Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

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.

Changes In Breast Milk Sugars Impact Babies’ Health And Growth

By Pat Bailey

A UC Davis-led study of nursing mothers in The Gambia shows how environment changes breast milk content

In a newly published study, UC Davis researchers and their colleagues, paint the picture of an elegant web of  cause-and-effect that connects climate, the breast milk of nursing moms, gut microbes and the health of breast fed infants.

The research is part of a long-running. cross-disciplinary project at UC Davis studying milk and its role in nutrition. For example, last year UC Davis scientists and colleagues at Washington University St. Louis worked with both children and animal models to show how milk compounds could alter gut microbe composition and affect health. UC Davis researchers also led a consortium to study the “milk genome,” the collection of all genes related to producing milk.

Looking For Martians At McLaughlin Reserve

By Kathleen Wong

In a universe with billions upon billions of planets, narrowing the search for extraterrestrial life is no mean feat. One approach seeks analogs of otherworldly conditions here on Earth, and characterizes the mineralogy, geochemistry and biology of these areas.

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)