Sometimes caregivers, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, take photos of babies to show "proof of life." They post them for the parents to see, admire and confirm.
It's delightful to see images of your offspring while you're on vacation, on a business trip, or just out and about.
Same with monarch caterpillars. "Monarch Moms" and "Monarch Dads" take "proof-of-life" photos.
Often we'll see a hungry monarch caterpillar chomping and chewing and gorging on milkweed. It's a pretty sight, these chunky white caterpillars banded in yellow and black doing what they do best--eating. Some day they'll form a "J" and then a jade-green chrysalis rimmed with gold. And then--voila!--an adult monarch will eclose.
Some day, but maybe not.
A predator may nail them.
We recently noticed a Missing-in-Action caterpillar from our showy milkweed, Asciepias speciosa, and a quite contented Western scrub jay looking like the cat that ate the canary, or the scrub jay that ate the 'cat. Note that the jays nest in our trees, and to nourish them, we feed them seeds year-around in the birdfeeder.
The birdfeeder, however, happens to be located right next to the 8-foot showy milkweed where monarchs lay their eggs.
Jays apparently like a varied diet. Like a fat juicy worm (to them). Yum? Not yum. It does not taste good. Species in the genus Asclepias produce the toxic cardiac glycosides and this helps protect the caterpillars from predators. Although they don't taste good, they will still eat a few.
The photos below are proof of life of one hungry, thriving caterpillar. The next day? Gone. It became a bird's dinner.
But not its sibling caterpillar. We rescued it and fed it and watched it form a chrysalis. Soon an adult monarch butterfly wlll eclose. This one will be "proof of life."
He's the bully in the bee garden.
If you've ever watched the male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) patrolling "his" flower patch, you'll see him targeting insects several times larger than he is.
Take the case of the Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), one of the largest bees in California. The female is solid black, while the male is a green-eyed blond.
Last week we were watching female Valley carpenter bees trying to gather some nectar from a bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) when the much smaller male carder bee dive-bombed her.
The male was also dive-bombing and body-slamming honey bees, sweat bees leafcuter bees and other bees, in addition to butterflies. They do that to "save" the flowers for their own species and perchance to mate!
As the sun set, the sleepy male carder bees headed over to a bee condo to grab some shuteye.
The bee condo was meant for nesting blue orchard bees (which pollinate the almonds in the spring).
Bee condos can also be occupied by other critters, including spiders, wasps and European wool carder bees!
Well, if you're Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology with a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, you annually host the Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle on the Briggs Hall lawn.
He and research scientist Christophe Morisseau, coordinator of the event, are water warriors--the "Splash Brothers" counterpart to basketball superstars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors.
Their aim is as good the Curry/Thompson three-pointers.
Just call it 15 minutes of aim...and here's why.
Last Friday afternoon 40 participants, including professors, researchers, graduate students, staff, students and family members, tossed 3000 water balloons in 15 minutes on the thirsty lawn, as the temperature soared to 97 degrees. As the supply dwindled, they dumped the remaining water from the buckets on each other.
A highlight: “Splash Sister” Alifia Merchant of the Hammock lab, who just received her master's degree in agriculture and environmental chemistry, managed to sneak up on Hammock and drench him.
Hammock launched the annual event in 2003 as a form of camaraderie and as a means of rewarding the lab members for their hard work. The international Hammock lab includes 7 researchers, 9 postdoctorates, 3 graduate students, 10 visiting scholars, 3 staff and 1 undergrad. They represent Barbados, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Ukraine and Uruguay. Among those participating was Aldrin Gomes, associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, and his lab.
Hammock, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, directs the campuswide Superfund Research and Training Program, an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIEHS) that has brought in almost $60 million to the UC Davis campus. The Hammock lab is also the home of the National Institutes of Health Training Grant in Biomolecular Technology. The lab alumni, totaling more than 100 graduates, hold positions of distinction in academia, industry and government as well as more than 300 postdoctorates.
The “Balloon Battle at Briggs” was canceled last year due to the severity of the California drought. In 2014, the water warriors took drought-conservation precautions as they did this year.
