- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The 60 undergraduate students competing in the first-ever Eric Conn Biochemistry Quizzes at the University of California, Davis, answered: “Aquaporins and Peter Agre.”
“They got it right,” said organizer-moderator Walter Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "Peter Agre," he added, "was an American physician and molecular biologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2003 for this discovery.”
The students, divided into 12 teams of five each, answered a bevy of biochemistry questions in a two-hour virtual event memorializing legendary plant biochemist Eric Conn (1923-2017), a UC Davis emeritus professor and fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.
More than 300 attendees ZOOMed in to watch the competition, hearing questions and answers such as:
- "Why do hairdressers use thioglycolic acid for permanent hair treatment?”
Answer: To break disulfide bridges.
- "What was Eric Conn's favorite amino acid?”
- "Why is the spike protein called a glycoprotein?"
Answer: Because it is decorated with sugar.
- "When you get ivy poisoning, where do you expect that the active ingredient (urushiol) will accumulate?"
Answer: In the cell membrane.
- "Who was the scientist at the Genome Center that came out with the idea of using papain protease to reduce saliva viscosity?"
Answer: Lutz Froenicke
The event drew so much widespread interest that Leal expanded the teams from eight to 12. The first eight teams to register played online, while the other four competed “off tube” or off-camera.
College of Biological Sciences (CBS) faculty asked the questions, with CBS emeriti professors Clark Lagarias and Charles Gasser serving as judges. Each team had a minute to answer a question. In the meantime, "we showed interviews about Eric Conn, favorite spots on the UC Davis campus, and videos about COVID-19 and other health issues,” Leal said.
Two teams emerged victorious as the champions: Ironic Bonds and the Gibbs Team. Tonie Leech, Jiaying Liu, Catherine Rodriguez, Lauren Hartwell, and Kelly Brandt comprised the Ironic Bonds, while Natalie Six, Brandon Matsumoto, Tina Luu, Yasi Parsa, and Esha Urs formed the Gibbs Team.
Leal said the 60 students, five on each of the 12 teams, “were randomly selected for a team. Perhaps they would never have had a chance to work together on a project, particularly now in this remote learning era.”
The other online teams sported such names as the Green Team (named for the late Mel Green, UC Davis genetics pioneer), Amigo Acids, Proline Pros, Drop the Base, Krebs Cyclists, and Attack on Titration. Of the four off-tube teams (Teams A, B, C and D), Team A and Team B won. Team A members: Efrain Vasquez Santos, Daniel Colón, Eva Pak, Stephanie Matsumoto and Julia Ekmekchyan. Team B members: Brycen Carter, Beatrice Ark-Majiyagbe, Ritika Pudota, Katie Kim and Samantha Levy) won.
Participating students joined in from as far away as India, Japan, and China and as close as Davis. Other students hailed from Cupertino, Los Angeles, Redwood City, Santa Monica, Palmdale, Irvine, Redding, Sacramento, Fairfield, Cupertino, San Jose, San Diego, San Ramon, Elk Grove, San Lorenzo, Lincoln, El Centro, Santa Rosa, Oakland, Roseville, Tracy, and Martinez in California, and Long Island in New York, among the many other municipalities.
One student, Aaditi Gaikwad, a junior in genetics and genomics, zoomed in from India at 5:30 a.m. "At first when I decided to participate in the Eric Conn Biochemistry Quiz, I was very nervous and had second thoughts, but I decided to give it a try and step out of my comfort zone and I am glad that I did," Gaikwad said. "I am attending classes from India due to the pandemic and the timezone difference is a huge challenge for me. For the Eric Conn Quiz, I had to be up and ready before 5.30 a.m., which I didn't mind at all because I was so excited for it. The quiz was the most spectacular start to my day! I also really enjoyed working with my team. Overall, the Eric Conn Biochemistry Quiz was an awesome experience and I take this opportunity to thank you Dr. Leal for facilitating it."
Other comments included:
- “It was wonderful....a nice way for students to showcase their knowledge to their families and friends and a wonderful tribute to a great UCD scientist. Kudos to Professor Leal for putting it together.”
- "Dr. Leal is impressive in organizing these events and the COVID symposiums.”
- "Very entertaining would watch again!
- "This was a great event and I am happy I got to be a part of it."
- "This was great! You (Leal) should definitely make this an annual thing!”
- "This was a super fun event and I wish we could have the opportunity to have something like this again. It was a really good review of the material we learned.”
- "I wanted to play!"
The viewers heaped praise on the students:
- "Well done to all the students! Your studying paid off and it was entertaining to see you guys compete!”
