Murray, who anticipates receiving her bachelor of science degree in evolution, ecology and biodiversity in June 2021, is one of 396 students selected from a national pool of 5000 sophomores and juniors to receive a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, a federally endowed agency honoring the late senator and “designed to foster and encourage outstanding students” who are pursuing research careers in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
The honor includes a monetary prize of $7500. “Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs,” according to a foundation spokesperson. Goldwater Scholars have received 93 Rhodes scholarships, 146 Marshall scholarships, 170 Churchill scholarships, 109 Hertz fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
Murray, who joined the Karban lab in 2018, is a member of the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), founded and directed by three UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members (Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor; Joanna Chiu, vice chair and associate professor; and Louie Yang, associate professor) to provide "academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates" with multi-year experience in biological research. The program pairs students with faculty mentors.
In the Karban lab, Murray designs and conducts independent research on plant development, flowering, and communication. She generates questions, creates protocols, collects and analyzes data.
In addition, Naomi works with UC Davis Professor Jay Stachowicz at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, where she does independent research on seagrass disease ecology, specifically herbivore-plant-pathogen interaction. She formerly worked as a full-time undergraduate researcher on seagrass ecology in the Stachowicz lab.
Native of San Diego
Naomi was born and raised in San Diego and is the first scientist in her family. Her father holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering and works as a home inspector and her mother is a newly retired lawyer.
“My interest in ecology started in high school, when I interned at the San Diego Zoo,” Naomi related. “Before the internship, I knew I loved animals and the environment, but I had no idea how I could turn those passions into a career--I thought if I liked animals, my only options were to be a zookeeper or a vet. The internship exposed me to a lot of other professionals and researchers working to protect nature, which was really my first glimpse into ecology and conservation."
"When I selected ecology, evolution, and biodiversity as my major, I intended to be primarily animal-focused, but that changed when I went to the Botanical Conservatory on UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day my freshman year. I absolutely fell in love with it, and I interned there that spring. It turned into employment and since then, my love for plants has really grown; they're the main subject of my research now!”
Naomi is one of two Goldwater Scholars from UC Davis; the other is Jayashri Viswanathan, who seeks a doctorate in neuroscience and plans to teach biological sciences at the college level. They are among 32 recipients statewide.
Career in Forest Ecology
Naomi is leaning toward a research career in forest ecology, studying how trees affect community function and resilience “with the goal of minimizing the impacts of climate change.” She worked three weeks as a field technician on a project monitoring tree mortality in the forests of Yosemite Valley, where she tent-camped without running water or electricity, and collected data for 10 hours a day.
She acknowledged that after a few days there, she didn't know if she could meet the challenges. “But as the days passed, I realized that even when I was at my most uncomfortable, I was asking questions about the system, proposing new hypotheses for old phenomena, and marveling at the beauty of the forest,” she wrote in her essay, part of the Goldwater Scholarship application.
“As the world changes and becomes increasingly interconnected, we are in desperate need of critical thinkers, synthesizers, and people able to approach complex problems with broad, interdisciplinary perspectives,” Murray wrote. “I am working to become one of these pioneers and intend on pursuing a career in research to monitor, track, and minimize the impacts of climate change. Specifically, I plan to focus on forest ecology and how patterns of resource allocation and carbon storage among trees affect community function and ecosystem resilience.”
After receiving her bachelor's degree, Naomi plans to pursue a doctorate in ecology. “My current major prepares me with a strong foundation in basic science, and I have taken it upon myself to seek out diverse research experiences in both field and lab settings to develop a multi-dimensional perspective on critical issues in ecology,” she noted. “My time as a field technician has prepared me for ecological field work. Living as a full-time undergraduate researcher gave me a glimpse into conducting research as a career and made me familiar with work beyond the field. Additionally, participation in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, a long-term pairing of undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct research, has fostered connections instrumental in my path towards a successful research career. Perhaps most importantly, my independent design and execution of three experiments has taught me how to ask and test scientific questions.”
Murray earlier received a UC Davis Provost's Undergraduate Fellowship of $1200, a Regents Scholarship of $30,000, and a Bodega Marine Lab Undergraduate Research Fellowship of $5000, among other honors and awards.
