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.

Brain areas responsible for “learning by watching” identified

By Nicole Gelfand

Children imitate our every action- from their very first words to even the most miniscule of habits they acquire from their parents. Children are a firsthand example of how human learning often takes place by observing other individuals, a term referred to as observational learning.  From a young age human brains associate observed actions with the rewards and consequences that follow, to subsequently “learn by watching” and change behavior.

Brain Modulyzer Software Provides Interactive Window Into the Brain

By Linda Vu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Getting a better picture of connections between brain areas is the goal of a new tool developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Davis. Their “Brain Modulyzer” software allows researchers to visualize and explore brain activity, either  while a subject is  performing tasks or at rest.

Physics Nobel for topological phase transitions

The 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics will be shared by David Thouless, F. Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz for their work on peculiar states of matter under extreme conditions. The three used advanced mathematics — specifically topology, the study of shapes — to build theoretical models of matter. Their work has practical implications for understanding superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films, and ultimately for new types of devices and technologies.

“This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states,” according to the Nobel Prize citation.

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

A Better Way to Stop Pests at the Border

By Kat Kerlin

Plants imported into the United States sometimes hold more than leaves and stems. They also can transport hidden, non-native pests and pathogens that can cause substantial ecological and economic damage if they establish in the environment.

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

In the United States, that pathway is growing. Over the past four decades, the dollar value of imported plants has grown at 68 percent per decade. One means of reducing their entry is to inspect live plant imports at the U.S. border.

Climate Change Spurs Forest Growth in Tibet

Under certain conditions, forests can grow in response to climate change

By Kat Kerlin

After a tip-off from nomadic herders, a team of scientists has confirmed reports of a forest expansion in eastern Tibet, a region dominated by ancient grasslands. The forest growth, unprecedented since 1760, is due to a combination of climatic changes: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, increased water related to warming, and greater nutrient availability released by thawing permafrost.

Tibet grasslands

New forests are encroaching on the alpine grasslands of Tibet. (Photo: Lucas Silva)

How humans affect coral reef recovery from natural disasters

The world’s coral reefs are both stunningly beautiful and vital to ocean health, hosting a huge diversity of fish and marine life. And they are, as they always have been, under pressure from periodic natural disasters. However, a coral reef’s ability to recover from unavoidable and often unpredictable natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, may depend on human activities including fishing and pollution. UC Davis marine biologist Mike Gil is one of the scientists working to understand how reefs recover from natural disturbances in the presence of unnatural, man-made stressors.

Biological invasions threaten global economies and biodiversity

Developing nations particularly at risk

By Kat Kerlin

With the increasing pace of globalization comes the movement of invasive non-native species around the planet. Although often seen as a “first-world problem,” a new study shows these invasions threaten the economies and livelihoods of residents in some of the world’s poorest nations.

The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids. It has spread to Europe and though beloved by many, is considered a pest in some regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids. It has spread to Europe and though beloved by many, is considered a pest in some regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Calculating just how fast Usain Bolt runs

With gold medals in three sprinting events at three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt has written himself into the record books as arguably the fastest human of all time. But just how fast is the Jamaican sprinter?

Three mathematicians, Sebastian Schreiber of UC Davis, Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley and Karl Smith of Santa Rosa Junior College, show how to calculate Bolt’s maximum velocity in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their 2014 textbook, “Calculus for the Life Sciences.”

This plot shows Usain Bolt's velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

This plot shows Usain Bolt’s velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

On early human migration, geography and culture

By Kathleen Holder

Our species, Homo sapiens, left Africa earlier than previously thought and our diverse cultures have been heavily influenced by geography, according to a recent review by Alexander (Sandy) Harcourt, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Davis.

The paper grew out of a keynote address to a National Academy of Sciences colloquium in Irvine earlier this year on comparative phylogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of species (Watch a video of Harcourt’s lecture below).