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)

UC Davis Joins DARPA-funded “Safe Genes” Program

Initiative Aims to Support Responsible CRISPR Gene Editing

By Trina Wood

The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last week announced the Safe Genes program to explore innovative genetic techniques to support bio-innovation and combat biological threats. The effort, supported by a $65 million grant from DARPA over four years, aims to harness gene editing tools in a safe, responsible manner to maximize the benefits of these technologies while minimizing their inherent risks.

Aedes aegypti carries yellow fever, Zika and other viruses. (CDC photo)

UC Davis Launches Cross-Campus Microbiome Initiative

By Ana Lucia Cordova-Kreylos

The UC Davis Office of Research this week (July 10) announced the launch of the Microbiome Special Research Program (SRP), designed to leverage and build upon the broad and deep expertise in microbiome science across the university.

“UC Davis has incredible breadth and depth in microbiome research with over 100 laboratories actively pursuing projects with links to agriculture, environment, energy and human and animal health,” said Cameron Carter, interim vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “The decision to invest in a platform to empower these teams was obvious given our strength in these areas and our potential to charter new frontiers that address some of our world’s most pressing issues.”

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.

UC Davis Mouse Biology Program Developing “Green” Mouse House

By Dawn Rowe

The UC Davis Mouse Biology Program (MBP) has received an award of $414,000 from the National Institutes of Health to move towards sustainable, environment-friendly technology for its high-containment vivarium for mutant mice.  The grant will also improve animal health and welfare, ergonomics for vivarium staff, and operational efficiencies.

Prof. Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, in the lab. Gene-edited and “knockout” mice have become a vital tool in biomedical research. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Going ‘green” is a multi-step process that will take place over the next 12 months, and led by Kristin Grimsrud, associate director of vivaria and veterinary care for the program.

For Better Or Worse: Links Between Genetics And Stress

By Diane Nelson

Our genes can influence how we respond to stress. Science shows that some people are more genetically predisposed than others to develop depression and anxiety in response to stressful situations.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky.

UC Davis psychologists Johnna Swartz (left) and Jay Belsky have found that genetic traits that make people vulnerable to stress-related mental health problems, are also those best equipped to respond to positive interventions.

What’s more, researchers say that chronic exposure to stressful conditions—such as poverty, family discord, and poor nutrition—can alter the way genes behave in children and adolescents, making them more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other negative effects of stress.

Successful CRISPR Gene Editing in Non-Human Primates

By Carlos Villatoro

Imagine a world where maladies such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, or sickle cell anemia no longer exist. While the U.S. is far from achieving this lofty goal, it recently came a step closer at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), where scientists have efficiently used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify the genes of rhesus macaque embryos.

The research, recently published in the latest edition of Human Molecular Genetics, paves the way for future studies where the possibility of birthing gene-edited monkeys that can serve as models for new therapies is greatly increased.

Gene Salad: Lettuce Genome Assembly Published

Represents Most Successful Group of Flowering Plants 

By Pat Bailey

Today (April 12), UC Davis researchers announced in Nature Communications that they have unlocked a treasure-trove of genetic information about lettuce and related plants, releasing the first comprehensive genome assembly for lettuce and the huge Compositae plant family.

Lettuce flower

Lettuce belongs to a large Compositae family of plants. A lettuce flower shows the similarity to plants such as ragweed and sunflowers. (Gregory Urquiaga)

Garden lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is the plant species that includes a salad bar’s worth of lettuce types, ranging from iceberg to romaine. With an annual on-farm value of more than $2.4 billion, it is the most valuable fresh vegetable and one of the 10 most valuable crops, overall, in the United States.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.

Engineering Alums’ Startup To Make Transgenics Easier

By Holly Ober

Two UC Davis graduates have started a company incubated in the TEAM manufacturing facility at the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Arshia Firouzi and Gurkern Sufi met in 2011 as Freshmen living in Tercero Dormitories at UC Davis and quickly became friends. Arshia majored in Electrical Engineering and Gurkern in Biotechnology, and they worked with the mentorship of Professor Marc Facciotti to explore their shared interest in the intersection of electronics and biology. In 2015 they won a VentureWell grant for a research project, which they pursued in TEAM’s Molecular Prototyping and Bioinnovation Laboratory. By the end of their project, they had come up with an idea that grew into a company that could usher in a new era for laboratories all over the world.