“I am interested in understanding and predicting how microbial communities influence interactions between plants and insects,” she says. The Vannette lab “uses tools and concepts from microbial ecology, chemical ecology, and community ecology to better understand the ecology and evolution of interactions among plants, microbes and insects."
Now the UC Davis assistant professor has two more opportunities that will enable her to pursue her research: she recently received two National Science Federation (NSF) grants.
One is a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award, titled “Nectar Chemistry and Ecological and Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Plant Adaptation to Microbes and Pollinators.” NSF grants CAREER awards to early career faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” a NSF spokesman said.
The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
Vannette serves as a co-principal investigator with professor Bryan Danforth, Cornell University; research entomologist Shawn Steffan of the USDA's Agricultural and Research Service, University of Wisconsin; and assistant professor Quinn McFrederick, UC Riverside.
“Plants interact with a variety of organisms. The flowers and the nectar plants produce are adapted to attract beneficial organisms like bees or hummingbirds. However, microbes like bacteria and fungi also inhabit flowers and can reduce plant reproduction. Plant traits can reduce microbial growth in nectar, but this may also reduce pollinator visitation. This project will investigate if plants that are pollinated by different organisms (e.g. birds vs bees vs flies) differ in their ability to reduce microbial growth and if nectar chemistry is associated with microbial growth. This project will examine if nectar traits can be used to breed plants to be more resistant to harmful microbes without reducing attraction to pollinators. Resistance to microbes is beneficial in agricultural contexts where floral pathogens can limit food production but crops still rely on pollination.
“This research will link variation in plant phenotype to microbial abundance and species composition, and microbial effects on plant-animal interactions,” she noted. “This project will use a tractable system: the microorganisms growing in floral nectar, which can influence floral visitors and plant reproduction. The underlying hypothesis tested is that plant traits can facilitate or reduce microbial growth, and the community context (e.g., presence of pollinators) influence ecological and evolutionary outcomes.”
Vannette will perform the research activities using 1) a community of co-flowering plant species and 2) genotypes within California fuchsia (Epilobium canum). “Experiments will characterize variation in microbial growth, nectar chemistry, and microbial effects on plant reproduction and floral visitor behavior and the interactions of these factors,” she related in her abstract. “ Experiments and analysis will reveal how variation in nectar chemistry is associated with microbial growth and species composition in nectar, and subsequent effects on plant-pollinator interactions including plant reproduction. Experiments across Epilobium genotypes will elucidate how microbes affect microevolution of floral traits in a community context.”
The project “will engage students from a large undergraduate class to participate in practitioner-motivated research projects,” she wrote. “Students from the Animal Biology major, including in the class ABI 50A will participate in outreach on pollinator-friendly plantings for horticultural and landscaping. The project will support students recruited from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds to participate in independent projects related to project objectives, including hosting students through the Evolution and Ecology Graduate Admissions Pathway (EEGAP), a UC-HCBU program." The program connects faculty and undergraduate scholars at both UC (University of California) and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) campuses
The collaborative grant will enable the researchers to do cutting-edge research as they investigate the diverse community of bacteria and yeasts in the pollen and nectar diet of bees.
“Bees are the single most important pollinators of flowering plants worldwide,” the co-investigators wrote in their abstract. “Over 85% of the 325,000 flowering plant species on earth depend on animals for pollination, and the vast majority of pollination is carried out by bees. Annually, bees are estimated to contribute $15 billion to US crop production and $170 billion to global crop production. High-value bee-pollinated crops include apple and other early spring tree fruits, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, squash and pumpkins, tomatoes, almonds, and many others. The economic viability of US agricultural production is dependent on stable and healthy wild and domesticated bee populations.”
“However, bee populations are threatened by a variety of factors, including habitat loss, pathogen spillover, invasive plants and animals, and pesticide use, which can disrupt the normal microbial symbionts essential for bee larval development (the ‘brood cell' microbiome),” they pointed out in their abstract. “This research project focuses on understanding what role microbes play in the larval nutrition in a wide variety of bee species. Previous research has documented a diverse community of bacteria and yeasts in the pollen and nectar diet of bees. As larvae consume these pollen/nectar provisions they are ingesting microbes, and our preliminary results indicate that these microbes form an essential component of the larval diet. This project has the potential to significantly modify how we view the 120 million-year-old partnership between bees and flowering plants, and will provide essential information for developing long-term bee conservation efforts. Project outreach efforts include educational activities on solitary bees for K-12 students and interactive demonstrations of bee-microbe-flower interactions for broad audiences.
