Help fund koala microbiome study

The koala might be the world’s cutest animal. It also has a strange and toxic diet, and koalas are threatened by chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. How are these things related?

Koalas live on eucalyptus leaves, which are so full of tannins that they are toxic to most animals. Koalas deal with this by having a special brew of bacteria in their gut that can digest the tannins in eucalyptus leaves. Baby koalas (joeys) acquire these microbes from their mothers by eating a special form of nutrient-rich feces, called “pap,” for the first two months after they wean from breast milk.

UC Davis reactor gets a role in Mars mission

By Jocelyn Anderson

As NASA prepares for manned missions into deep space, UC Davis’ McClellan Nuclear Research Center is playing an integral role in the groundwork.

The center recently helped develop a technique for performing neutron radiography on a breakable ring used in rocket stage separation. After the launch sequence, different modules will separate from each other when an explosive core in the ring detonates. Such rings will eventually be used on Orion, the spacecraft intended to bring humans to Mars in the 2030s, and likely also will be tested at MNRC.

Hybrid “super mosquito” resistant to insecticide-treated bed nets

Interbreeding of two malaria mosquito species in the West African country of Mali has resulted in a “super mosquito” hybrid that’s resistant to insecticide-treated bed nets.

“It’s ‘super’ with respect to its ability to survive exposure to the insecticides on treated bed nets,” said medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro of UC Davis, who led the research team.

The research, published Jan. 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “provides convincing evidence indicating that a man-made change in the environment — the introduction of insecticides — has altered the evolutionary relationship between two species, in this case a breakdown in the reproductive isolation that separates them,” said Lanzaro, who is director of the Vector Genetics Laboratory and professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Three students win EPA fellowships

Three UC Davis graduate students are among 105 to receive Science To Achieve Results (STAR) fellowships from the Environmental Protection Agency. The STAR fellows will receive a maximum funding of $42,000 a year for up to two years for doctoral students.

The UC Davis recipients and their projects are: Rachel Wigginton, “Predicting Return of Ecosystem Services Based on Impacts of Invasive Ecosystem Engineers;” Matthew Whalen, “Biodiversity of native and invasive suspension feeders affects water quality and potential for harmful algal blooms” and Kelly Gravuer, “Maintaining ecosystem function under climate change: Understanding and managing plant-soil microbe community dynamics.” All three are doctoral students.

Honda releases plans for energy-efficient smart home

The Honda Smart Home at UC Davis’ West Village has got lots of attention since it was opened earlier this year. (For the latest, see this photospread in Dwell magazine).

Now Honda is making detailed plans and information about fixtures and fittings in the energy-efficient home available for anyone to download. In a blog post, Honda project manager Michael Koenig writes:

In the three months following our launch, the response to Honda Smart Home has been truly amazing. We’ve hosted over a thousand visitors in Davis including architects, builders, researchers, academics, media, policymakers and enthusiastic members of the public. And we’ve received inquiries and proposals from businesses all across the world looking to get involved in green building.

Social or Stinky? New study reveals how animal defenses evolve

When people see a skunk, the reaction usually is “Eww,” but when they see a group of meerkats peering around, they often think “Aww.”

Why some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups to defend themselves against predators is the question that biologists Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis and Theodore Stankowich of California State University, Long Beach  and sought to answer through a comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions among carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.

Their findings appear in the online edition of the journal Evolution.Who me, stinky? Photo by Jennifer Hunter.

Probing the surface, and just below

Contributed by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

“The interface is the device,” Nobel laureate Herbert Kroemer famously observed, referring to the remarkable properties to be found at the junctures where layers of different materials meet. In today’s burgeoning world of nanotechnology, the interfaces between layers of metal oxides are becoming increasingly prominent, with applications in such high-tech favorites as spintronics, high-temperature superconductors, ferroelectrics and multiferroics. Realizing the vast potential of these metal oxide interfaces, especially those buried in subsurface layers, will require detailed knowledge of their electronic structure.

Balancing act: How UC Davis contributes to nation’s largest marine protected area network

UC Davis researchers want to understand how fish benefit from Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Rennet Stowe (via Flickr)

UC Davis researchers study how fish benefit from Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Rennet Stowe (via Flickr)

If one were to set aside an area of the ocean that was off limits for fishing, how would that affect the population of, say, abalone, rockfish or some other fish species? How much catch would be lost or gained if certain areas were closed to fishing? And is there a way to balance conservation goals with the economic benefits or losses?

UC Davis biosci major wins Hughes fellowship for grad school

Congratulations to Brenda Marin-Rodriguez, an undergraduate student in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, who has been awarded one of nine Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The fellowships provide $46,500 per year for up to four years to outstanding students from underrepresented groups pursuing graduate studies in life sciences.

Marin-Rodriguez, who is from Puerto Rico, has finished her classes at UC Davis and will graduate in June, 2013. She is currently an intern in the laboratory of Catherine Dulac at Harvard University, supported by an HHMI Capstone award. After graduating, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, but hasn’t settled on a specific school yet.

UC Davis Physics, Milton Gardner and the President of China

Wednesday afternoon I joined a delegation of Chinese journalists, including the China News Service and People’s Daily, visiting UC Davis as they met with faculty and students of the Physics Department. Earlier, the group had lunch with Winston Ko, dean of mathematical and physical sciences, and met with Chancellor Linda Katehi.

Why are the Chinese media interested in UC Davis Physics? Apart from the growing scientific collaborations and flow of international students, there is an interesting little tale that links the Chinese leadership and the campus.