Like many first-year biology majors, Mirna Aparicio came to UC Santa Barbara with the goal of becoming a doctor. What she didn’t anticipate was how different university courses were from those she took in high school. She found help honing her study skills through an innovative program at UCSB designed to increase the success and retention of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the BioMentors program aims to change the freshman and sophomore experience for undergraduate biology majors. And it has been very successful, particularly among underperforming, first-generation and underrepresented minority (URM) students.
In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists for their contributions to uncovering the mechanisms governing vesicle transport in cells. Their explanations provided both a conceptual and a mechanistic understanding of basic processes at the most fundamental level.
Calcium is something of a double-edged sword. Too much of the essential element is as dangerous as too little, either case adversely affecting health in animals from humans to mice to fruit flies. Sensing calcium at all can be crucial.
Interstellar travel, light-driven spacecraft, suspended animation. It sounds like the formula for countless science fiction stories, but it could be reality in the not-so-far future if UC Santa Barbara researchers Philip Lubin and Joel Rothman get their way.
“Humanity has dreamed of interstellar flight for more than 100 years. We are working on bringing this dream to reality for all of us, but particularly for the next generation,” said Lubin, a physicist. He leads the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group, which investigates, among many things, travel in deep space and searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Through the UCSB NASA Project Starlight program, Lubin’s team plans to use laser-propelled miniature spaceships (or “spacechips,” as they have been called) to transport the Rothman Group’s miniature lab animals across vast interstellar distances. These humble microscropic creatures — nematodes and tardigrades — are extremely hardy and can be placed in suspended animation to withstand the cold of space and the rigors of near light-speed travel through the cosmos.
“Following the longest voyage ever taken by a terrestrial creature, we can wake them up and ask how they’re enjoying the trip, whether they reproduce normally and how well they remember what we taught them on Earth,” noted Rothman, a biologist.
Food poisoning may be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving — at least according to a new study. A startling discovery by UC Santa Barbara scientists, published today in the journal Science, reveals how a past history of bacterial infections adds up with age to cause severe inflammatory disease.
Small bacterial infections, which may go unnoticed and which clear the body without treatment — such as occurs in mild food poisoning — nevertheless can start a chain of events that leads to chronic inflammation and life-threatening colitis. The new findings also may identify the long-mysterious origins of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The project was led by Jamey Marth, director of UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine and also a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla. Additional collaborators were lead author Won Ho Yang, Michael Mahan, Douglas Heithoff and Peter Aziz, who hold joint appointments at UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine and the SBP Discovery Institute, and Dr. Victor Nizet of UC San Diego and Markus Sperandio of Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich.
“We have discovered an environmental and pathogenic origin of chronic intestinal inflammation in the course of modeling human food poisoning as it occurs repeatedly over the adult lifespan,” co-author Marth explained. “Remarkably, salmonellae have figured out a way to disrupt a previously unknown protective mechanism in the gut that normally prevents intestinal inflammation.”
MCDB's Distinguished Professor Charles E. Samuel, an internationally recognized pioneer and leader in the study of interferons, will give the talk “Viral Threats to Humankind — Antivirals and Lessons Learned from Interferons,” Thursday, Oct. 5, as UCSB’s 62nd Annual Faculty Research Lecture. The highest honor bestowed upon a UCSB professor by his or her peers, the lecture recognizes extraordinary scholarly distinction. The event will take place at Corwin Pavilion in the campus’s University Center, with the lecture beginning at 4 p.m., followed by a reception at 5 p.m.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers, including MCDB Assistant Professor Michael Goard, has been awarded $9 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop and widely share state-of-the-art optical brain-imaging techniques. The group of neuroscientists, electrical engineers, molecular biologists, neurologists, bioengineers and physicists was recognized for its collaborative NEMONIC (NExt generation MultiphOton NeuroImaging Consortium) project, which pushes the boundaries of brain imaging.
We humans aren’t the only creatures drawn by the smell of a good meal. Fruit fly larvae, it turns out, are equally susceptible to food scents, although the odors that attract them may not appeal to us. “Larvae have relatively simple brains compared to vertebrates, which make them good candidates for study,” said corresponding author Matthieu Louis, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.
Bob Sinsheimer (1920-2017) was one of the early pioneers of molecular biology, focusing on the small bacterial virus ΦX 174. He demonstrated that the ΦX genome in the viral particle was single stranded (publishing this work in the very first issue of Journal of Molecular Biology), that the phage genome was a circular molecule of DNA, that upon infection the replicative form of the DNA was double-stranded, and that in vitro-synthesized viral DNA was infectious. He led the Biology division at Cal Tech for many years, served as Chancellor of U.C. Santa Cruz where he helped foster the idea of sequencing the human genome, and was a valued colleague and friend here at MCDB for several decades. On July 15, 2017, MCDB and the Sinsheimer family hosted a celebration of Bob Sinsheimer's rich life, with talks by family and scientific associates, attended by numerous friends, colleagues, and former students and postdoctoral fellows. A video of the event and a biography of Bob Sinsheimer can be viewed at www.mcdb.edu/sinsheimer
The Aedes aegypti mosquito may be tiny but it can wreak major havoc on human health, spreading diseases such as Zika, dengue fever and yellow fever. Those little suckers are about to face the fight of their life. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded up to $14.9 million to a team of researchers from six University of California campuses, including MCDB professor Craig Montell, to study how to use gene editing as a way to control disease-spreading mosquitoes.