Research  Fall 2011

Nanosensors Made from DNA May Light Path to New Cancer Tests and Drugs

Sensors made from custom DNA molecules could be used to personalize cancer treatments and monitor the quality of stem cells, according to an international team of researchers led by scientists at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Rome Tor Vergata. The new nanosensors can quickly detect a broad class of proteins called transcription factors, which serve as the master control switches of life.

The research is described in an article published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. When scientists take stem cells and turn them into specialized cells, they do so by changing the levels of a few transcription factors, explained Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, a postdoctoral researcher in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who led the study. This process is called cell reprogramming.

snailHitchhiking Snails Fly From Ocean to Ocean

A UC Santa Barbara scientist and his colleagues report that snails successfully crossed Central America, long considered an impenetrable barrier to marine organisms, twice in the past million years — both times probably by flying across Mexico, stuck to the legs or riding on the bellies of shorebirds, and introducing new genes that contributed to the marine biodiversity on each coast.

The discovery of the hitchhiking snails, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society: B, has broad implications. The idea of land snails hitching rides on birds goes back to Charles Darwin, who speculated that migratory birds could transport snails to distant places.

In fact, birds are thought to have carried land snails 5,500 miles from Europe to Tristan de Cunha Island in the South Atlantic Ocean and back. But this is the first report of a marine snail "flying" from one ocean to another, according to co-author Ryan Hechinger, a research biologist with the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara.

nova UCSB Scientists, Telescopes Help Discover ‘Once in a Generation’ Supernova

A supernova discovered in August is closer to Earth - approximately 21 million light years away - than any other of its kind in a generation. Astronomers believe they caught the supernova within hours of its explosion - a rare feat for events of this type.

The discovery of a supernova so early in its life, and so close to Earth has energized the astronomical community. Scientists around the world are scrambling to observe it with as many telescopes as possible, including the Hubble Space Telescope, and telescopes from the UC Santa Barbara affiliated Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT).

Researchers Analyze the Evolving Human Relationship with Fire

Fire, both friend and foe, is a controversial force in the world. The team of 18 researchers, organized by UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), analyzed the history and possible future of our ever-changing relationship with fire in an article published in the Journal of Biogeography.

fire The article is titled, "The Human Dimension of Fire Regimes on Earth." "The value of this study is that it presents a critical assessment of the diversity of human uses of fire, from tamed landscape fire, to agricultural fire, to industrial fire," said Jennifer K. Balch, postdoctoral associate at NCEAS and second author on the paper. All these phases still occur today. The researchers explain that this remarkable diversity of human uses of fire, albeit imperfectly controlled, has powered all cultures. However, the problem is that the excessive combustion of fossil fuels is driving climate change.

The result of massive dependence on this one use of fire may ultimately overwhelm human capacities to control landscape fire, given more extreme fire weather and more production of fuels, according to the researchers.

How Fat and Obesity Cause Diabetes

High levels of fat shut down a key enzyme that promotes glucose sensing in pancreatic beta cells — revealing a pathway implicated in the Type 2 diabetes epidemic. Exactly how diet and obesity trigger diabetes has long been the subject of intense scientific research.

A new study led by Jamey D. Marth, director of the Center for Nanomedicine, a collaboration between the UC Santa Barbara and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham), has revealed a pathway that links high-fat diets to a sequence of molecular events responsible for the onset and severity of diabetes. These findings were published online August 14 in the Journal Nature Medicine. In studies spanning mice and humans, Marth's team discovered a pathway to disease that is activated in pancreatic beta cells, and then leads to metabolic defects in other organs and tissues, including the liver, muscle and adipose (fat). Together, this adds up to diabetes.

UCSB Physicists Create Quantum Version of a Classical Computer

A new paradigm in quantum information processing has been demonstrated by physicists at UC Santa Barbara. Their results are published in September’s issue of Science Express online. UC Santa Barbara physicists have demonstrated a quantum integrated circuit that implements the quantum von Neumann architecture. In this architecture, a long-lived quantum random access memory can be programmed using a quantum central processing unit, all constructed on a single chip, providing the key components for a quantum version of a classical computer. The UC Santa Barbara hardware is based on superconducting quantum circuits, and must be cooled to very low temperatures to display quantum behavior. The architecture represents a new paradigm in quantum information processing, and shows that quantum large-scale-integration is within reach.

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