A member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980, Hammock received his doctorate in entomology and toxicology from UC Berkeley, where he studied insect science. He now devotes his research to human health.
What many people do not know, however, is that he began his career studying how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
That morphed into human health research.
“The work led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation and biosynthesis,” Hammock related. “The epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, pain and inflammation to name a few processes.”
Fast forward to today.
An enzyme inhibitor developed in the Hammock lab and tested in mice by a team of international researchers shows promise that it could lead to a drug to prevent or reduce the disabilities associated with the neurodevelopmental disorders of autism and schizophrenia.
What the Inhibitor Did
"We discovered that soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) plays a key role in inflammation associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Inhibiting that enzyme stops the inflammation and the development of autism-like and schizophrenia-like symptoms in animal models,” said collaborator Kenji Hashimoto, a professor with the Chiba University Center for Forensic Mental Health, Japan. The scientists found higher levels of sEH in a key region of the brain—the prefrontal cortex of juvenile offspring-- after maternal immune activation (MIA).
The news embargo lifted today (March 18) on their research, to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). (Link will be here: https://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1819234116.) It's the work of 14 researchers from Chiba University Center for Forensic Mental Health; the Laboratory for Molecular Psychiatry, RIKEN Center for Brain Science, in Wako, Saitama, Japan; and the Hammock laboratory.
Reversed Cognitive and Sciatl Interaction Deficiencies
By inhibiting sEH, the researchers reversed cognitive and social interaction deficiencies in the mice pups. They hypothesize that this is due to increasing natural chemicals, which prevent brain inflammation. In people, this could reduce the disabilities associated with autism, such as anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbances and epilepsy.
Earlier studies have indicated a genetic disposition to the disorders. The team also studied postmortem brain samples from autism patients that confirmed the alterations.
“In the case of both autism and schizophrenia, the epidemiology suggests that both genetics and environment are contributing factors,” said neuroscientist and associate professor Amy Ramsey of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study. “In both cases, maternal infection is a risk factor that might tip the scales for a fetus with a genetic vulnerability. This study is important because it shows that their drug can effectively prevent some of the negative outcomes that occur with prenatal infections. While there are many studies that must be done to ensure its safe use in pregnant women, it could mitigate the neurological impacts of infection during pregnancy.”
Neuroscientist Lawrence David, professor and chair of the School of Public Health, University of Albany, N.Y., who was not involved in the research, said that the study might lead to “an important therapeutic intervention for neurodevelopment disorders.”
“There is increasing evidence that maternal immune activation activities (MIA) during fetal development can lead to aberrant neurobehaviors, including autistic-like activities,” said Lawrence, who studies neuroimmunology and immunotoxicology. The study “suggests that enzymatic control of fatty acid metabolism is implicated in neuroinflammation associated with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. The expression of Ephx2 giving rise to soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) influences production of fatty acid metabolites, which elevate inflammation in the experimental model of mice after MIA; the sEH inhibitor TPPU (N-[1-(1-oxopropyl)-4-piperidinyl]-N'-[4-(trifluoromethoxy)phenyl)-urea) was postnatally used to improved behaviors. Analysis of cadaver brains from individuals with ASD also expressed increased sEH. Fatty acid metabolites have been known to affect fetal development, especially that of the brain; therefore, TPPU might be an important therapeutic intervention for neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Molecular bioscientist Isaac Pessah of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, distinguished professor and associate dean of research and graduate education in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, described the findings as “significant” and called for more detailed and expanded studies.
Autism: 1 of 68 Children
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children in the United States have autism, commonly diagnosed around age 3. It is four times more common in boys than girls. CDC defines autism spectrum disorder as a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” The disorder impairs the ability to communicate and interact.
Schizophrenia: 1.2 Percent of Population
Approximately 3.5 million people or 1.2 percent of the population in the United States are diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the leading causes of disability, according to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA). Scores more go unreported. Approximately three-quarters of persons with schizophrenia develop the illness between 16 and 25 years of age. Statistics also show that between one-third and one half of all homeless adults have schizophrenia, and 50 percent of people diagnosed have received no treatment. Among the symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as hoarding, according to SARDAA.
In their research paper, titled “Key Role of Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase in the Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Offspring After Maternal Immune Activation,” the scientists described sEH as “a promising prophylactic or therapeutic target for neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring after MIA.”
