Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, annually hosts a water balloon battle for his lab members and staff.
It amounts to 15 minutes of aim (not fame) and it takes place on the Briggs Hall lawn, off Kleiber Hall Drive. Only 15 minutes? That's how fast the water warriors can toss 2000 water balloons.
Researcher Christophe Morisseau, who organizes the annual funfest, says this year's event will take place at 3 p.m., Friday, July 21.
Hammock's lab and staff are international. They're from Canada, Ukraine, France, China, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Korea, Uruguay and the Netherlands, besides the United States. They are post docs, researchers, graduate students, visiting scholars, visiting graduate students, visiting summer students, short-term visiting scholars and student interns.
They will fill 2000 water balloons, place them in plastic tubs, and at 3 p.m., they begin. But just when you think it's all over, it's not. Any water remaining in the buckets will be splashed on unsuspecting water warriors.
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. Other professors and their labs are invited to join in.
After the 15 minutes of aim, it's clean-up time. The water warriors leave refreshed (especially in triple-digit temperatures) and the thirsty lawn isn't as thirsty.
Highly honored by his peers (but a target at the annual water balloon battle), Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and the recipient of the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He directs the campuswide Superfund Research Program, National Institutes of Health Biotechnology Training Program, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Combined Analytical Laboratory.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, figured it was too rainy and too cold to head over to West Sacramento to look for the first cabbage white butterfly of the year, so he walked around campus Thursday.
And he found it.
Shapiro nabbed the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, at 1:56 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19 in the student gardens near the Solano Park Apartments.
He again won the annual Butterfly-for-a-Beer contest, which he launched in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate.
The contest rules indicate that the first person who finds the first cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento receives a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
Shapiro, who has been defeated only four times in the contest (and all by UC Davis graduate students) said this was the first find on the campus.
“Earlier today I was asked when P. rapae would come out, given the very wet January this year. I replied that when it stopped raining. we'd probably get into tule fog…and that would take us into February for any decent butterfly weather.”
Jan. 19 dawned with a “a cold, unstable air mass overhead,” Shapiro recalled, describing it as “an ideal convective day, with showers and thundershowers popping up.”
With the ground and the vegetation sopping wet, he figured this would not a “potential rapae day.”
“When I got out of class at noon it was bright and sunny, clear overhead but with cumulus building to the west over the Coast Range. It felt warm and I might have gone to West Sacramento, but decided by the time I got there it would have clouded over and perhaps even be raining. So I got lunch and then walked over to the student gardens near the Solano Park Apartments just to gather host plant for my rapae culture--yes, I'm mass-rearing the bugs for photoperiod studies, and have some 100 live ones in a refrigerator."
“It remained sunny and got quite warm—55 or 56, I'd say," Shapiro related. "The vegetation was indeed sopping wet. At 12:59 I saw—a rapae. It was sitting quietly, wings folded, on a cultivated Brassica. It had not opened its wings to body-bask, that is, warm the body by exposure to incoming solar radiation. If it had, it almost certainly would have flown and, being netless, I would have lost it. Instead it just sat there as I picked it off the plant. I always carry one glasseine envelope in my eyeglass case. Into the envelope it went. It's a winter-phenotype male and, I imagine, had just emerged this morning and not yet flown.”
“This is the second year in a row that the first rapae was found in a garden rather than one of the conventional ‘warm pockets,' Shapiro noted. “What does it all mean?”
Davis resident Cindy McReynolds, program manager of the Bruce Hammock lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, spotted some cabbage white butterfly chrysalids in her garden two weeks ago. "They were on the cabbage when I was removing the vegetation."
Colleague/collaborator Matthew Forister, McMinn professor of biology at the University of Nevada, Reno (his major professor was Shapiro), said that Shapiro's find was right on time. "You couldn't have hit closer to the trend line if you'd tried," he told him, sending him the illustration below. "This year in red," he pointed out, noting that "the slope has not changed from last year."
The cabbage white was not the only butterfly Shapiro found on Jan. 19. He also noticed a “fresh-looking female West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, nectaring at a crucifer in the same garden—first one of those this year too, but it's a hibernator.”
Shapiro launched the "Beer-for-a-Butterfly" contest in 1972 to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. “Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.” The butterfly is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, said Shapiro, who researches biological responses to climate change. "The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
The professor, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences, said the cabbage white butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow.
