Making an Impact in Research: Advice from Experience, Pitch Slams from Grad Students

Sometimes there’s just too much going on at UC Davis. Today, you could hear from two groups of researchers at very different points in their careers, looking to make an impact and talking about how to have an impact with research.

Today’s UC Davis Research Expo was put on by the Office of Research with the theme “Pathways to Impact”. This afternoon, the Office of Graduate Studies hosted the final UC Davis round of the Grad Slam competition.

Panel discussion

A panel of accomplished UC Davis scientists (and one classicist) discuss how to make an impact with your research at the UC Davis Research Expo, April 5, 2018.

With Giant Lens, Astronomers Find a Single Star Across Half the Universe

Through a lucky quirk of nature, astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to view a single star halfway across the universe. Nine billion light years from Earth, the giant blue-white star, nicknamed “Icarus” by the team, is by far the most distant individual star ever seen.

Distant star image

Icarus is the farthest individual star ever seen. It is only visible because it is magnified by the gravity of a massive galaxy cluster, located about 5 billion light-years from Earth. The panels at right show the view in 2011, without Icarus visible, and the star’s brightening in 2016. (Hubble/STScI)

Study That Cast Doubt on Mouse CRISPR-Cas9 Retracted

A study that cast doubt on the usefulness of CRISPR-Cas9 “gene editing” technology to introduce genetic changes in animals has been retracted by the journal Nature Methods. Among those refuting the work were Professor Kent Lloyd, director of the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, and colleagues from the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, whose letter was one of five published by the journal March 30.

CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to introduce very specific edits into DNA. In laboratory mice, the technology could be used to make edits in embryos that are then grown to adult mice. One of the attractions of CRISPR-Cas9 is that it is supposed to make these edits without affecting other genes.

Investigating the Seagrass Microbiome

By Karley Marie Lujan

Seagrass carpets the seafloor creating a unique and vital ecosystem in shallow marine environments. Sea turtles graze on seagrass leaves while smaller organisms seek refuge in the green fields but, on the microscopic level, seagrass is also home to microbial communities. Such microbes compose the seagrass microbiome and potentially play a role in seagrass ecology.

Turtle and seagrass

Sea turtles and other marine animals browse on seagrass meadows. (NOAA photo)

UC Davis graduate student Cassie Ettinger identifies and characterizes seagrass-associated microbial communities. A study published last year in the journal PeerJ suggests how understanding the role of these microbes could reveal new information about seagrass sulfur cycling and establish seagrass as a model organism.

Treating Koalas for Chlamydia Alters Gut Microbes

Koalas are one of Australia’s iconic animals, but they have been hard hit by an epidemic of Chlamydia infections contributing to a steep decline in numbers. Sick koalas brought to wildlife hospitals may be treated with antibiotics to clear up the chlamydia, but the antibiotics themselves can have severe side effects in the animals.

Koala

Koalas feed almost exclusively on eucalyptus leaves. They depend on gut bacteria to make the leaves digestible. (Photo via Tourism Australia)

A new study led by Katherine Dahlhausen, a graduate student at the UC Davis Genome Center, published in the journal PeerJ, shows that those antibiotics may be changing the balance of gut microbes thought to allow koalas to digest eucalyptus leaves.

Engineered Yeast Makes Hoppy Flavors

Can you brew a hoppy beer without hops? Beer purists might regard the idea with suspicion, but researchers at UC Berkeley, with some help from UC Davis’ “Pope of Foam,” have shown that you can brew a tasty hoppy beer using gene-edited yeast to replace hop flavors.

According to Charles Denby, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley, growing hops uses a lot of water – 50 pints of water to grow enough hops (the crumbly flowers of the hop vine) for a pint of craft beer.

Chemical Messengers, Calcium and Neutrophils

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell. They play a vital role in defending us from infections, by engulfing and destroying bacteria and viruses or cancerous cells. A new study by UC Davis engineering student Emmet Francis, working with Professor Volkmar Heinrich in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, adds to our knowledge of how neutrophils are drawn towards infection sites and how they can attack their targets.

First, Francis and Heinrich looked at how isolated neutrophils respond to chemical messengers called anaphylatoxins. These molecules guide immune cells to their targets but can cause severe illness in excessive amounts.

Understanding How Rice Root Microbiome Can Promote Agricultural Growth

By Greg Watry

Your body plays host to a microbial ecosystem that’s ever-evolving, and its composition has implications for your overall health. The same holds true for plants and their microbiomes and the relationship is of pivotal importance to agriculture.

In a paper appearing in PLOS Biology, Joseph Edwards, ’17 Ph.D. in Plant Biology, Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, Departments of Plant Biology and Plant Sciences and their colleagues tracked root microbiome shifts throughout the life-cycle of rice plants (Oryza sativa). The research could help inform the design of agricultural probiotics by introducing age-appropriate microbes that promote traits like nutrient efficiency, strong roots and increased growth rates in the plants.  

Italian Dark Matter Experiment Completes Run, Sets Stage for Next Experiment

The DarkSide-50 experiment at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy has completed its experimental run, the research collaboration announced today (Feb. 21). The experiment did not find any potential dark matter particles, but it did demonstrate that the technology could reject “false positive” signals from natural radioactivity or other sources. That will give researchers more confidence in data from the next, larger experiment, DarkSide-20k.

Dark Matter detector

Schematic of the DarkSide-50 detector. The cylinder is filled with liquid argon, which gives off a flash of light when a particle enters the chamber. This light is detected by photomultiplier tubes at top and bottom. (DarkSide-50 collaboration)

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.