First author Min Ma and second Qian Ren of the Hashimoto lab conducted the animal and biochemical work, while chemists Jun Yang and Sung Hee Hwang of the Hammock lab performed the chemistry and analytical chemistry. Takeo Yoshikawa, a team leader with the RIKEN's Molecular Psychiatry Laboratory, performed measurements of gene expression in the neurospheres from iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) from schizophrenia patients and postmortem brain samples from autism patients.
Exciting and Productive
Hashimoto described the international collaboration as “exciting and productive.” This is their third PNAS paper in a series leading to endoplasmic reticulum stress. “We report discovery of a biochemical axis that leads to multiple neurological disorders, including depression, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders and similar diseases,” he said.
William Schmidt, vice president of clinical development at EicOsis, a Davis-based company developing inhibitors to sEH to treat unmet medical needs in humans and companion animals, said the company is developing a first-in-class therapy for neuropathic and inflammatory pain. “EicOsis is in the process of finalizing our first human trials on the inhibitors of the soluble epoxide hydrolase, originally reported from UC Davis,” Schmidt said. “We are targeting the compounds as opioid replacements to treat peripheral neuropathic pain. It is exciting that the same compound series may be used to prevent or treat diseases of the central nervous system.”
Several grants from the National Institutes of Health, awarded to Hammock, supported the research. Hammock praised the many collaborators and students he has worked with on the project. “This work illustrates the value of research universities in bringing together the diverse talent needed to address complex problems,” Hammock said. “It also illustrates the value of fundamental science. This autism research can be traced directly to the fundamental question of how caterpillars turn into butterflies.”
But if you're not a graduate student?
You're in luck.
If you're a citizen scientist or just someone who wants to know more about this iconic butterfly, you can audit the course--for free, Shapiro says. And you don't need special permission.
In a recent email announcing the course, Shapiro wrote "Many of you know we had a 'Monarch summit' on campus recently to discuss the seemingly dire condition of the West Coast Monarch butterfly population. This seminar will take a broad view of what we do and don't know about Monarch biology, ecology, behavior, and genetics. It can be taken for seminar credit in Population Biology, Ecology, or Geography as it is X-listed."
Note that there's a requirement of graduate students who take the two-unit course: each has to present a seminar.
"People may sit in ("audit") without special permission," Shapiro emphasized.
In his flier, Shapiro wrote:
"You've certainly noticed all the media attention to the possibly endangered western Monarch population. We will address the scientific issues, including
- Is the Monarch in trouble?
- If so, why?
- What is the history of the Monarch migrations on a "paleo" scale?
- Biology of Monarchs in the Pacific, the Canary Islands and tropical America
- ..And much more"
The course will meet on Tuesday nights from 8:10 to 10, starting April 2 in Room 2342 of Storer Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive, near the UC Davis police and fire departments. The spring quarter beings March 30 and ends June 15. For more information, contact Shapiro at email@example.com.
The Monarch Summit, hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund on Feb. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, centered around "Recovering the Western Monarch Butterfly Population: Identifying Opportunities for Scaling Monarch Habitat in California's Central Valley."
The Environmental Defense Fund, in its invitation to the summit, wrote that "The western population of the monarch butterfly has garnered widespread attention because of its dramatic decline in recent decades. The latest population surveys indicate that monarchs overwintering on the central coast have declined 86% since last winter and now total 0.5% of their historical average. Population declines have spurred greater scientific study, funding, and coordination around the western monarch. California legislators appropriated $3 million in funding to the CA Wildlife Conservation Board to establish the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Rescue Program."
"Additionally, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan calling for an additional 50,000 acres of monarch-friendly habitat in the California Central Valley and adjacent foothills by 2029. Join Environmental Defense Fund along with farmers, restoration practitioners, and scientists for an invitation-only workshop to share expert knowledge and identify strategic opportunities for restoring monarch butterfly habitat across the Central Valley. We will discuss important topics including opportunities for monarch habitat in the food production landscape, incentivizing monarch habitat restoration using limited resources, production and distribution of native plants, and other subjects that will put the western monarch butterfly population on the path to recovery. We will use the results of the workshop to inform conservation initiatives and effectively and efficiently allocate funds and resources for optimal conservation outcomes."
Shapiro, one of the invited speakers, has been monitoring Central Valley's butterfly population since 1972 and maintains a website on his research. In his presentation, "What We Don't Know and What We Know That Ain't So About Monarchs," Shapiro commented that "right now, the Monarch is on life support in California, and we are reduced to prescribing placebos."
