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)

NIH Funds Project to Model Atrial Fibrillation with Heart-on-a-Chip

By Holly Ober

Creating a model of atrial fibrillation with live human heart cells on a chip is the goal of a new $6 million, five-year grant to Professor Steven George at the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis.

Steven George headshot

UC Davis biomedical engineer Steven George will grow heart cells on a chip to study atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat caused when the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers, leading to a variety of health problems including stroke and death. Nearly one in ten people over the age of 65 suffer from atrial fibrillation at a cost of around $6 billion.

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.

DNA Repair Gone Wrong Leads to Cascade of Chromosome Rearrangements

Homologous Recombination Can Cause More Breaks As It Fixes Them

The traditional view of cancer is that a cell has to sustain a series of hits to its DNA before its defenses break down enough for it to turn cancerous. But cancer researchers have also found that cells can experience very rapid and widespread DNA damage that could quickly lead to cancer or developmental defects.

Now researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that these complex chromosomal rearrangements can be triggered in a single event when a process used to repair DNA breaks, homologous recombination, goes wrong. The work is published Aug. 10 in the journal Cell.

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)

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)

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.”

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

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.

Control of Dengue Fever With Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes

Virus-suppressing Bacteria Could Control Transmission by Mosquitoes

Mosquitos infected with the bacteria Wolbachia are significantly worse vectors for dengue virus, but how to establish and spread Wolbachia in an urban mosquito population is unclear. A study published May 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology shows that over time, strategic releases of mosquitoes infected with the dengue-suppressing bacteria may be enough to allow the virus-resistant insects to spread across large cities.

Leading the work are Professor Michael Turelli, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, and colleagues from Scott O’Neill’s “Eliminate Dengue Program” based at Monash University, Melbourne.