Uncovering How Dengue, Zika Viruses Manipulate Hosts

A new, holistic approach to biology is giving researchers new insights into how the Dengue and Zika viruses attack their hosts and, in the case of Zika, affect brain development. Published Dec. 13 in the journal Cell, the work may open up new ways to think about treating virus infections or mitigating their effects.

Priya Shah in lab

Priya Shah’s work in systems biology spans the Colleges of Engineering and of Biological Sciences. The approach is giving new insight into how dengue and Zika viruses attack human cells. Credit: David Slipher, College of Biological Sciences

Visualizing “Unfurling” Microtubule Growth

Living cells depend absolutely on tubulin, a protein that forms hollow tube-like polymers, called microtubules, that form scaffolding for moving materials inside the cell. Tubulin-based microtubule scaffolding allows cells to move, keeps things in place or moves them around. When cells divide, microtubule fibers pull the chromosomes apart into new cells. Cells with defects in tubulin polymerization die.

Microtubule fibers are hollow rods made of much smaller tubulin subunits that spontaneously assemble at one end of the rod, but exactly how they do this inside the crowded environment of living cells has been a mystery. Now researchers at UC Davis have uncovered the mechanism that puts these blocks in place, illustrated in a new animation.

Study Explores How Fruit Flies Navigate Unstable Convective Air

By Greg Watry

Drosophila melanogaster

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster lives in deserts and also urban environments with many hot surfaces and resulting air currents. (Photo: Sanjay Acharya)

When insects migrate over vast distances, many take advantage of a natural phenomenon called thermal convection, which causes flow movement when air at different temperatures interact. Hitching a ride on invisible rollercoasters called convection cells, insects—like aphids and spiders—follow the flow of warm air upwards and cold air downwards.

“They are floating up to 3,000 feet,” said Victor Ortega-Jimenez, an assistant project scientist in the Combes Lab at UC Davis, of this movement. “All these clouds of insects are floating up there and moving in these convection cell patterns.”

From Lab Fruit Flies to Mosquito Extermination in 30 Years

Louis Pasteur famously compared science and its application to a tree and it’s fruit. The path from a fundamental discovery to application can be a long and winding one, but rewarding none the less.


Discoveries in basic genetics have now enabled scientists to wipe out lab populations of the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. (Anthony Cornel)

Professor Ken Burtis, faculty advisor to the Chancellor and Provost, recently came across an exciting example. Burtis was looking for a study for his first year seminar class when he found a paper from Andrea Crisanti’s lab at Imperial College London. Crisanti’s team was able to wipe out a lab population of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes by introducing a disrupted gene for sex determination and using CRISPR “gene drive” technology to spread it through the population. Within eight generations, there were no female mosquitoes left for breeding.

“Cellular Memory” of DNA Damage in Oocyte Quality Control

By Sofie Bates

Females are born with a finite number of eggs that are steadily depleted throughout their lifetime. This reserve of eggs is selected from a much larger pool of millions of precursor cells, or oocytes, that form during fetal life. So there is a substantial amount of quality control during the process of forming an egg cell, or ovum, that weeds out all but the highest quality cells. New research from Neil Hunter’s laboratory at UC Davis reveals the surprising way that this critical oocyte quality control process works.

Seabird Study Provides Insights into Sexual Selection

By Greg Watry

What scent attracts a seabird’s mate?

Gabrielle Nevitt holds a Leach's storm-petrel.

Professor Gabrielle Nevitt has studied Leach’s storm-petrels since 1996, first on Kent Island and then Bon Portage Island. (Courtesy photo)

It’s a question on the mind of Professor Gabrielle Nevitt, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. An expert on the chemical senses of birds, Nevitt and members of her lab have been studying Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucohoa) for over 20 years with the goal of making the species a model for chemical ecology in birds.

Defend Against Predators or Run? Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Butterflyfish

How does a fish avoid being eaten by a bigger fish? Evolution could build up defenses such as spines or armor, or favor avoidance strategies such as quick reactions, swimming away and hiding. The rules of evolution are tough, so you cannot really have both, the argument goes.

But this hypothesis has been difficult to test in practice. Now Jennifer Hodge, a postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Peter Wainwright and colleagues in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences, has carried out a survey of hundreds of specimens of butterflyfish, carefully measuring their physical traits and defenses compared to feeding style.