About Egghead

Egghead is a blog about research by, with or related to UC Davis. Comments on posts are welcome, as are tips and suggestions for posts. General feedback may be sent to Andy Fell. This blog is created and maintained by UC Davis Strategic Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.

Biology Researchers Make Cell Metabolism “Best of 2017”           

Two different teams of researchers from the College of Biological Sciences are represented in the “Best of 2017” issue of the prominent journal Cell Metabolism. Their papers, on insulin-producing beta cells and on the effects of a low-carb diet on longevity in mice, are among just five research articles chosen to appear in the special issue along with two clinical reports and four review articles.

Pancreatic islet

Pancreatic islets make insulin in response to blood glucose. Mark Huising/UC Davis

Volcanologists Watch Kilauea Eruption

Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii continues to erupt, creating spectacular footage of lava shooting out of vents and eating cars. While the lava flows are slow moving, and so far no one has been hurt, U.S. Geological Survey scientists were today (May 10) warning that the volcano might erupt explosively, sending large rocks flying through the air.

This 8-10 ton boulder fell on a landing strip about a kilometer from Halema‘uma‘u crater during the eruption of May, 1924 (USGS photo collection).

Using DNA Databases to Track Down the Golden State Killer Suspect

It’s been widely reported that investigators got a break in the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case when they uploaded a DNA profile to a genealogy database, GEDmatch, and identified relatives of the suspect, Joseph DeAngelo. Did they get lucky, or did they have a good chance of finding him? UC Davis population biologists Graham Coop and M. D. “Doc” Edge have written a nice explainer of the science behind this search.

DNA overlap between first cousins and their common grandmother (GCBias.org)

Breast Milk Nourishes Probiotics for Healthy Babies

Earlier this week NPR broadcast a story about growing interest in giving probiotics – beneficial bacteria that live in the gut – to babies. Mark Underwood, professor of pediatrics, explained that in UC Davis neonatal care unit, all premature babies under a certain weight are given a probiotic to prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC),a potentially deadly inflammation of the intestine. It’s becoming a common practice in premature infants, and Underwood and colleagues have carried out a clinical trial in full-term infants. They showed that newborns fed a supplement containing Bifidobacterium bacteria (thought to be beneficial) had more “good bacteria” and fewer “bad bacteria” in their guts two months later.

Forensic Science Program Provides Skills for Crime Labs

This week I had the opportunity to meet the new director of the UC Davis Forensic Science Graduate Program and catch up on the program. Founded in 2002, the program, which offers a Master of Science degree through either part-time or full-time study, currently has about 80 students enrolled.

The UC Davis graduate program in forensic science includes lab work and a research thesis.

Rugosity and Concentricity: In Urban Planning, Look to Edges, Not Just The Core

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Catherine Brinkley is a professor of human and community development and human ecology at UC Davis. So it’s interesting that in a recent published paper, she advocates that cities should work more like coral reefs — supporting a diversity of niches and uses for sustained vigor and resilience. In ecology and medical sciences, the term for a physical form with such topographic complexity is rugosity.

Rugosity versus concentricity

Traditional urban planning favors “concentric” layouts with a downtown core surrounded by suburbs and farmland (right). But Catherine Brinkley argues instead that cities should plan for “rugosity” (left) with more interfaces between functions.

Bio-Inspired Natural Hazards Design-a-Thon is April 28

Teams of undergraduate engineers from UC Davis and nearby colleges and universities will be pulling an all-nighter this weekend, working on using the inspiration or processes of nature to prevent or mitigate natural hazards.

The Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics Design-a-thon runs from 11 a.m. Saturday, April 28 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 in room 1065, Kemper Hall.

Registration is still open: click here

Student teams will select a natural hazard such as fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, and come up with an engineering solution that is affordable, sustainable, has minimal environmental impact and is equitable for all. There will be cash prizes for first, second and third places.

Podcast: The Earth BioGenome Project

This month I talk to Professor Harris Lewin, one of the organizers of the Earth BioGenome Project. The ambitious project to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic life on Earth within ten years is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: The Earth BioGenome Project

More information

Earth BioGenome Project Aims to Sequence DNA from All Complex Life on Earth (news release)

Earth BioGenome Project to Sequence All Life: Partnership Announced at World Economic Forum in Davos (news release)

Why Whales? What Sends Land Animals Back to Sea

Whales, the largest animals we know of that have lived on Earth, are descended from deer-like creatures that splashed around in creeks about 50 million years ago. It’s not just the mammals that went back to sea: Birds and reptiles also re-colonized the oceans after living on land.

Blue whale

A blue whale off the coast of Southern California. Photo by D Ramey Logan, via Wikipedia.

What drives species to move into such a different habitat? One prevailing idea is that following mass extinction events, surviving species occupy the habitats left empty in a burst of biological creativity. But there could be other, less dramatic reasons: perhaps there were too many predators on land, or an abundance of resources in marine environments.

Steps Towards Making a Hydrogen Fuel Enzyme

Science generally gets reported as if it happens in big leaps, but in reality most of the time science progresses in small but satisfying steps. One example of this is another step in a story I have followed for several years from Professor David Britt’s lab in the UC Davis Department of Chemistry, published April 9 in the journal Nature Chemistry.

David Britt’s laboratory at the UC Davis Department of Chemistry uses advance techniques to study how enzymes that can produce hydrogen are assembled.