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)

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.

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)

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.

Flour, Oil and Bouillon Cubes, Improving Health Worldwide

Nutritionist Looks at Fortifying Staple Foods To Boost Health

By Lisa Howard

Reina Engle-Stone was halfway through her biology degree at Cornell University when she discovered global nutrition.

Her introduction was a nutritional epidemiology class, and almost immediately she was hooked. “You could take biology and apply it to other things. I thought, this is great, this is what I want to do,” she says.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.

Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.

Changes In Breast Milk Sugars Impact Babies’ Health And Growth

By Pat Bailey

A UC Davis-led study of nursing mothers in The Gambia shows how environment changes breast milk content

In a newly published study, UC Davis researchers and their colleagues, paint the picture of an elegant web of  cause-and-effect that connects climate, the breast milk of nursing moms, gut microbes and the health of breast fed infants.

The research is part of a long-running. cross-disciplinary project at UC Davis studying milk and its role in nutrition. For example, last year UC Davis scientists and colleagues at Washington University St. Louis worked with both children and animal models to show how milk compounds could alter gut microbe composition and affect health. UC Davis researchers also led a consortium to study the “milk genome,” the collection of all genes related to producing milk.

Wheat Gene Database is Tool for Improved Yield and Nutrition

By Ann Filmer

Plant scientists and wheat breeders now have a new tool to develop more nutritious and productive wheat varieties: A public online database of 10 million mutations in wheat genes. Scientists at UC Davis and three institutions in the UK created the database, which will allow scientists worldwide to study the function of every gene of wheat. The research will be reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor, Jorge Dubcovsky is working to improve the yield and nutritional value of wheat, one of the world's most important crops.

UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor, Jorge Dubcovsky is working to improve the yield and nutritional value of wheat, one of the world’s most important crops.

Dairy products boost effectiveness of probiotics, new studies show

Probiotics, those living bacteria and yeasts that offer a variety of health benefits, especially for the digestive system, are now available to consumers in yogurt and a variety of other food products as well as in nonfood supplements. But little is known about how the products containing those probiotics might influence their effectiveness.

Could it really be important whether you consume a probiotic in yogurt or other fermented foods and beverages rather than in a supplement? And is there something about dairy products that makes them particularly well suited for probiotics?

New study analyzes “thinspiration” images of women on social media sites

By Jeffrey Day

Some of the most popular social media sites are filled with images of extremely thin women that might be harmful to those who view them — whether they are seeking them or not, according to research from the University of California, Davis. The images were often cropped to remove heads or focus on just a few body parts.

Doctoral candidate Jannath Ghaznavi and associate professor Laramie Taylor in the Department of Communication examined about 300 photographs from Twitter and Pinterest postings that used the terms “thinspiration” and/or “thinspo” to tag images and ideas promoting extreme thinness and often casting eating disorders in a positive light.

Rising carbon dioxide, less nutritious food?

This week’s report that the Antarctic ice sheets are in irreversible retreat grabbed headlines, but another report last week warned that rising carbon dioxide levels threaten the quality of the world’s food supply, as well.

Increased malnutrition and loss of life — due to declining levels of dietary zinc, iron, and protein in important food crops — will occur around the world as elevated atmospheric CO2 climbs to levels that are anticipated by 2050, reports an international team led by researchers at Harvard University and including UC Davis plant scientist Arnold Bloom. The study appeared online May 7 in the journal Nature.