Podcast: Wine Country Wildfires Leave Questions for Vintners

Seeking Solutions to Smoke Taint in Wine

By Amy Quinton

A year ago this week, a series of fires broke out in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. The area is one of California’s best-known wine growing regions. While 90 percent of the grapes in Napa County had been harvested, a few vineyards still had grapes on the vine, including at the University of California, Davis’s experimental station in Oakville.

Anita Oberholster

UC Davis Extension Specialist Anita Oberholster is looking at the effects of wildfire smoke on wine grapes and whether “smoke taint” can be mitigated. (Joe Proudman/UC Davis)

Agricultural Index Insurance Pairs Economics, Natural Sciences For Climate Resilience in East Africa

By Alex Russell

For poor and subsistence farmers in developing countries, a severe drought, flood or other catastrophe can cost them everything. In response to these kinds of climate-related risks, farmers often choose to minimize their exposure to loss. They might avoid higher-cost improved seeds that promise bigger harvests or riskier but profitable cash crops. Both of these strategies can keep them poor.

Maize farmers in Tanzania. Agricultural index insurance could help small farmers like these invest in higher-value crops and increase their income.

Newly Discovered Enzyme is “Firing Pin” for Plant Immunity

SIK1 Gene Opens Possibilities for Treating Disease, Breeding Resistant Crops

Just like humans, plants have an immune system that helps them fight off infections. Plant immunity has some important differences: they don’t make antibodies and can’t fight off the same bug more quickly months or years later. However, plant cells can identify pathogens and react to them, often by producing a burst of reactive oxygen which is toxic to bacteria or fungi. Cells around an infected site will go into programmed cell death to seal off the disease.

Shedding Light on the Energy-Efficiency of Photosynthesis

By Amy Quinton

Photosynthesis is one of the most crucial life processes on earth. It’s how plants get their food, using energy from sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide from the air into sugars. It’s long been thought that more than 30 percent of the energy produced during photosynthesis is wasted in a process called photorespiration.

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Davis, suggests that photorespiration wastes little energy and instead enhances nitrate assimilation, the process that converts nitrate absorbed from the soil into protein.

Study shows plants may not lose energy during photosynthesis. (Getty Images)

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 research affiliate 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.