Active in SEEDS
The Goldwater Scholar is active in Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and Sustainability (SEEDS), an offshoot of the Ecological Society of America, and serves as an officer of the Davis SEEDS Chapter. The group seeks to make ecology more accessible to underrepresented groups of students. The club fosters science exploration and guidance through career panels and research facility tours.
“When I attended the 2018 SEEDS National Field Trip, the student group was mainly women of color,” Murray related in her essay. “I listened to them speak about the racism that structures this nation and its higher institutions, creating foundational issues of access to opportunity, mentorship, and funding. It was a wake-up call, making me aware of my privilege and inspiring me to deconstruct the walls that exist in my academic sphere.”
“I became an officer for the UC Davis SEEDS chapter. Through the club, I work to organize graduate student and career panels, amplifying underrepresented stories and connecting students with mentors who have similar backgrounds. I plan field trips and study sessions, and promote campus opportunities. And I help apply for funding to make all our activities equal access. Moving forward in my career I will continue this work, grateful that SEEDS has pushed me to become an active participant in scientific advancement through social justice.”
The paper, appearing online on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), solves a puzzle that scientists have tried to piece together for a long time.
The Chiu lab did it with the widely used model organism, Drosophila melanogaster, also known as the vinegar fly.
“This paper advances our understanding of how animals ‘sense' seasonal changes in day length and temperature to modulate their physiology and behavior in order to survive through seasonal variations in their environment,” Chiu said. “Specifically, we identified the protein EYA to be a key driver of seasonal changes in biology. By manipulating the level of EYA protein using transgenic technologies in specific neurons of the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster, we were able to disrupt the fly's ability to sense seasonal changes.”
“We were able to trick them into thinking that it is winter when it is actually summer time and vice versa,” Chiu said. “Interestingly, this protein is very conserved in other animals, including in birds and mammals, suggesting that the mechanism we are studying could be widely used in the animal kingdom.”
The paper, “EYES ABSENT and TIMELESS Integrate Photoperiodic and Temperature Cues to Regulate Seasonal Physiology in Drosophila,” is the work of the first author and postdoctoral fellow Antoine Abrieux, graduate students Yao Cao and Kyle Lewald, undergraduate researcher Hoang Nhu Nguyen, in collaboration with members of Dr. Yong Zhang's lab at the University of Nevada Reno. Associate Professor Joanna Chiu is the corresponding and senior author.
In their abstract, the seven-member team wrote: “Organisms possess photoperiodic timing mechanisms to detect variations in day length and temperature as the seasons progress. The nature of the molecular mechanisms interpreting and signaling these environmental changes to elicit downstream neuroendocrine and physiological responses are just starting to emerge. Here, we demonstrate that, in Drosophila melanogaster, EYES ABSENT (EYA) acts as a seasonal sensor by interpreting photoperiodic and temperature changes to trigger appropriate physiological responses. We observed that tissue-specific genetic manipulation of eya expression is sufficient to disrupt the ability of flies to sense seasonal cues, thereby altering the extent of female reproductive dormancy. Specifically, we observed that EYA proteins, which peak at night in short photoperiod and accumulate at higher levels in the cold, promote reproductive dormancy in female D. melanogaster.”
“Furthermore, we provide evidence indicating that the role of EYA in photoperiodism and temperature sensing is aided by the stabilizing action of the light-sensitive circadian clock protein TIMELESS (TIM). We postulate that increased stability and level of TIM at night under short photoperiod together with the production of cold-induced and light-insensitive TIM isoforms facilitate EYA accumulation in winter conditions. This is supported by our observations that tim null mutants exhibit reduced incidence of reproductive dormancy in simulated winter conditions, while flies overexpressing tim show an increased incidence of reproductive dormancy even in long photoperiod.”
Research in the Chiu lab focuses on the regulation of biological rhythms and their control over organismal physiology. Her expertise involves molecular genetics of animal behavior, circadian and seasonal biology, and posttranslational regulation of proteins.