The co-principal investigators said that the project will use cutting-edge methods to (1) document the microbial diversity in flowers and pollen provisions, (2) determine the nutritional role of microbes in larval development and health, and (3) understand how alterations in microbial community impact larval development.
To document microbial diversity in both host-plant flowers and pollen provisions, the research team will use amplicon sequencing and microbial metagenomics. These methods will document the microbial species present in pollen provisions as well as the metabolic activities these microbes perform during pollen maturation. Screening the pollen and nectar of host-plant species will provide key insights into the source of the brood cell microbiome. To determine the nutritional role of the microbial community the research team will use two methods from trophic ecology: compound specific isotope analysis and neutral lipid fatty acid analysis. These analyses will permit the research team to track the origin (floral or microbial) of amino acids and fatty acids in the larval diet of 15 focal bee species.
Finally, through manipulative laboratory experiments, the research team will determine how modifications of the microbial communities impact larval development. They hope by combining the results of these studies, the researchers will provide a comprehensive understanding of how bees and flowering plants interact via their shared microbial partners.
The collaborative project is funded jointly by the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster (Division of Environmental Biology) and the Symbiosis, Defense and Self-recognition Program (Division of Integrative Organismal Systems).
Vannette, a Hellman Fellow, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department. As a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow from 2011 to 2015, she examined the role of nectar chemistry in community assembly of yeasts and plant-pollinator interactions.
A native of Hudsonville, Mich., Vannette received her doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan, in 2011. Her dissertation was entitled “Whose Phenotype Is It Anyway? The Complex Role of Species Interactions and Resource Availability in Determining the Expression of Plant Defense Phenotype and Community Consequences.”
Dr. Panigrahy is an assistant professor of pathology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School.
His topic is "Pro-Resolution Lipid Mediators in the Resolution of Cancer," said Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The abstract: "For decades, cancer therapy has focused on killing cancer cells, from broad cytotoxic therapy to the inhibition of specific molecular pathways. However, cytotoxic cancer therapy may inherently be a double-edged sword as apoptotic tumor cells ('debris') may stimulate inflammation and tumor growth via a pro-inflammatory ‘cytokine storm'. Environmental carcinogens (e.g. Aflatoxin B1) can also generate debris which may stimulate inflammation and tumor dormancy escape. This is clinically relevant as 30-90% of humans harbor dormant tumors."
"To stimulate the natural debris-clearing process which would eliminate this source of tumor stimulation, we utilized endogenous specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), specifically maresins, which are biosynthesized by human macrophages from endogenous docosahexaenoic acid. Additionally, novel COX-2/sEH inhibitors (e.g. PTUPB) can stimulate inflammation resolution more potently than either COX-2 or sEH inhibition alone by stabilizing epoxy-eicosanoids, promoting the formation of pro-resolving mediators such as lipoxins, and activating anti- inflammatory cytokine programs. In dramatic contrast to conventional anti-inflammatories, pro-resolving lipid mediators clear debris and counter-regulate a series of pro-inflammatory cytokines. We demonstrate that the resolution of inflammation represents a novel modality in cancer treatment by enhancing endogenous clearance of tumor cell debris and counter- regulating pro-tumorigenic cytokines."
Earlier this year, a collaborative research paper authored by Hammock, Panigrahy and colleagues won the Editor's Pick of the Journal of Investigation for the month of July. The paper, “Preoperative Stimulation of Resolution and Inflammation Blockade Eradicates Micrometastases,” relates how blocking inflammation and/or activating the resolution of inflamation before surgery can eradicate small tumors and promote long-term survival in experimental cancer modes. (See news story.)
Dipak was accepted into medical school at Boston University at age 17. He trained in surgery with Dr. Roger Jenkins, who performed the first liver transplant in New England. Over the past decade, Dr. Panigrahy led angiogenesis and cancer animal modeling in the Judah Folkman laboratory. He joined the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 2013, and in 2014 was appointed assistant professor of pathology and currently has a laboratory in the Center for Vascular Biology Research.
