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)

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.

‘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.

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).

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.

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.