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 University Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.

Discovery links Brucella infection, inflammation, chronic diseases

By Carole Gan

Researchers at UC Davis have discovered an unexpected link between how the immune system sounds an alarm when its cells are taken over by pathogens during an infection and how an inflammatory response is triggered.

The finding of this novel link, published in the journal Nature on March 23, is important because it helps researchers understand how a cell senses bacterial or viral infection, and how these pathways are linked to inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Magneto-ionics could be a new alternative to electronics

Our electronic devices are based on what happens when different materials are layered together: “The interface is the device,” as Nobel laureate Herbert Kroemer famously claimed over 40 years ago. Right now, our microchips and memory devices are based on the movement of electrons across and near interfaces, usually of silicon, but with limitations of conventional electronics become apparent, researchers are looking at new ways to store or process information. These “heterostructures” can also find applications in advanced batteries and fuel cells.

Now physicists at UC Davis have observed what’s going on at some of these interfaces as oxygen ions react with different metals, causing drastic changes in magnetic and electronic properties.

Tide pools at the front line of ocean acidification

By Becky Oskin

Beloved by beach goers, tide pools are also important ecological zones that provide shelter and food for many plants and animals.

Marine life living in tide pools are vulnerable to rising acid levels in seawater, according to new research from UC Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science and UC Santa Cruz published March 18 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Not so sweet: Why Pollinators Forage on Toxic or Bitter Nectar

Audio: Listen to this story on our podcast, Three Minute Egghead. 

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Nectar doesn’t always taste so sweet, but honeybees and other pollinators still feed on it. Now UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette has discovered why pollinators continue to forage on “toxic” or bitter-tasting nectar, despite what should be a deterrent.

In newly published research in the journal Ecology, Vannette notes that floral nectar is produced by many plants to reward pollinators, but this sugary secretion often contains chemical compounds that are bitter tasting or toxic, which should deter pollinators. Plants including citrus, tobacco (Nicotiana), milkweed (Asclepias), turtlehead (Chelone), Catalpa, and others produce nectar containing bioactive or toxic compounds.

Multitasking? “Digital archaeology” shows up to five projects is optimal

 

Audio: Listen to a version of this story on the Three Minute Egghead podcast.

 

 

How many projects can you work on at the same time, before losing efficiency? There are many reasons to get involved in multiple projects – impress your boss, gain personal satisfaction, help out colleagues or just because you’re interested. But at some point, there must be one project too many.

“There is a limit,” said Bogdan Vasilescu, postdoctoral researcher in the DECAL lab at the UC Davis Department of Computer Science. “Multitasking fills time that’s otherwise unused, but there is a limit at four or five projects in a week.”

Chirp Microsystems waves on touch-free future

Within just a few years, we’ve got used to controlling devices by swiping, scrolling or tapping our fingers on a touch screen. But soon you might not even have to touch anything at all to check your email or play a video – just wave your hand in the air, thanks to ultrasonic technology from Chirp Microsystems, a startup company founded in 2013 by researchers from UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

Chirp’s technology is “disruptive” in the ultrasound area, said David Horsley, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Davis and co-founder of the company. Chirp’s ultrasound transducers are smaller and operate with much lower power needs than any currently available.

UC Davis entomologists on the trail of virus-carrying mosquito

Aedes aegypti, a daytime-biting mosquito that predominantly feeds on humans, has spread to at least seven counties since June 2013, according to UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

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

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

“It’s an issue of great concern, especially as current control methods do not appear to be working well,” said Cornel, who does research on the mosquito in Clovis, Fresno County, where it was discovered in June 2013. Simultaneously, the insect was found in the cities of Madera and San Mateo.

Hepatitis virus-like particles as potential cancer treatment

UC Davis researchers have developed a way to use the empty shell of a Hepatitis E virus to carry vaccines or drugs into the body. The technique has been tested in rodents as a way to target breast cancer, and is available for commercial licensing through UC Davis Office of Research.

Hepatitis E virus is feco-orally transmitted, so it can survive passing through the digestive system, said Marie Stark, a graduate student working with Professor Holland Cheng in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Symposium honors DNA maintenance pioneer

Some of the world’s leading experts in how DNA is protected and repaired from damage will meet at UC Davis Feb. 12-13 for a symposium in honor of Stephen Kowalczykowski, distinguished professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences. Registration information is available here.

“Genome maintenance” is essential to life, said Frederic Chedin, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who is co-organizer of the symposium with Professors Wolf-Dietrich Heyer and Neil Hunter, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Every second of the day, our DNA sustains damage for example from chemicals, radiation or just natural processes inside the cell. Breaks and lesions in DNA can lead to cancer, disease and developmental defects. Living things, from bacteria to plants to people, have evolved a fundamentally similar set of tools and processes that constantly defend and repair DNA.

Over-evolved: Specialist jaw doomed Lake Victoria’s cichlid fish

By Betsy Towner Levine

A UC Davis Evolution and Ecology team has discovered that cichlid fishes in Africa’s Lake Victoria have suffered a unique and unexpected effect of evolutionary adaptation: mass extinction.

While a graduate student in Interim Dean Peter Wainwright’s lab, Ph.D. student Matthew McGee studied the die-off of cichlid species in Lake Victoria that occurred after Nile perch were introduced into the lake in the 1950s.

Since then the perch, Lates niloticus, have decimated the lake’s fish-eating cichlids, once the most species-rich group of cichlids in Lake Victoria. The native fish have essentially been removed and replaced by the invader.