For more information on the seminar, contact Hammock Lab account manager Gregory Zebouni at email@example.com or (530) 752-8465.
His talk, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the UC Davis Emeriti Association and the UC Davis Retirees' Association.
“Honey bees exhibit complex social behavior that rivals our own,” Page says. “It is fundamentally bound within a social contract much like ours that makes the basic social structure inescapable, a consequence of living together in family groups. Social structures evolve by natural selection operating on the final product, the colony as a reproductive unit. The structures themselves are reverse engineered.”
“I will show how selection on the economy of the colony shapes structures from nest and social architecture to gene networks.”
Page is a UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Professor, an honor awarded in January; and a Regents Professor Emeritus and University Provost Emeritus from Arizona State University, Tempe. He retired from UC Davis in May 2004 after chairing the Department of Entomology, now the Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Born and reared in Bakersfield, Kern County, Rob received his bachelor's degree in entomology, with a minor in chemistry, from San Jose State University in 1976. After obtaining his doctorate from UC Davis in 1980, he served as assistant professor at The Ohio State University before joining the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1989 as an associate professor. He began working closely with Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., (the father of honey bee genetics) for whom the university's bee facility is named. Together they published many significant research papers.
Page chaired the Department of Entomology from 1999 to 2004, when Arizona State University recruited him to be the founding director of the School of Life Sciences of Arizona State University (ASU). His ASU career advanced to dean of Life Sciences; vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and university provost.
Page is known for his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.
At UC Davis, he maintained a honey bee-breeding program for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015, managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. They discovered a link between social behavior and maternal traits in bees. Their work was featured in a cover story in the journal Nature. In all, Nature featured his work on four covers from work mostly done at UC Davis.
Page and his lab pioneered the use of modern techniques to study the genetic basis of social behavior evolution in honey bees and other social insects. He was the first to employ molecular markers to study polyandry and patterns of sperm use in honey bees. He provided the first quantitative demonstration of low genetic relatedness in a highly eusocial species.
His work has garnered a significant impact in the scientific community through his research on the evolutionary genetics and social behavior of honey bees. He was the first to demonstrate that a significant amount of observed behavioral variation among honey bee workers is due to genotypic variation. In the 1990s, he and his students and colleagues isolated, characterized and validated the complementary sex determination gene of the honey bee; considered the most important paper yet published about the genetics of Hymenoptera. The journal Cell featured their work on its cover. In subsequent studies, he and his team published further research into the regulation of honey bee foraging, defensive and alarm behavior.
Page has authored than 250 research papers, including five books: among them “The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution,” published by Harvard University Press in 2013. He is a highly cited author on such topics as Africanized bees, genetics and evolution of social organization, sex determination, and division of labor in insect societies. His resume shows more than 18,000 citations.
Highly honored by his peers, Page is a fellow of a number of organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, the Entomological Society of America, and organizations in Germany and Brazil. He received the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, known at the Humboldt Prize, the highest honor given by the German government to foreign scientists. He received the 2018 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award from UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The UC Davis Retiree Center periodically holds noon educational seminars ("BrainFood Talks") featuring timely speakers. For more information, contact the UC Davis Retiree Center at (530) 752-5182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EicOsis LLC, a company founded by UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock to develop a non-opiate drug to relieve inflammatory pain in companion animals and target chronic neuropathic pain in humans and horses, can now add “Sacramento Region Innovator of the Year” to its list of accomplishments.
EicOsis won the award in the medical health/biopharmaceutical category of the annual Sacramento Region Innovation Awards Program. The program “recognizes the area's vibrant innovation community—from emerging to established companies—and their breakthrough creations,” according to sponsors Stoel Rives LLP, Moss Adams LLP and the Sacramento Business Journal.
“This project is an illustration of how fundamental science leads to real world applications, in this case addressing severe pain of humans and companion animals,” said Hammock, chief executive officer of EicOsis and a UC Davis faculty member who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Our success in translation has been due largely to support from a number of institutes of the National Institutes of Health and a small team of hard-working scientists.”
The ceremony, honoring the winners of the eight categories, took place Nov. 7 in the Crest Theatre, Sacramento. Judges scored the finalists on novelty, market need, economic or social impact and disruption.
