Tag Archives: UC Davis

UCLA’s Augmented Reality Sandbox

The Augmented Reality Sandbox (orginally developed by researchers at UC Davis) lets users sculpt mountains, canyons and rivers, then fill them with water or even create erupting volcanoes. This version of the device at UCLA was built by Gary Glesener using off-the-shelf parts and good ol’ playground sand.

Any shape made in the sandbox is detected by an Xbox Kinect sensor and processed with open source software. It is then projected as a color-coded contour map onto the sand.

Is Sugar in Fruit Different Than Sugar in Soda?

Sugar. Everyone loves a sweet treat, but sugar has found its way into savory foods like pasta sauce and bread. On average, Americans eat nearly 66 pounds of added sugar per person per year. It’s easy to exceed the daily recommended sugar intake when a 12 oz soda has about 11 teaspoons of added sugar.  But what about the sugar in fruit?  Should people be worried about how much fruit they’re eating? Kimber Stanhope, a Nutritional biologist at UC Davis, walks us through the science.

Sugar doesn’t just add to our waistlines, it is linked to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. There is also growing scientific consensus that one of the most common types of sugar, fructose (found in high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar) can be toxic to the liver, just like alcohol.

Is fruit juice better for you than soda?   

Dr. Stanhope gets asked this a lot. The short answer is that no one really knows for sure.

“…it drives me crazy that I don’t know the answer for sure. I have not found any studies in the scientific literature that have actually compared the consumption of a sugar-sweetened beverage to a fruit juice-sweetened beverage for more than one day. So we’re going to do a 2-week study…one group will be getting fruit juice (orange juice), the other group will get a sucrose-sweetened beverage. And I think it’s very important that this study gets done because there are many scientists out there that have made the assumption that fruit juice is just as bad as sucrose [because they’ve taken out the fiber in fruit], and they might be right, but I don’t know. There is evidence in the literature, epidemiological studies, that suggest that fruit juice is protective compared to a sugar-sweetened beverage, and there is also a couple of studies that suggest they’re just as bad. We need to know.”

Stanhope points out that the answer may even differ for each type of fruit juice (grapefruit juice, apple juice, orange juice, etc.).  She hopes to study the question in more detail once the preliminary results come in.

More information at sugarscience.org

Green But Not Green: Pot & The Environment


New research suggests that unlawful marijuana farming is diverting water sources, poisoning animals, and increasing erosion.

It began with dying weasels. First one, then many, all mysteriously killed by rat poison banned in the lush Northern California forests where the animals live. Damning evidence soon pointed to a surprising culprit: illegal marijuana farms, where growers use poisons to protect an increasingly lucrative crop.

But the damage caused by pot farms is greater than just one species of poisoned animal—it is far reaching, harming forests, streams, and broad wildlife populations. As states like California debate the legality of marijuana, new research suggests the discussion should focus not only on citizens’ right to smoke, but the broader impact of producing the drug.

There is a surprisingly strong environmental case to be made in favor of legalizing pot, because illegal marijuana is so bad for California’s wilderness and wildlife.

“It’s not just a moral and ethical debate,” says Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, who helped unravel the mystery of the dying weasels. “It’s a major environmental concern.”

Read the full story

Building a better cup of coffee

A cup of coffee

The brave new world of coffee? Think genetics.

UC Davis geneticist Juan Medrano is known for his research on the genetics of milk (and the effect it has on humans), but recently has turned his research efforts towards coffee.

The goal is to understand the variability of coffee genes at the DNA level. This would allow Medrano and others to accurately identify genetic forces that contribute to certain flavors as well as the crucial factor of disease resistance.

The key is to identify the gene regulators that are related to flavor and other qualities, such as how coffee feels in the mouth. Gene regulators are involved in controlling the expression of other genes.

Other variables, like altitude, can be crucial in coffee growing. Coffee flavor and aromas change significantly with changes in altitude, as temperature and microclimates vary greatly. The higher-altitude coffees are generally of better cupping quality, Medrano explains.

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The riddle of zebras’ stripes

Zebra

Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. A research team led by UC Davis, has now examined this riddle (in a very systematic way).

Many hypotheses for zebra stripes have been proposed since Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin debated the problem 120 years ago. These include:

  • A form of camouflage
  • Disrupting predatory attack by visually confusing carnivores
  • A mechanism of heat management
  • Having a social function
  • Avoiding ectoparasite attack, such as from biting flies

After analyzing the five hypotheses, the scientists ruled out all but one: avoiding blood-sucking flies. The scientists found that biting flies (such as horseflies and tsetse flies) are the evolutionary driver for zebra stripes.

Why would zebras evolve to have stripes whereas other hooved mammals did not? The study found that, unlike other African hooved mammals living in the same areas as zebras, zebra hair is shorter than the mouthpart length of biting flies, so zebras may be particularly susceptible to annoyance by biting flies.

Yet in science, one solved riddle begets another: Why do biting flies avoid striped surfaces?

Read more →

Fake olive oil? To get the benefits of olive oil, it’s got to be fresh

Olive Oil - Olive Oyl

The Mediterranean diet has become a darling of medical researchers.  It’s known for its veggies and grains, limited amounts of meat, and a good helping of olive oil.

Researchers believe that olive oil is the key to the superior health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

“The health benefits of olive oil are 99% related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself,” explains Nasir Malik, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [1]

Polyphenols decrease heart disease risk factors by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing blood clotting and improving the health of artery linings. They also reduce cancer risk by lowering inflammation and cellular proliferation. They even reduce microbial activity and infections.

Sounds great, right? But here’s the catch…

When tested, polyphenols were surprisingly low in most commercially available olive oils.

It turns out that 69% of the “extra-virgin” olive oil imported into the U.S. has been shown to be substandard, according to a study out of UC Davis.

Often, the oil is just too old. It’s shipped from place to place before it’s imported and usually isn’t stored well.  By the time it arrives in the U.S., Many of the heart-health compounds have degraded and fizzled out.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Harvest date on the label: The bottle should have a “harvest date” instead of a “sell by” label. The olives should be harvested within the past year.
  • The container: Buy olive oil in a container that protects it from the light (dark glass or tin).
  • The taste & smell: If the oil stings the back of your throat a little that tells you the beneficial polyphenols really are there. High-quality olive oil is pungent and often described as “grassy” or “peppery.”

The brands that failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards, according to this study: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian. [2]

The real deal: California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini. (Kirkland Organic, Lucero (Ascolano), McEvoy Ranch Organic are also noted by Eat Grown Local.)

The “Pope of Foam” and the science behind beer


UC Davis brewing science professor Charles Bamforth is known as the “pope of foam.” His lab delves into the science behind creating the perfect beer foam, which is essential to a great tasting brew. That’s because most of the flavor of beer is detected by smell, which is why Bamforth says you must drink beer from a glass and not straight from a bottle or can. He explains beer-making and reveals how to pick the freshest pint when you’re at a pub.