By using Drosophila melanogaster as a model to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian clocks, Chiu has discovered new insights into the function of key proteins that control animal circadian clocks. She earlier identified new mechanisms that slow down or speed up the internal clock of vinegar flies and mechanisms that allow the internal clock to interpret food as timing cues--research that could help lead the way to alleviate human circadian and metabolic disorders.
“Besides being indispensable for the control of daily activities in animals, such as the sleep-wake cycle, locomotor activity, hormone circulation and food intake, defects in circadian rhythms and clock genes have also been implicated in a wide range of human disorders, including chronic sleep orders, various forms of depression, metabolic syndromes, as well as susceptibility to cancer and drug and alcohol addiction,” Chiu says.
D. melanogaster is widely used for biological research due to its rapid life cycle, simple genetics (only four pairs of chromosomes), and its large number of offspring per generation, according to Wikipedia. As of 2017, six Nobel prizes had been awarded for research using Drosophila.
The fly, a member of the family Drosophilidae, is a nuisance pest found worldwide in restaurants and other places where food is served.
First author and postdoctoral fellow Antoine Abrieux, an international scholar from France, holds a doctorate from Angers University, France. He joined the Chiu lab in spring 2016 to explore interactions between the clock and endocrine system underlying seasonal adaptation in Drosophila suzukii. He discussed his work at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar in February 2019 about the molecular mechanisms involved in seasonal adaptation in insects.
Three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in a global competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.
Elliott's entries and the categories:
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Garvey's entries and the categories:
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Nelson's entry and category:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
The awards will be presented during ACE's virtual conference June 24-25. ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.
The Western Integrated Pest Management Center, also known as the Western IPM Center, is housed within the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program and funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It promotes "smart, safe and sustainable pest management to protect the people, environment and economy of the American West," which includes 17 Western states and Pacific island territories.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is world-renowned for its quality research, education and public service. Faculty are globally recognized for their expertise in insect demography, systematics and evolutionary biology of ants, pollination and community ecology, integrated pest management, insect biochemistry, molecular biology, and the systematics and evolutionary biology of nematodes. The department is one of 14 in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) is one of four colleges on the UC Davis campus. It is dedicated to "solving real-world problems in the agricultural, environmental, and human sciences to produce a better world, healthier lives, and an improved standard of living for everyone." It is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the world for agricultural sciences and forestry by QS World University Rankings; ranked No. 1in the world in plant and animal sciences by U.S. News & World Report; and ranked No. 1 in agricultural economics and policy research by the Center for World University Rankings.
The annual campuswide award honors researchers who have made a long-term positive impact on the lives of others and who inspire other innovators. It is one of several awards announced June 15 in a program managed by the Office of Research. (See recipients.)
“Research universities like UC Davis play a critical role in advancing innovative solutions for the global community that not only stimulate our economy but create a better quality of life,” said Chancellor Gary S. May in a news release. “The recipients of this year's awards demonstrate the impact of reaching beyond what is expected to deliver game-changing innovations that address some of the world's most critical issues.”
Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, co-discovered a human enzyme termed Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase (sEH), a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of fatty acids. It regulates a new class of natural chemical mediators, which in turn regulates inflammation, blood pressure and pain. Hammock and his lab have been involved in enzyme research for more than 50 years.
Hammock is the founder and chief executive officer of the Davis-based pharmaceutical company, EicOsis LLC, formed in 2011 to develop an orally active non-addictive drug for inflammatory and neuropathic pain for humans, as well as a version in development for treating painful conditions in companion animals. A drug candidate known as EC5026 and now in human trials, targets a novel pathway to block the underlying cause of certain types of pain.
UC Davis recently licensed certain patents exclusively to EicOsis that support the underlying technology.
“My research led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation and biosynthesis,” Hammock said. “The epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain and inflammation to name a few processes.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded a $15 million HEAL grant (Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative) to EicOsis in 2019 to support human clinical trials of a novel compound that has been found effective for the treatment of pain in preclinical animal studies.
In 2019, Hammock received a $6 million “outstanding investigator” federal grant for his innovative and visionary environmental health research. His pioneering work on inflammation not only extends to alleviating chronic pain, but to targeting inflammation involved in cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other health issues.
