Do Zebra stripes confuse biting flies?

Audio: Listen to this story on our podcast, Three Minute Egghead. 

 

Zebra stripes have fascinated people for millennia, and there are a number of different theories to explain why these wild horses should be so brightly marked. A handful of laboratories around the world – including one lead by UC Davis wildlife biologist Tim Caro – have been putting these theories to the test. A new paper from Caro’s group, led by Ken Britten at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience, puts a hole in one idea: that the stripes confuse biting flies by breaking up polarized light.

Three Minute Egghead is our new podcast

We’re adding a new element to the Egghead blog this month with Three Minute Egghead, a podcast about research at UC Davis. While we figure out a few details about RSS feeds and XML, I’ll be posting these audio files to the Egghead blog, usually with an accompanying blog post.

Our first piece is about two UC Davis computer scientists who are using data from the open-source programming website GitHub to learn about coder’s work habits and in particular, how multitasking affects productivity.

Study author Bogdan Vasilescu will be presenting the study at the International Conference on Software Engineering in Austin, Texas tomorrow, May 20.

Not so sweet: Why Pollinators Forage on Toxic or Bitter Nectar

Audio: Listen to this story on our podcast, Three Minute Egghead. 

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Nectar doesn’t always taste so sweet, but honeybees and other pollinators still feed on it. Now UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette has discovered why pollinators continue to forage on “toxic” or bitter-tasting nectar, despite what should be a deterrent.

In newly published research in the journal Ecology, Vannette notes that floral nectar is produced by many plants to reward pollinators, but this sugary secretion often contains chemical compounds that are bitter tasting or toxic, which should deter pollinators. Plants including citrus, tobacco (Nicotiana), milkweed (Asclepias), turtlehead (Chelone), Catalpa, and others produce nectar containing bioactive or toxic compounds.

Chirp Microsystems waves on touch-free future

Within just a few years, we’ve got used to controlling devices by swiping, scrolling or tapping our fingers on a touch screen. But soon you might not even have to touch anything at all to check your email or play a video – just wave your hand in the air, thanks to ultrasonic technology from Chirp Microsystems, a startup company founded in 2013 by researchers from UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

Chirp’s technology is “disruptive” in the ultrasound area, said David Horsley, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Davis and co-founder of the company. Chirp’s ultrasound transducers are smaller and operate with much lower power needs than any currently available.

Hepatitis virus-like particles as potential cancer treatment

UC Davis researchers have developed a way to use the empty shell of a Hepatitis E virus to carry vaccines or drugs into the body. The technique has been tested in rodents as a way to target breast cancer, and is available for commercial licensing through UC Davis Office of Research.

Hepatitis E virus is feco-orally transmitted, so it can survive passing through the digestive system, said Marie Stark, a graduate student working with Professor Holland Cheng in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Innovation event jumpstarts dialogue on food, agriculture and health

By Kyeema Zerbe and Jennifer Hebets

The first ever event by the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) struck surprising consensus in the food, agriculture and health agenda. The Challenge Definition Workshop held Oct. 29 set the stage for dialogue around such issues as crop selection, soil health, nutrition education, consumer decision-making, and technology feasibility – all under the overarching themes of health, sustainability, knowledge and governance. Next week, focus groups will deliberate the research questions behind such challenges, in preparation for the tour, hackathon and conference scheduled at the Solution Summit on December 2 and 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

UC Davis physicist praises 2015 Nobel prize for neutrinos

The sun, as seen in neutrinos captured by the Super-K experiment in Japan (R. Svoboda and K. Gordan).

The sun, as seen in neutrinos captured by the Super-K experiment in Japan (R. Svoboda and K. Gordan).

Robert Svoboda contributed to Nobel-winning neutrino experiments

By Becky Oskin

Billions of mysterious particles called neutrinos bombard your body every day. But catching even one neutrino is a huge effort. Nearly all neutrinos pass through people — and even our planet Earth — without a trace.

“There are 65 million neutrinos going through your thumbnail every second,” said Robert Svoboda, a UC Davis physics professor who has studied neutrinos for more than 25 years. “Only one will stop in your body during your lifetime.”

UC Davis experts praise Nobel Chemistry prize for DNA repair

“Terrific,” “Amazing news,” “Excellent choice,” were some of the terms two UC Davis experts in DNA repair used to describe the award of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to three pioneers of the field this morning. The recipients are:  Tomas Lindal, Francis Crick Institute, London; Paul Modrich, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University; and Aziz Sancar of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

“They discovered that DNA in your body, which suffers from millions of DNA damaging events from every day due to normal chemical processes, is repaired efficiently by remarkably complex and disparate sets of repair machineries and mechanisms,” said Stephen Kowalczykowski, distinguished professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences.

Grant for natural hazards research at UC Davis centrifuge

The National Science Foundation will award almost $5 million over five years to UC Davis to include the large earthquake-simulating centrifuge at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling as part of the new Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments of the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments on the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

Finding biomarkers for early lung cancer diagnosis

Despite decades of warnings about smoking, lung cancer is still the second-most common cancer and the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. Patients are often diagnosed only when their disease is already at an advanced stage and hard to treat. Researchers at the West Coast Metabolomics Center at UC Davis are trying to change that, by identifying biomarkers that could be the basis of early tests for lung cancer.

“Early diagnosis is the key to fighting lung cancer,” said Oliver Fiehn, director of the metabolomics center and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis.