Posts Tagged: UC Davis
As you're ladling up country-style pinto beans for your weekend barbecue or fixing a cold three-bean salad from kidney, string and navy beans for a summer picnic, pause to remember what a long and storied history these “common bean” varieties share and the new scientific advances that promise to boost their productivity worldwide.
This week, a new genome sequencing is being reported for the common bean, which ranks as the world's 10th most widely grown food crop and includes the culinary favorites above, whose varieties together comprise a $1.2 billion crop in the United States.
“The availability of this new whole-genome sequence for beans is already paying off,” said Paul Gepts, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and co-author of the new sequencing study.
Gepts, who leads the bean-breeding program at UC Davis, notes that the new sequence is being used to confirm many of the findings made earlier by his UC Davis research group, including identification of the common bean's two points of origin and domestication.
Sequencing and bean ancestry
The common bean is thought to have originated in Mexico more than 100,000 years ago, but -- as the Gepts group earlier discovered – was domesticated separately at two different geographic locations in Mesoamerica and the southern Andes.
“This finding makes the common bean an unusually interesting experimental system because the domestication process has been replicated in this crop,” Gepts said.
The sequencing team compared gene sequences from pooled populations of plants representing these two regions and found that only a small fraction of the genes are shared between common bean species from the two locations. This supports the earlier finding that the common bean was domesticated in two separate events -- one at each location -- but distinct genes were involved in each event.
The new whole-genome sequencing is also helping to identify genetic “markers” that can be used to speed up breeding of new and more productive bean varieties in the United States, East Africa and elsewhere, Gepts said.
The nitrogen connection
All of bean varieties that belong to the “common bean” group share with the closely related soybean the highly valued ability to form symbiotic relationships with “nitrogen-fixing” bacteria in the soil.
The plants and the bacteria work together to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia – which includes nitrogen in a form that enriches the soil and feeds crops. Nitrogen-fixing crop plants can actually reduce or eliminate the need for farmers to apply expensive fertilizers.
One goal of the new sequencing project was to better understand the genetic basis for how such symbiotic relationships between nitrogen-fixing plants and bacteria are formed and sustained, with an eye toward increasing fuel- and food-crop productivity.
The research team successfully identified a handful of genes involved with moving nitrogen around, which could be helpful to farmers who intercrop beans with other crops that don't fix nitrogen.
Findings from this study are reported this week online in the journal Nature Genetics. The sequencing project was led by researchers at the University of Georgia, U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology and North Dakota State University.
Doctors say we'll live longer if we exercise and eat right. Okay, but what does that mean, exactly? You hear so much about super foods and super diets that knowing how to “eat right” can be super confusing.
“This isn't about starving yourself or biting off more than you can chew at the gym,” Applegate says. “It's about making good-for-your-body decisions, rather than punishing you with cutting calories and tough-to-do workouts.”
Applegate teaches nutrition at UC Davis, including a wildly popular online and in-person nutrition course that attracts several thousand students each year. She's a triathlete, a sports nutrition columnist for Runner's World, an author of several sports nutrition books, director of sports nutrition for Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis, and a consultant for Olympic athletes.
In short, she knows her stuff. And when it comes to healthy eating, she says, don't over-think it.
“Eating well isn't about being perfect, but about finding out what food has to offer, and striking a balance between your needs, personal preferences, culture and family experience,” she says.
That philosophy is central to her healthy eating and exercise challenge, which you can pick up at any Nugget Market or download from its website here. Applegate's shopping list includes a wide variety of tasty foods — a bounty of fresh vegetables, various meats and poultry, fish, eggs, grains, dairy, chocolate and much more. What's not to like?
- Eat breakfast. A solid morning meal sets the stage for a good day of healthy eating.
- Eat some protein at every meal to manage weight and support your exercise.
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat are your friends (unless you cannot tolerate gluten. If so, stick with brown rice and other non-wheat products).
- Aim for at least 2½ cups of veggies and 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day.
- Include healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds. Use olive, canola or avocado oils.
- Aim for 2 to 3 servings of calcium-rich foods like dairy or soymilk. Each day, eat a probiotic such as yogurt or kefir for digestive and immune support.
As for fitness, the plan provides a do-at-home circuit of strength training exercises, such as planks, push-ups, squats and leg lifts. Her general rules are:
- Switch things up. You'll build stronger muscles when you try different types of exercises.
- Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five to seven days a week. Anything that boosts your heart rate counts — fast walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming, dancing, basketball, you name it. If you can't find time for 30 minutes straight, 10 minutes here and there will do the trick.
- Include three to five do-at-home strength-building sessions that help shape and tone major muscle groups while building core strength.
Adjusting to healthy eating and routine exercise takes time, Applegate says, so don't be too hard on yourself.
The joy is in the journey.
Not until students turn 21 can they taste the wine and beer they make and learn to assess its sensory quality. Learning the characteristics of a wide assortment of good (and not-so-good) wines and beers is an important component of winemaking and brewing. Having to wait until their junior or senior year to learn these skills is a disadvantage for these students.
Legislation (AB 1989) has been proposed by California Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) that will allow students, ages 18 to 21, enrolled in winemaking and brewery science programs to taste alcoholic beverages in qualified academic institutions. The students can taste, but not consume — which means they must learn the professional practice of spitting during the tasting process.
“Winemakers taste wine daily during harvest to quickly make critical decisions as the winemaking is underway,” Waterhouse said. “Our students need to start learning this skill here, with our guidance. And, they also have to get over the embarrassment of spitting — after every taste.”
