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.

Paris Soil Carbon Goals Not Feasible, Because of Nitrogen

By Ann Filmer

Goals for carbon reduction from sequestration in soils set in the 2015 Paris Agreement are not feasible, according to an international team of climate scientists. Regardless of whether the U.S. remains part of the Paris climate accord, scientists at the University of California, Davis, are developing additional agricultural methods to offset increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, thereby reducing the potential for global warming.

Subsurface drip irrigation

Subsurface drip irrigation in a tomato field at UC Davis. This irrigation method saves water, reduces fertilizer use and reduces emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Photo by Martin Burger, UC Davis.

Industry Supports UC Davis Coffee Research

The Research Center of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) is teaming up with the UC Davis Coffee Center to embark on a two-year project to re-evaluate the scientific assumptions, measurement tools, sensory information, and – most importantly – consumer research that forms the foundation of the coffee industry’s fundamental understanding of coffee brewing.

Students in the UC Davis “Design of Coffee” class learn engineering principles from roasting and brewing coffee.

This research is underwritten with funding from Breville, which produces high-end appliances, including coffee and tea equipment.

Podcast: Science at the Root

In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.

Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.

Brady’s lab is looking at the network of genes that work together to control how xylem cells develop and grow, looking especially at the lab plant Arabidopsis, domestic tomato and its wild relatives, and the African staple crop sorghum.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.