- "I am very proud of the students and hold both students and faculty in highest regard, very respectful and smart."
- "Very good job! It was a lot of fun seeing everyone play.”
- "Great job y'all, you're braver than I am and I was impressed by how many questions you were able to answer correctly!”
- "Congratulations to all that played today. You are inspiring young individuals and we know you will leave a mark on your chosen fields of study.”
- "Very impressed with the caliber of students involved. Great game!”
Conn, a member of the UC Davis faculty for 43 years, was the third recipient of the UC Davis Prize for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. Described as an excellent teacher and researcher, Conn received the Academic Senate's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1974 and the Academic Senate's highest honor, the Faculty Research Lecturer Award, in 1977. He won the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement in 1989. See https://youtu.be/TdwJkcjQvbw.
Watch the Eric Conn Biochemistry Quizzes on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Y9T9ayRXyYE.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Breaking news and a well-deserved honor:
Insect chemical ecologist Walter Leal, a distinguished professor at the University of California Davis, has just been selected to deliver the Founders' Memorial Award Lecture at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, to be held Nov. 17-20 in St. Louis, Mo.
Leal, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), is known as a exemplary scientist, teacher and leader. He will discuss the work of insect chemical ecologist Thomas Eisner (1929-2011), widely known as "the father of chemical ecology."
Leal will present his talk, titled "Tom Eisner--An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence," at the Entomology 2019 awards breakfast, which begins at 7:30 on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
“I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to honor Tom Eisner--one of the founding fathers of chemical ecology,” Leal told us today. “And, consequently, Tom's main collaborator, the late Professor Jerry Meinwald--my role model, mentor and friend of three decades.”
Leal investigates the molecular basis of olfaction in insects and insect chemical communication. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.) He researches environmentally friendly alternatives to control insects of medical importance, and also targets agricultural pests.
Leal is the first UC Davis scientist selected to present the Founders' Memorial Lecture, although medical entomologist Shirley Luckhart of the University of Idaho, formerly of UC Davis, delivered the lecture in 2018. In her lecture, "He Gave to Man Control Over That Dreadful Scourge, Yellow Fever," she honored Walter Reed (1851-1902), the U.S. Army physician who in 1901 led a team of researchers that linked the spread of yellow fever to mosquitoes.
ESA established the Founders' Memorial Award in 1958 to honor the memory of scientists who made outstanding contributions to entomology.
Thomas is known for his discoveries on chemical defenses used by insects against predators. “Notable among them was deciphering how the bombardier beetle defends itself with an internal exothermic chemical reaction, explosively sprayed at attackers,” according to a press release by Joe Rominiecki, ESA communications manager. “That discovery topped a lengthy list of revelations about the complex and often surprising biochemicals insects produce, from the bitter, predator-deterring taste of the cochineal scale's brilliant red pigment to the sticky foot secretions that allow the palmetto beetle to cling so tightly to leaf surfaces. “
A native of Brazil and educated in Brazil and Japan, Leal received his master's degree and doctorate in Japan: his master's degree at Mie University in 1987, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry at Tsukuba University in 1990. Leal then conducted research for 10 years at Japan's National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science and the Japan Science and Technology Agency before joining the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2000.
Leal co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology (ICE), themed "Entomology Without Borders." The event, held in Orlando, Fla,. drew the largest delegation of scientists and experts in the history of the discipline. That would be 6682 attendees from 102 countries.
Among his many honors, Leal is a fellow of three organizations--ESA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the California Academy of Sciences--and an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. He received a silver medal from the International Society of Chemical Ecology. Another honor: he was inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
“Walter is an amazing person and an amazing scientist,” said Fred Gould, distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. “His work has opened new doors to the understanding of how insects receive and perceive odors and has saved farmers in California and Brazil more than $100 million. He's at a point where he could sit back and bask in the glory of his accomplishments, but that is not Walter. He remains as prolific as ever.”
"Walter's lecture promises to be outstanding," said colleague James R. Carey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a fellow of ESA who received the organization's national distinguished teaching award. "He is known as one of the exceptional, truly elite, instructors at UC Davis and beyond." Carey praised Leal's "innovation in content delivery, engagement with his audience, his ability to inspire and motivate them, and his always-clever touches of humor."
ESA, founded in 1889, is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Its members, now more than 7000, are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, the Society stands ready as a non-partisan scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics.
The ESA meeting in St. Louis is expected to bring together approximately 3,000 insect scientists to share their latest research and communicate the global science of entomology, Rominiecki said.