“It was an honor to be awarded the Sacramento Region Innovator of the Year in Medical Health and BioPharma,” said Cindy McReynolds, senior program manager of EicOsis and a UC Davis doctoral candidate studying pharmacology and toxicology. “The companies represented were inspiring, and it is great to be a part of the innovation going on in the Sacramento region.”
“Chronic pain is an enormous emotional and economic burden for more than 100 million people in the United States alone,” said Hammock, who co-founded EicOsis in December 2011 to alleviate pain in humans and companion animals. “The extreme and poorly treated pain that I observed as a medical officer working in a burn clinic in the Army, is a major driver for me to translate my research to help patients with severe pain.”
Phase 1 human clinical trials to test the drug candidate, EC5026, a first-in-class, small molecule that potently inhibitssEH, will begin Dec. 10 in Texas. The title: "A Single-Center, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Phase 1a Single Ascending Dose Study to Investigate the Safety, Tolerability, and Pharmacokinetics of Sequential Dose Regiments of Oral EC5026 in Healthy Male and Female Subjects." Eight will participate; six with the drug candidate and two with the placebo. The technology was discovered in the Hammock lab and UC Davis has licensed patents exclusively to EicOsis.
“EC5026 is a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of membrane fatty acids,” Hammock said. "It's a novel, non-opioid and oral therapy for neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Inhibition of sEH treats pain by stabilizing natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory mediators."
The project is unique in that “there have been very few truly new types of analgesic compounds that have reached the market in the past 50 years,” Hammock said.
“The sEH enzyme is involved in regulating the activity of powerful anti-inflammatory fatty acids called EETs that are present in all cells in humans and animals,” the scientists explained in their awards application. “EETs are anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-hypertensive, but they are short lived molecules that are normally eliminated within seconds. By inhibiting sEH, EET levels can be increased by 4x or more and maintained at high anti-inflammatory and analgesic levels for 24 hours or longer.”
“The sEH inhibitors are very potent molecules that are designed for once daily oral dosing. They can also be administered intravenously for acute pain (e.g. equine laminitis),” they wrote. “Preclinical safety studies show that sEH inhibitors are very safe with no visible signs of toxicity at doses more than 100x higher than the therapeutic dose levels. Unlike conventional analgesics, they do not produce sedation or cognitive dysfunction and they have been shown to have no addiction liability, no adverse cardiovascular effects, and no adverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract. They can be safely co-administered with existing analgesic medications.”
Approximately 50 million Americans (20 percent of the population) suffer from chronic pain, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual economic toll is $560 billion, encompassing direct medical expenses, lost productivity, and disability claims. Pain research is now one of the top priorities of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
EicOsis advancement of EC5026 into clinical trials has been funded as part of the Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network (BPN) of the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research. The BPN is a collaboration of NIH Institutes and Centers that supports innovative research on the nervous system with the goal of developing new neurotherapeutic drugs.
EicOsis (pronounced eye-cosis), derives its name from eicosanoid, “the major backbone of chemical mediators in the arachidonate cascade,” said McReynolds. “It symbolizes the epoxide group in chemistry, which is key to the anti-inflammatory chemical mediators and where the biochemical target called soluble epoxide hydrolase works.”
Williams and 13 other Fellows were inducted Tuesday night, Oct. 15 at the annual Bay Area gathering of the Fellows. Among the inductees: dermatologist and associate professor Emanual Michael Maverakis of UC Davis Health. (See list of 2019 inductees)
Fellows, nominated by other Fellows, and elected by the California Academy of Sciences' Board of Trustees. James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, nominated Williams, with Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley, seconding the nomination. Maverakis was nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”
The UC Davis professor served as co-chair (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño) of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy held July 17-20 on the UC Davis campus.
In his work--a labor of love--Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year the UC Davis professor speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project, which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017.
His honors and awards are numerous. Williams was part of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) in 2013. In 2015, he was named a five-year Chancellor's Fellow, receiving $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. And then earlier this year, Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
In addition to Carey, five others affiliated with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are Fellows of the California Academy of Sciences:
- Professor Phil Ward, ant specialist
- Frank Zalom, integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. He is a past president of the Entomological Society of America
- Robert E. Page Jr., bee scientist and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor. He is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and provost emeritus of Arizona State University
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department; and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the UC Davis entomology department include Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.