EicOsis won the Sacramento Region Innovation Award in the Medical and Health category in 2019.
More recently, Hammock has turned his attention to using sEH as a means to control the deadly cytokine storm associated with COVID-19.
A member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980, Hammock has directed the UC Davis Superfund Research Program (funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) for nearly four decades, supporting scores of pre- and postdoctoral scholars in interdisciplinary research in 5 different colleges and graduate groups on campus. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and the National Academy of Sciences, and the Entomological Society of America. He is the recipient of scores of awards, including the first McGiff Memorial Awardee in Lipid Biochemistry; and the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. At UC Davis he received the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Faculty Research Lectureship.
He has authored or co-authored more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications and holds more than 95 patents in agriculture, environmental science and medicinal chemistry.
Hammock is known for his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology. Early in his career, he founded the field of environmental immunoassay, using antibodies and biosensors to monitor food and environmental safety, and human exposure to pesticides. His groundbreaking research in insect physiology, toxicology led to his development of the first recombinant virus for insect control.
As director of the UC Davis Superfund Research Program, he pioneered trans-disciplinary research across campus, engaging faculty in multiple colleges and schools “to transform the way we treat diseases in multiple species.”
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Hammock received his bachelor's degree in entomology (with minors in zoology and chemistry) magna cum laude from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1969. He received his doctorate in entomology-toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973. Hammock served as a public health medical officer with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science, San Antonio, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
In the Army, he served as a medical officer at Fort Sam, Houston, and what he saw--severely burned people in terrible pain--made a lasting impression on him and steered him toward helping humankind.
“Most current control methods rely on chemical nematicides, but their use is increasingly limited due to environmental concerns,” wrote Siddique and colleague Clarissa Hiltl of the University of Bonn, Germany, in a newly published News and Views column, “New Allies to Fight Worms,” in the scientific journal Nature Plants.
In commenting on Washington State University (WSU) research published in the same edition, they wrote that the proposed alternative pest management strategy--naturally occurring molecules or plant elicitor peptides (Peps)—shows promise: “Engineering a naturally occurring rhizobacterium to deliver Peps to the plant root system offers a new opportunity in integrated pest management.”
It's better to build up the host plant's immune system rather than directly target the pathogen with chemical nematicides which “are highly toxic and have negative effects on the ecosystem,” declared Siddique, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“Plant-parasitic nematodes are among the world's most destructive plant pathogens, causing estimated annual losses of $8 billion to U.S. growers and of nearly $78 billion worldwide,” he said.
The root-knot nematode Meloidogyne chitwoodi is a noted pest of potato production in the Pacific Northwest. Idaho leads the nation in commercial potato production, followed by Washington. Oregon ranks fourth. California, which ranks eighth, grows potatoes year around due to its unique geography and climate.
In their article, Siddique and Hiltl analyzed research published by WSU Department of Pathology scientists Lei Zhang and Cynthia Gleason who demonstrated the effective use of Peps to combat root-knot nematodes in potato (Solanum tuberosum). The WSU scientists engineered a bacteria, Bacillus subtillis, to secrete the plant-defense elicitor peptide StPep1. Pre-treatment of potato roots “substantially reduced root galling, indicating that a bacterial secretion of a plant elicitor is an effective strategy for plant protection,” the Zhang-Gleason team wrote. (See article.)
Earlier scientists discovered that Peps could effectively manage nematodes in soybeans. Unlike the seed-grown soybeans, however, potatoes grow from small cubes of potatoes known as seed potatoes.
“Besides chemical nematicides, methods of nematode management include the use of crop rotation, microbial biocontrol agents, cover crops, trap crops, soil solarization, fumigation and resistant plant varieties,” wrote Siddique and Hiltl. “However, several of these strategies are not effective or available for all crops. Nematicides are highly toxic, and their use is strictly limited due to environmental concerns. Resistant plants are often ineffective or unavailable. Microbial biocontrol agents have produced inconsistent results. In this context, the current work provides a new opportunity to manage plant-parasitic nematodes by combining two progressive strategies: the use of plant elicitors to enhance crop resistance to pathogens and the use of B. subtilis to deliver.”