Shapiro teaches his students well. The other winners were his own graduate students: Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days of the year, monitoring butterflies of central California, knows where to find the cabbage whites. He has collected many of his winners in mustard patches near railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County. Over the last seven years, five of the winners came from West Sacramento; one in Davis, Yolo County; and one in Suisun, Solano County.
Coincidentally, Shapiro caught the 2013 and 2009 winners on President Obama's Inauguration Day. This year he missed President Trump's Inauguration Day by a day.
Shapiro maintains a research website on butterflies, where he records the population trends. He and artist Tim Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
He marveled at how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly and said that "science is full of surprises." One of the surprises: his basic research on insects led to a drug for blocking hypertension and neuropathic pain.
Now add Alzheimer's to that list.
This week Hammock announced that a drug developed in his lab yields hope for the prevention of Alzheimer's, a severe and chronic psychiatric disease that affects more than 350 million people worldwide.
Researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan China, used the drug developed at UC Davis to show that the neurofibrillary pathology of an Alzheimer's disease-related protein could be dramatically reduced. Their work was published in December in the Journal of Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
“They further demonstrated the mechanism of action of the UC Davis drug in blocking the oxidative stress-driven phosphorylation events associated with Alzheimer's disease,” Hammock said. The UC Davis drug stabilizes natural anti-inflammatory mediators by inhibiting an enzyme called soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) discovered at UC Davis and recently spotlighted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health's PubMed.
“I was thrilled to see this paper on tau phosphorylation from Huazhong University shows that our drug could block a key event and a key enzyme called GSK-3 beta thought critical in the development of Alzheimer's disease,” said Hammock, who holds a joint appointment in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“We were planning to do this study, but having another laboratory do it with our compound was even better,” he said. “Since our publication last year in PNAS that showed UC Davis soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitors both prevented and reversed depression, we have been excited about trying to block the development of Alzheimer's disease.”
The PNAS paper, “Gene Deficiency and Pharmacological Inhibition of Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase Confers Resilience to Repeated Social Defeat Stress,” was co-authored by a 13-member research team led by Hammock and Kenji Hashimoto of Chiba University Center's Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Japan. They found that sEH plays a key role in the pathophysiology of depression, and that epoxy fatty acids, their mimics, as well as sEH inhibitors could be potential therapeutic or prophylactic drugs for depression and several other disorders of the central nervous system. Co-authors of the paper included Hammock lab researchers Christophe Morisseau, Jun Yang and Karen Wagner. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, funded the research.
Hammock credited several UC Davis colleagues for their work leading to the publications. Research from the labs of Liang Zhang and Qing Li at the University of Hawaii--Qing is a former UC Davis doctoral student--pointed out some of the mechanisms involved in cognitive decline which associate professor Aldrin Gomes of the UC Davis Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior and Fawaz Haj of the UC Davis Department of Nutrition “have shown to be blocked by the natural metabolites stabilized by the UC Davis drugs,” Hammock said.
One of the Hammock lab drugs is moving toward human clinical trials for neuropathic pain through a Davis-based company, EicOsis, LLC, and the financial support of the Blueprint Program through NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Hammock founded the company to develop inhibitors to the soluble epoxide hydrolase, a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of fatty acids, to treat unmet medical needs in human and animals.
“The clinical back-up candidate at EicOsis penetrates the blood brain barrier and should be a perfect compound to test if this class of chemistry can prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease,” Hammock said.
Meanwhile, I'm still thinking about that seminar, "From Butterflies to Blood Pressure and Beyond."
Alzheimer's, a cruel disease characterized by progressive memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior issues.
That's Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, UC Davis, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and Harvard Medical School linked a newly discovered class of bacterial enzymes to battling cystic fibrosis.
In analyzing secretions drawn from the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, the scientists discovered that the bacterium perpetuates inflammation by secreting an enzyme called Cif that sabotages the body's ability to make a key molecule called a "pro-resolving lipid mediator" and stop the inflammatory response it started.
The scientific discovery could lead to new therapies that would interrupt or correct the bacterial sabotage, Hammock and Bomberger said.
“This paper is the outcome of an exciting and interdisciplinary project,” said Hammock, who directs the UC Davis Superfund Program financed by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-NIEHS). “It started several years ago with the NIEHS Superfund Program funding both a group at Dartmouth and at UC Davis. A very productive and exciting collaboration resulted in looking at how to mitigate the effects of environmental chemicals on human health. Our collaborative work led to this joint publication which yields exciting hope for cystic fibrosis patients.”
