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.

How Population Genetics Can Help Breed a Hardier Honey Bee

by Greg Watry

The western honey bee (Apis mellifera), the world’s most important pollinator for agriculture, is facing a crisis. Parasitic mites, colony collapse and climate change threaten hives. California, as the seasonal home of nearly half of the continental United States’ managed honey bee colonies, is a prime location for monitoring bee populations. And honey bee health, key to the nation’s largest fresh produce economy, is vital to the Golden State.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

Augmented Reality Sandbox Hits Worldwide Milestone

By Becky Oskin

With more than 500 installations on six continents, the UC Davis Augmented Reality, or AR, Sandbox, has become a worldwide phenomenon.

The Augmented Reality Sandbox shows how land forms affect water flow. (UC Davis KeckCAVES)

The AR Sandbox brings earth science to life by merging hands-on play with digital effects. The setup combines a real sandbox with a motion-sensing camera (such as a Microsoft 3D Kinect) and a digital projector. As people shape the sand with their hands or with tools, the camera detects the changes and a computer projects colors depicting elevation, vividly illustrating the principles of topographic maps. Users can also create rainstorms, lakes and rivers and immediately see how reshaping the sand surface changes the water flow.

Synchrony in Ecology: What Magnets Have To Do With Pistachios

By Kat Kerlin

Did you ever pass an orchard with branches bursting with flowers and wonder how the trees “know” when to blossom or bear fruit all at the same time? Or perhaps you’ve walked through the woods, crunching loads of acorns underfoot one year but almost none the next year.

Pistachios

A new study shows why pistachio trees are like magnets, mathematically speaking.

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have given such synchronicity considerable thought. In 2015, they developed a computer model showing that one of the most famous models in statistical physics, the Ising model, could be used to understand why events occur at the same time over long distances.

Scientist’s Talk on TEDGlobal Stage Featured on TED.com

By Kat Kerlin

Mike Gil is used to spreading the word about his love of science through his nonprofit sciall.org and its YouTube channel, but he’s about to get a bigger audience. His TED Talk, recorded last summer, was posted today on TED’s main channel. Only a fraction of talks given at TED conferences are posted to the main website, which has millions of subscribers.

“Who here is fascinated by life under the sea?” he asked the audience in his opening line. All hands go up.

SuperBlueBloodMoon: New Ideas About Lunar Formation

January 31 will be an early morning show for Moon lovers. Starting about 2.51 a.m. Pacific Time will be a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon” as the Moon passes through Earth’s shadow and picks up a reddish tint. At the same time, the full Moon of Jan. 31 is also a “supermoon” when the Moon is relatively close to Earth and looks bigger and brighter, and a “blue Moon” because it is the second full Moon in one month.

NASA is calling it a “SuperBlueBloodMoon.” (If it’s cloudy where you are, NASA is also running a live stream of the eclipse.)

How the Cell’s Roadways are Remodeled for Cell Division

By Greg Watry

Within every cell is a transportation system that rivals our most complex roadways and interchanges. Known collectively as the cytoskeleton, this system is used by molecular machines called motor proteins to transport cargo throughout the cell. It’s also essential to the vital process of cell division.

Mitosis

Image of the mitotic spindle in a human cell showing microtubules in green, chromosomes (DNA) in blue, and kinetochores in red. (Wikimedia Commons)

Looking for New Pollutants in the Ashes of Sonoma

In this month’s episode of Three Minute Egghead, UC Davis graduate student Gabrielle Black talks about collecting samples of ash from neighborhoods burned by last year’s northern California wildfires. The intense heat on a wide range of household items from insulation to electronics may have created new chemical pollutants. Thanks to modern analytic technology, Black plans to search for both known pollutants and new compounds, and compare them to the ashes of burned wild land.

Listen to the podcast here.

More information

Testing Sonoma Ash and Air for Fire-Formed Pollutants

WHAT-NOW Survey (UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center)

California Water-Saving Drive Saved Energy, Too

California’s drive to save water during the drought had a double benefit: it saved a lot of energy as well.

Graphs of water and energy use

This interactive website shows how California cities and water districts saved energy and water

In April 2015, Governor Jerry Brown mandated a 25 percent cut in urban water consumption in the face of continuing drought. Water suppliers were required to report their progress to the State Water Resources Control Board. Now analysis of those figures by researchers Edward Spang, Andrew Holguin and Frank Loge at the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency shows that while the state came within 0.5 percent of the water conservation goal, California also saved 1830 GigaWatt-Hours of energy — enough to power more than 270,000 homes.

Multi-state E. coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

 By Heidi Meier and Ann Filmer

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a media statement in late December profiling a multi-state outbreak of food poisoning caused by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7 with 17 reported illnesses. Romaine and leafy greens are among the suspected sources of contamination, but no definitive source or location has been confirmed at this time, according to the CDC.

A lettuce field in California (photo by Trevor Suslow, UC Davis)

Understanding the Immortal Hydra

by Greg Watry

Hydra under microscope

Hydra, which measure just millimeters in length, are studied by biologists for their regenerative capabilities and uncharacteristic longevity. Stefan Siebert/Juliano Lab

The hydra is a small freshwater invertebrate named after the fearsome monster of Greek mythology that grew two new heads for each one cut off. Now the real hydra’s ability to regrow pieces of itself is attracting growing interest from regenerative biologists as this tiny, jellyfish-like creature may hold within its genomic code the key to biological immortality.