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)

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.  

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)

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).

Crowdsourced Game Aims to Find Solutions to Aflatoxin

Mars, Inc., UC Davis and partners have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to solve the problem of aflatoxin contamination of crops. A series of aflatoxin puzzles will go online on Foldit, a platform that allows gamers to explore how amino acids are folded together to create proteins. The puzzles provide gamers with a starting enzyme that has the potential to degrade aflatoxin. Gamers from around the world then battle it out to redesign and improve the enzyme so that it can neutralize aflatoxin. Successful candidates from the computer game will be tested in the laboratory of Justin Siegel, assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis.

$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.