“We devised a filling station out of drip line and valves so we could fill the balloons outside and also turn off the water when not in use,” said Hammock lab program manager Cindy McReynolds. “Water conservation was a big topic surrounding the (2014) event, so we also used it as an opportunity to discuss ways we have changed our daily routines to conserve water."
As an extra bonus, the annual battle provides a little water for the thirsty Briggs Hall lawn, which is used by campus wildlife, including ducks, turkeys, squirrels, birds, butterflies and bees.
(Editor's Note: Hammock, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Berkeley in 1973, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1980. Although an entomologist, he is now involved more in human health--alleviating human pain--than he is with insect research. With Sarjeet Gill (now at UC Riverside) he discovered that the enzyme, soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH), degrades fatty acid epoxides and plays an important role in human diseases. Hammock and his lab have developed inhibitors of sEH that are anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, analgesic and organ-protective. Groundbreaking neuropathic pain research emanating from the Hammock lab made Discover magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of 2015 and ranks among the Top 15 in the Medicine/Genetics category. The UC Davis research was singled out for “Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in the Peripheral Nervous System is a Significant Driver of Neuropathic Pain,” published in July 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (See UC Davis news story)
In a groundbreaking discovery, a scientific team of Brazilians and Brazilian-born chemical ecologist Walter Leal of the University of California, Davis, has announced that the Zika virus has been detected in wild-caught Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes in Recife, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic.
Scientists from the Fiocruz Institute, Pernambuco, confirmed the discovery July 21. The detection could have widespread repercussions, as the Culex mosquitoes are more common and widespread than the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, known as the primary carrier of the Zika virus.
Leal, who collaborates with Fiocruz Institute researcher Constancia Ayres in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored project on the investigation of Zika in the C. quinquefasciatus, said that the Brazilian lab earlier discovered that Culex had the capability of transmitting the virus. Although the scientists were able to infect the lab mosquitoes with the virus, they had not found the virus in wild-caught mosquitoes—until now.
“This could have major repercussions here in the United States and in other parts of the world,” said Leal, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology who is co-chairing the International Congress of Entomology meeting Sept. 25-30 in Orlando, Fla. The conference is expected to draw some 7000 entomologists throughout the world.
Leal said more work needs to be done to see if Culex mosquitoes are playing a role in the current epidemic. In an interview July 21 with health reporter Jennifer Yang of the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily, he commented: “It looks like there were more vectors than we thought, and this is one of them. We don't have to panic, but we have to know. And now that we know, we have to take care of the Culex.”
A. aegypti is already established in California; it has spread to at least seven counties since its discovery in Clovis, Fresno County, in June 2013, according to medical entomologist Anthony Cornel of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier.
The Zika virus, which can result in birth defects in pregnancy, can be transmitted through exposure to infected blood or sexual contact. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 400,000 and 1.3 million cases have been discovered across South, Central, and North America, where the disease was previously unknown.
Leal and a group of 18 students just hosted a Zika Public Awareness Symposium on May 26 at Giedt Hall, UC Davis campus. The podcast can be accessed at https://video.ucdavis.edu/media/Zika+Virus+Public+Awareness+Symposium/0_n3aupf5c
Have you heard about the entomologist who went from researching venomous scorpions to alleviating human neuropathic pain?
That would be Bora Inceoglu, who holds a doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis. He and five colleagues were recently informed that their groundbreaking research on neuropathic pain made Discover magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of 2015. In fact, the research ranks among the Top 15 in the Medicine/Genetics category.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the UC Davis research, “Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in the Peripheral Nervous System is a Significant Driver of Neuropathic Pain,” in July 2015. (See UC Davis news story)
Inceoglu, a researcher in the Bruce Hammock lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology/UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Ahmed Bettaieb, then of the Fawaz Haj lab, Department of Nutrition, served as the lead researchers. The six-member team, in addition to Inceoglu, Bettaieb, Haj, and Hammock, included K.S. Lee and Carlos Trindade da Silva, both of the Department of Entomology and Nematology/UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
They pinpointed the key mechanism that causes neuropathic pain--a complex, chronic and difficult-to-treat pain caused by nerve injuries from trauma or from such diseases as diabetes, shingles, multiple sclerosis and stroke.