Chik Brenneman, the UC Davis winemaker, said that the bill, if passed, “will allow students to move on to the sensory program a lot sooner, before they've finished most of their winemaking classes. Earlier sensory training will help them when they go to work in the industry.”
If the legislation passes, it will benefit enology and brewing students at UC Davis, which is the only University of California campus to offer undergraduate degrees in viticulture and enology and in brewing science (an option within the food science major).
While parents of college students may worry that the bill will open the door to widespread drinking, Waterhouse and Brenneman both noted that the focus of the bill is so narrow that its impact will benefit a limited number of students, and that it's unlikely to lead to excessive drinking. They say that the over-21 students routinely spit what they're tasting in a standard industry manner, and that “drinking” in class is not a problem.
With passage of this bill, which is backed by the University of California, the state will join 12 other states that have allowed this educational exemption for students.
- California legislative information on AB 1989
- NBC Bay Area: Reality check: Bill calls for underage tasting on college campuses, Feb. 27, 2014
- Bill by Wes Chesbro would allow underage beverage students to sip; PressDemocrat.com, Feb. 28, 2014
But the truth is, dietary advice is nothing new. Some of our rules for eating date back to ancient times as part of religious teachings, and food traditions are central to our understanding of culture. What is new over the last century or so is the application of science to our diets, so that we can know more exactly what nutrition science tells us is best when it comes to filling our plates.
A new book by a UC Davis researcher argues that modern dietary advice is not merely scientific, but also continues to have cultural, ethical and moral messages attached to it.
“Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health” analyzes how modern dietary reform movements in the United States do not just tell us how to eat right, but how to become a good person and a good citizen. Can eating a certain way make us into different, somehow better people? And who defines what sort of people we should strive to become, though improved eating? Author Charlotte Biltekoff calls for changing the way we think about what it means to “eat right.”
The book analyzes four dietary reform movements over the last century:
- the rise of domestic science and home economics,
- the national nutrition program during World War II,
- the alternative food movement, and
- the anti-obesity movement.
These reform movements cover nutritional advancements such as the science of cooking, the discovery of vitamins, the shift in emphasis from contagious to chronic diseases, and the increasing importance of diet and lifestyle as a part of health. The book examines how dietary ideals have shifted, how social ideals have shifted alongside them — and the relationship between the two. Notions of middle class identity, good citizenship and individual responsibility each have been mixed in with nutritional advice before it is served to the public, according to the author.
Rose Hayden-Smith, leader of UC ANR’s Sustainable Food Systems strategic initiative and a historian of gardening, said she can't wait to read this book.
“This whole idea of both empirical and ethical considerations of food choices really makes sense to me, rooted in the Progressive Era,” she said. “All of these scientific advances don’t matter if people don’t adopt them. So I think it’s really important for scientists to understand the cultural context into which their work is going.”
Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, was intrigued by a presentation given by Biltekoff at UC Davis recently.
“This expands my way of thinking about the struggles we have with food choices and the potential for complicating well-intentioned messages,” she said. “We can’t ignore the scientific evidence that food choices have a huge impact on our health, but we must also realize when the things we’re saying are charged with judgments."
In a recent interview on Capital Public Radio, Biltekoff pointed out how analyzing history can shed light on difficult truths.
“History is such a great tool for learning to see things differently,” Biltekoff said. “The history that I tell in the book suggests that we worry so much about what is good to eat because of the social stakes involved in 'eating right.' Because it’s not just about our physical health, but also about our sense of self and about our social standing. There's a lot at stake that we may not be conscious of, but really is part and parcel of the conversation about 'good' food.”/span>
Is there such thing as a nutritionally perfect food? Is there something a human can consume that provides everything a body needs to stay healthy?
“Mother’s milk is the Rosetta stone for all food,” said Bruce German, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and director of the UC Davis Foods for Health Institute. “It’s a complete food, a complete diet, shaped over 200 million years of evolution to keep healthy babies healthy.”
German and his team are now decoding breast milk to better understand its components and why they work so well. They are discovering a wealth of information about how best to feed and protect the human body, lessons that will enhance health not just for infants but for us all.
What are they learning?
For one thing, a large part of breast milk goes into babies' mouths and out into their diapers with no digestion along the way. That's astonishing. Of the 500 calories a lactating woman burns each day to make milk, 10 percent is spent synthesizing something the baby treats as waste. If it didn’t have value to the developing baby, wouldn’t natural selection have discarded it long ago?
Turns out, it has great value. The indigestible matter is a slew of sugar polymers called oligosaccharides that feed specific bacteria in a baby’s gut. The oligosaccharides help good bugs proliferate and dominate, keeping babies healthy by crowding out the less savory bugs before they can become established and, perhaps more important, nurturing the integrity of the lining of an infant’s intestines, which play a vital role in protecting them from infection and inflammation.
“What a genius strategy,” German said. “Mothers are recruiting another life form to babysit their babies.”
So maybe when we nourish our bodies, we should think about feeding our good bugs, too.
How do we do that? Good question. Scientists can’t yet say for sure what a healthy bacterial community in our guts should look like, let alone how best to promote it. But one thing is certain, German says.
“Our good bacteria play a much more important role in our health than we realized,” German said.
So oligosaccharides might support microbial balance in our digestive tracts. Nursing babies can get them from their mothers. What about the rest of us?
Another good question, and UC Davis researchers are on it, identifying, extracting and delivering health-promoting oligosaccharides from various sources, including whey, the waste product from cheese making.
You can read all about it (and more) in this story on the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences website: http://caes.ucdavis.edu/news/articles/2013/09/title-uc-davis-decoding-mother2019s-milk-for-clues-to-lasting-health