His entire presentation appears on the March 4th Bug Squad blog.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, says "I believe we have half a million Lepidoptera in our collection, and it is likely 60 percent moths and 40 percent butterflies."
What can visitors expect to see at the Bohart Museum during the four-hour open house from 9 to 1 p.m. on Biodiversity Museum Day? The Bohart will be one of 13 museums or collections open to the public and the event if free and family friendly.
"They will see thousands of species of butterflies--and maybe moths if we open those aisles as well--that they have never seen before," Smith says. "They can learn about the defensive strategies these insects use for survival, such as camouflage, warning coloration, mimicry of other species. We love to teach about the importance of Lepidoptera in the environment, either to their habitat directly or possibly as an indicator of the health of their habitat. And, of course, they can be amazed at the beauty of these insects."
This is truly a global collection.
"We have specimens from all over the world, from every continent," Smith notes. "We are especially strong, of course, in North American material but also strong in Central and South America, and these areas represent much of our continuing growth. We have a great deal of material from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and other eastern Asian countries. We have a great amount of material from Africa, particularly Zambia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are especially strong with northern Mexico moths, much of which likely represents species still undescribed by taxonomists."
Are endangered or threatened butterflies in the collection? Yes.
"We do have examples of most of the threatened and endangered species of butterflies, and even examples of some of the butterfly species now extinct (due to destruction of habitat by urbanization). Due to wonderful donations over the decades we have examples of very rare species from Asia and Africa, as well as a growing collection of the extraordinary Birdwing Butterflies from the Indonesian-Australian region."
The Bohart's monarch butterfly specimens comprise five drawers and they include specimens from the Pacific Islands, Australia and Eastern Asia, as well as the United States.
"Without a doubt, the biggest 'Wow Factor' comes from the huge and brilliant metallic blue Morpho butterflies from tropical America," Smith points out. "We also have four drawers of the Atlas moths from Asia, the largest insects in the world. We have specimens of the White Witch moth, with the widest wingspan of any Lepidoptera. We have many drawers of Asian swallowtails that are brilliant metallic blue and green, as well as the striking Birdwing Butterflies that are green, blue, gold, and HUGE."
Smith himself has collected many of them. "I have not kept track, but I have been passionate about Lepidoptera since 1967, have made 12 research trips to Latin America, and probably have collected 50,000 to 60,000 specimens myself, all of which reside in the Bohart collection."
Does he have a favorite?
"Oddly, my favorite group of butterflies may be the Arctics (genus Oeneis), which occur throughout the western United States, Canada, and to Alaska. I like them due to their habitat, normally, of high mountain areas, and they remind me of the thrill I feel when hiking in these areas. My favorite moths could be the wasp-mimics in the Arctiid moths, the subfamily Ctenuchinae. Hundreds of different species are found in the Neo-Tropics and their amazing colors and often strong resemblance to wasps intrigues me."
Smith, a resident of Rocklin, received a 2015 “Friend of the College” award from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his volunteer work, including preparing specimens and organizing the collection. At the time he had spread the wings of more than 200,000 butterflies and moths, amounting to 33,000 hours of volunteer service.
Today it's many more. Many, many more.
“Entomology is my passion," he says, "and the Bohart Museum is my cause.”
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, who nominated Smith for the award, praised him for completely reorganizing the butterfly and moth collection. “It's no small feat to rearrange this many specimens, housed in roughly one thousand drawers,” she said. “Many thousands of the specimens needed to be identified, and the taxonomy required extensive updating and reorganization.”
In her nomination letter, she wrote that “You could not ask for a better friend than Jeff Smith. He has brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills. This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey, who has directed the museum since 1989, remembers when Smith joined the museum. “When Jeff was working for Univar Environmental Services, a 35-year career until his retirement in 2013, he would spend some of his vacation days at the museum. Over the years Jeff took over more and more of the curation of the butterfly and moth collection. He took home literally thousands of field pinned specimens and spread their wings at home, bringing them back to the museum perfectly mounted."
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Open houses, focusing on specific themes, are held on weekends throughout the academic year. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, always held the Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend, is billed as a “free, educational event for the community where visitors get to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists from undergraduate students to staff to emeritus professors and see amazing objects and organisms from the world around us.” Parking is also free. Maps are available on the Biodiversity Museum Day website at http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/.
