they are not traded internationally like commodities such as rice, corn, and wheat.