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.
Hobby 3-D Printing Leads to New Insights into Moving Sofa Problem
By Becky Oskin
Most of us have struggled with the mathematical puzzle known as the “moving sofa problem.” It poses a deceptively simple question: What is the largest sofa that can pivot around an L-shaped hallway corner?
A mover will tell you to just stand the sofa on end. But imagine the sofa is impossible to lift, squish or tilt. Although it still seems easy to solve, the moving sofa problem has stymied math sleuths for more than 50 years. That’s because the challenge for mathematicians is both finding the largest sofa and proving it to be the largest. Without a proof, it’s always possible someone will come along with a better solution.
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With a grant of $8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team including UC Davis researchers will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating the five-year project.
A sorghum field infested with Striga (purple flowers). The parasitic plant destroys up to half of Africa’s sorghum crop. (Taye Tessema, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)
By Becky Oskin
Cyanobacteria, one of Earth’s oldest life forms, offer a promising new source of petroleum-free fuels and chemicals. However, economies of scale currently make it challenging for these tiny creatures to compete with fossil fuels. Now, scientists at UC Davis are closer to meeting these challenges with a new advance that improves the production and growth rate of cyanobacteria.
UC Davis chemist Shota Atsumi is engineering these cyanobacteria to produce biofuels. (Photo by T.J. Ushing)
Visiting scholar Masahiro Kanno, graduate student Austin Carroll and chemistry professor Shota Atsumi introduced new genetic pathways into cyanobacteria that could help make microbe-based chemical production systems smaller and easier to operate.
By Lisa Howard
Soil Actually Has a Microbiome
Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.
Compounds Could Be Basis For Devices That Turn Waste Heat Into Electricity
Cage-like compounds called clathrates could be used for harvesting waste heat and turning it into electricity. UC Davis chemists just discovered a whole new class of clathrates, potentially opening new ways to make and apply these materials.
UC Davis chemists discovered a new class of clathrates that break the four-bond rule. The discovery was featured on the cover of the journal Angewandte Chemie (Wiley)
Nutritionist Looks at Fortifying Staple Foods To Boost Health
By Lisa Howard
Reina Engle-Stone was halfway through her biology degree at Cornell University when she discovered global nutrition.
Her introduction was a nutritional epidemiology class, and almost immediately she was hooked. “You could take biology and apply it to other things. I thought, this is great, this is what I want to do,” she says.
Reina Engle-Stone, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, helps develop programs to fortify staple foods with nutrients.
By Holly Ober
Two UC Davis graduates have started a company incubated in the TEAM manufacturing facility at the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Arshia Firouzi and Gurkern Sufi met in 2011 as Freshmen living in Tercero Dormitories at UC Davis and quickly became friends. Arshia majored in Electrical Engineering and Gurkern in Biotechnology, and they worked with the mentorship of Professor Marc Facciotti to explore their shared interest in the intersection of electronics and biology. In 2015 they won a VentureWell grant for a research project, which they pursued in TEAM’s Molecular Prototyping and Bioinnovation Laboratory. By the end of their project, they had come up with an idea that grew into a company that could usher in a new era for laboratories all over the world.
Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.
A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.
Molds that contaminate dry foods, especially ground nuts and maize cause significant postharvest losses in the developing world. Mold contamination results in poor flavor, loss of dry matter, and most importantly, is a health hazard. Aflatoxin, produced by several fungi, contaminates up to one quarter of the world’s food crops and is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It causes acute poisoning, liver cancer and is associated with stunting and suppression of the immune system. It is estimated to cause about 100,000 cases of liver cancer per year and a world-wide loss of 1-2 million daily adjusted life years per year.
By Karen Nikos-Rose
More Than a Third Of Donor-Conceived Adults Seek Sperm Donor’s Identity, UC Davis Study Finds
When it comes to seeking out a sperm donor’s identity, more than a third of adult offspring at a well-established California sperm bank want that information – if only to know more about him and his characteristics – or “get a complete picture,” a newly published study has found.
The findings come from an article published Feb. 1 in the leading American journal of reproductive medicine, Fertility and Sterility. And the data show that the move to open-identity sperm donation is feasible, said the study’s primary author, Joanna Scheib, associate adjunct professor of psychology at UC Davis.