These seven collections will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, Good Life Garden, next to the Robert Mondavi Institute, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- California Raptor Center, 340 Equine Lane, off Old Davis Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Room 1394, Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, 434 LaRue Road
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
The following will be open from noon to 4 p.m.:
- Anthropology Museum, 328 Young Hall and grounds
- Botanical Conservatory, Greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road (take West Hutchison Drive to Hopkins)
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Marine Invertebrate Collection, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
But...this year ranks as the best milkweed season he's ever seen in California.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 46 years, from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin.
It's been a troubling year.
"I have not seen a wild egg or caterpillar of the monarch this entire calendar year at low elevations," he said Thursday during an interview on the "Insight with Beth Ruyak" program, Capital Public Radio, Sacramento.
"Not one." (Listen to the interview.)
Shapiro, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 1971, and author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley Regions, visits his 10 sites along the Interstate 80 corridor generally every two weeks "to record what's out." The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
How many species of butterflies has he tallied? 163. He maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/
Fast forward to next week: Shapiro will talk about butterfly population trends and how climate has affected them at a free public lecture, set from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Sierra College, Grass Valley. The presentation will take place in the Multipurpose Center Building, N-12, Room 103. Parking is $3; permits can be purchased at the kiosk machine at the main entrance to the campus. (For more information, contact the series coordinator, Jason Giuliani at email@example.com.)
Shapiro's talk will zero in on climate change. "The vast majority of the butterflies we monitor are emerging earlier in the year now than they were in the 1970s," he told the second annual Butterfly Summit, held May 26 at Annie's Annuals and Perennials, Richmond. (See Bug Squad for the gist of his talk)
Got a question about monarchs or any other butterflies? About the California wildfires' effect on butterflies? Be there on Tuesday, Sept. 11. He welcomes your questions and comments.
They brought home five gold or first-place awards: three silver or second-place awards; and two bronze or third-place awards. “That was quite a haul!” commented an ACE member on Facebook.
- Diane Nelson, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, two golds
- Kathy Keatley Garvey, Department of Entomology and Nematology, one gold and one silver
- Jim Downing, California Agriculture journal, gold
- David Slipher, College of Biological Sciences, gold
- Steve Elliott, Western IPM Center, two silvers and a bronze
- Gregory Watry, College of Biological Sciences, bronze
Nelson wrote about pig personalities and polar bears. Slipher's topic was pigeons. (See other topics in the awards news story)
And me--bugs. The news story that won the gold (by yours truly) involved a visit to the Bohart Museum of Entomology by children of California migratory workers.
The piece, “Why These Youngsters Want to Become Entomologists” (https://bit.ly/2sYwhye) covered the children's tour of the insect museum, which houses some eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids), and a year around-gift shop. The students engaged the director, Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, in a press conference. They asked the "who, what, when, where and how come" questions like pros. It was delightful to see them so well prepared and perceptive.
The Bug Squad blog that won silver (https://bit.ly/2BrePU5) involved a late-season monarch caterpillar that we found Oct. 27, 2017 on one of our milkweeds in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. It formed a chrysalis on Nov. 4.
On Day 19, Nov. 22 (the day before Thanksgiving), it happened. The monarch eclosed. A big, strong and healthy girl.
What to do...no way could she fly three hours in the rain and cold from Vacaville to an overwintering site in Santa Cruz. And with predators abounding, survival looked bleak.
From the Bug Squad blog:
"It just so happened that a friend and pollinator advocate, Rita LeRoy, the self-described 'farm keeper' at the Vallejo City Unified School District's Loma Vista Farm, was heading to Santa Cruz on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to show her out-of-town relatives the overwintering migratory butterfly sanctuary at the Natural Bridges State Beach Park. That's about a 100-mile trip from Vallejo.
"Could Ms. Monarch hitch a ride?
"She could. And she did."
Rita is a Monarch Mom (she rears and releases monarchs) and is active in the Bay Area-Based Pollinator Posse. She teaches Vallejo City Unified School District youngsters about farming, cooking and gardening. And that includes gardening for butterflies.
So Ms. Vacaville Monarch hitched a ride with Rita and her family.
"She flew so fast that we didn't get a picture of her flying away," Rita related. "She was anxious to join her new friends."
A happy ending.
And hopefully, Ms. Vacaville Monarch provided the butterfly world with another generation.