Discover magazine headlined its story on the UC Davis research: “A Key Piece of the Pain Puzzle Is Solved.” Writer Heather Stringer quoted Hammock as saying: “Medications have historically focused on turning down the nerve response to pain, but now we've found one way to block the stress signal that generates the pain.
“Most of us probably take for granted that physical pain—whether it be from a sports injury, a kidney stone or appendicitis—can be attributed to some form of inflammation and that it will end,” Stringer wrote.
“Neuropathic pain, however, affords its sufferers no such luxuries,” Stringer pointed out. “It's chronic and unrelenting, and its cause is unknown, making treatment difficult. It turns out that neuropathic pain is triggered when the body experiences endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, a condition in which the production and transport of protein exceeds the cells' capacities, say researchers from the University of California, Davis. Because diabetics are at high risk of having neuropathic pain, the team studied diabetic rats that had neuropathic symptoms: hypersensitivity to touch and lack of heat sensation. And the rats' nerve cells showed clear signs of ER stress.”
“When the researchers treated the rats with a compound that blocks ER stress, the pain symptoms disappeared. Conversely, healthy rats developed neuropathy when they received chemicals that induce the stress response.”
How It All Began
Hammock discovered a human enzyme termed sEH which regulates a new class of natural chemical mediators. He and his lab then developed inhibitors of the sEH enzyme which degrades natural mediators reducing hypertension, inflammation and pain.
Recently he founded the company, Eicosis LLC, to target diabetic neuropathic pain. The company just received two large federal grants for translational drug development and aims to move one of the sEH inhibitors to human clinical trials.
Hammock, who holds a doctorate in entomology/toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973, joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1980. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. The Hammock lab is the 30-year home of the UC Davis/NIEHS Superfund Research and Training Program, an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIEHS) that has brought in almost $60 million to the UC Davis campus. The Hammock lab is also the home of the NIH Training Grant in Biomolecular Technology. The lab alumni, totaling more than 100 graduates, hold positions of distinction in academia, industry and government as well as over 300 postdoctorates.
From Insects to Humans
How did Bora Inceoglu move from entomology to neuropathic pain?
"As most kids I found insect fascinating from the start, little machines that could do so much," he said. "As an undergraduate, I studied plant protection. Half of the curriculum was basic and applied entomology, the other half being plant pathology and weed science. Therefore, my college degree was mostly based on pest management and I found insecticide resistance most interesting. This was the impetus for seeking an advanced degree in this area."
Inceoglu was awarded two separate scholarships to study insecticide resistance in the U.S. His research of prominent laboratories in this area landed him in the Hammock laboratory in 1996. "Bruce was my major professor and I completed my Ph.D. in his laboratory in 2002," Inceoglu said. "My thesis was isolation and characterization of insect selective toxins from the venom of scorpions and Dr. Hammock had just received a sizable sample of venom of a South African scorpion, well known for its highly toxic properties. The insect selective toxins were highly sought after at the time because Dr. Hammock developed the technology to engineer these small peptides into the genome of an insect selective virus, a baculovirus. The genetically modified baculoviruses are much faster in killing the pest insects owing to the toxin being produced as the virus infects the host larvae and replicates within."
"Although unexpected, when I started characterizing the new venom we had, we found no insect selective peptide toxins in it," Inceoglou recalled. "Instead we identified a whole new class of peptides that affect mammalian ion channels." To make his work easier, he tried and obtained the live scorpion specimens imported from South Africa. "I do not think they are available for sale now but at the time I was able to get together a few dozens of these animals. I periodically milked the venom from these scorpions which enabled me to have a consistent supply of venom. "
"Currently we are not working on scorpion venoms," Inceoglu says, "but the technology developed by Dr. Hammock remains as one of the more innovative approaches to pest control."
Meanwhile, neuropathic pain research emanating from UC Davis continues to be spotlighted, as well it should be. It affects some 100 million Americans alone, but even more worldwide.
- Discover Magazine 100 Top Stories of 2015
- Discover Magazine: Key Piece of the Pain Puzzle Is Solved
- PNAS article
- UC Davis News Story: Groundbreaking Research on Neuropathic Pain
- Faculty 1000 Honor