News in brief



UCR researchers identify pathological trigger of Ireland’s potato famine

The Phytophthora devastated potato crops in Ireland almost 150 years ago. Since then, scientists have long wondered why these pathogens were so destructive. Recently, UCR researchers managed to answer that very question.

UCR Associate Professor of Plant Pathology and Microbiology Wenbo Ma and her research team have identified how the pathogen can subvert the immune system of the potato crop. Ma explained that Phytophthora can break the immunity of its host plants.

“Its effectors are the first example of proteins produced by eukaryotic pathogens — multi-cellular organisms — that promote infection by suppressing the host RNA silencing process,” said Ma. Viruses and bacteria often use the RNA silencing process to cause a series of deadly illnesses.

Her research explores how to manipulate the genes in plants and halt the pathogen’s destructive qualities. Her goal is to make plants more resistant to certain strains of diseases. “This knowledge is always based on understanding what’s happening at a molecular level,” she said.

The pathogen has caused worldwide losses of $8 billion per year in agricultural production. In 2011, UCR was awarded a $9 million USDA grant for the study of Phytophthorainfestans, another pathogen which targets potatoes and tomatoes.

UC researcher finds link between neutering and cancer

UC Davis researchers recently discovered a link between the age in which a dog is neutered and its risk for developing cancers and other illnesses.

According to a study of 759 golden retrievers, male dogs that were neutered early in their first year were more likely to develop certain abnormalities. The study found that male dogs were twice as likely to develop a disease known as hip dysplasia that causes arthritis. They are also three times as likely to develop cruciate ligament tear and almost twice as likely to develop a cell tumor.

Research also showed that the effects of early neutering are not as strong with female dogs. The development of lymphosarcoma appeared to be the only noticeable difference when a female dog is neutered early on in her life.

“It is important to remember, however, that because different dog breeds have different vulnerabilities to various diseases, the effects of early and late neutering also may vary from breed to breed,” explained UC Davis researcher Benjamin Hart.

Hart is a professor in the department of anatomy, physiology and Cell Biology at UC Davis, which is known for its extensive research on animal science. The university even offers a degree in animal science studies and veterinary medicine.

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