Nobel Medicine Prize for “self-eating”

“Gnothi seauton” or “Know thyself,” said the Ancient Greeks; but they might have also said, “eat yourself.” For biologists, autophagy or “self-eating” is the process that cells use to recycle material inside the cell. It breaks down defective proteins and molecules, disposes of invading viruses and bacteria, provides an energy source when food is lacking and generally keeps cells fit and healthy. Problems in autophagy are implicated in cancer, aging, infectious disease and degenerative disorders.

Yoshinori Ohsumi after hearing he had been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Photo: Mari Honda

Yoshinori Ohsumi after hearing he had been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Photo: Mari Honda

California’s wildflowers losing diversity in face of warmer, drier winters

By Kat Kerlin

Native wildflowers in California are losing species diversity after multiple years of drier winters, according to a study from the University of California, Davis, which provides the first direct evidence of climate change impacts in the state’s grassland communities.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on 15 years of monitoring about 80 sampling plots at McLaughlin Reserve, part of UC Davis’ Natural Reserve System.

Drought and climate changes are reducing the diversity of California's grassland wildflowers. (Susan Harrison)

Drought and climate changes are reducing the diversity of California’s grassland wildflowers. (Catherine E. Koehler/UC McLaughlin Reserve)

Death in the tide pools: Rapid die-off of urchins and sea stars a grim warning of climate change

By Kat Kerlin

In August 2011, scientists at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory walked into their labs to a strange, disturbing sight: Thousands of purple sea urchins and other marine invertebrates were dead in their tanks, which are fed directly by seawater. Outside, the tea-colored ocean washed up carcasses of red abalone, large sea stars, and football-sized, snail-like chitons.

Less conspicuous—but even more heavily impacted as a population—were the millions of purple sea urchins and tiny sea stars that died along a 62-mile stretch of coast in Northern California, according to a UC Davis-led study published in the journal PLOS ONE that documents the die-off.

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.