Co-authors of the newly published research include two UC Davis researchers from the Hammock lab, Christophe Morisseau and Jun Yang.
Meanwhile, Bomberger continues to work on the biology of the system while the Dartmouth and Davis groups have developed inhibitors of the action of CIF to stabilize pro-resolving mediators, reduce inflammation, and control periodic flare ups of bacterial infections.
"It will be key to devise a way to remove P. aeruginosa's ability to capitalize on the body's natural inflammatory response, without eliminating that response," said Bomberger. "Inflammation is happening for a reason—to clear infection. We just need it to temper the response when it is not effectively doing its job or is no longer needed."
“We think that this research will lead to a very positive outcome to improve the lives of cystic fibrosis patients,” Hammock said. Some 30,000 Americans have cystic fibrosis.
Well, at some dinners. In. Many. Parts. Of. The. World.
Distinguished professor Bruce Hammock of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center just shared with us "Bugs: They're What's for Dinner!" (not the bugs, the news story).
The gist of the piece, appearing in a recent edition of the Chemical and Engineering News: Gladys O. Latunde-Dada of King's College, London, found that if you eat crickets, you'll get almost as much iron as eating a sirloin steak. She and her research team studied four common food insects: grasshoppers (Sphenarium purpurascens), crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus), mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), and buffalo worms (Alphitobius diaperinus), a type of beetle larvae. Of the four insects, crickets scored highest for the total iron content--a whopping 12.91 mg/100 g. just shy of beef sirloin's 15-47 mg/100g.
Yum? Double yum?
Crickets and grasshoppers also make for an award-winning cookie. Think "Chocolate Chirp Cookies," the top winner in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's holiday cookie contest. They were the work of graduate student Heather Baker, who studies malaria mosquitoes in the lab of molecular biologist Shirley Luckhart.
Oddly enough, no one attending the social mentioned anything about the iron content in the "Chocolate Chirp Cookie."
Or how delicious they were.
Baker's cookie, made with cricket flour and topped with a grasshopper, won the "Most Innovative" category. She received a chef's hat, a $25 gift certificate to UC Davis Stores, and "The Golden Teaspoon Award."
Baker said she based her entry on a Pioneer Woman recipe but added cricket flour instead of "regular" flour. The grasshoppers? "I ordered them through Amazon," she said.
Does she eat insects regularly? "I can't say I eat insects regularly, ha, ha, although I'm always down to try them as a novelty!" Baker said. Her favorite? "My favorite so far is chocolate-covered ants."
The eating of insects, entomophagy, common in many countries throughout the world, is gaining momentum in the United States. "I've seen a number of articles touting insects as the 'future of meat,' because they contain a lot of protein and amino acids and are a very sustainable food source," she said. "They require much less water and space than animal farms, and insect farming emits far fewer greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, companies offering insect-based products are still developing the infrastructure to raise human food grade insects on a large scale, so a lot of these foods are incredibly expensive. The cricket flour alone costs $40-plus per pound!"
Of the 20 entries at the entomology/nematology social, Baker's cookies were "on the judges' short list in every category" in addition to her winning "Most Innovative," said contest coordinator Guyla Yoak. Thus, the awarding of The Golden Teaspoons...
The judges--professor Diane Ullman, emeritus professor Hugh Dingle, faculty affiliate Steve Seybold and account manager Wayne Monteiro—awarded four other first-place prizes.
- Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the department, won “Best Taste Without Chocolate" with his “Citrus Cranberry Walnut Cookies.”
- Junior specialist Stacey Lee Rice, who studies bagrada bugs in the lab of Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey, won “Best Taste with Chocolate” for her “Chocolate Bug Bites.” (No bugs. No bagradas. Just chocolate.)
- Account manager Elvia Mayes' entry, “Merry Minnies” cookies, scored “Best Decorated."
- Graduate student/mosquito researcher Mimi Portilla of the lab of aquatic entomologist Sharon Lawler, won “Best Entry Name” for her “Cereally Oatrageous Oatmeal Cookies.”
Unfortunately, most of the "chocolate chirps" went uneaten.
That's not to say the scientists who study bugs don't like bugs. They do. They just don't eat them. Generally.
One noted exception: those pesky wax moth larvae in bee hives.
"Wax moth larvae, when fed honey and baby food are delicious!" Hammock declared. "They taste just like cream of wheat with honey on it."