Category Archives: Catalyst for Innovation

Breakthrough In Generating Embryonic Cells That Are Critical For Human Health

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Iqbal Pittalwala on published in UCR Today on February 3, 2016.)

IMAGE CREDIT: GARCÍA-CASTRO LAB, UC RIVERSIDE.
IMAGE CREDIT: GARCÍA-CASTRO LAB, UC RIVERSIDE.

Neural crest cells arise early in the development of vertebrates, migrate extensively through the embryo, and differentiate to give rise to a wide array of diverse derivatives. Their contributions include a large proportion of our peripheral nerves, the melanocytes that provide skin color and protection from damaging UV light, as well as many different cell types in our face, including muscle, bone, cartilage and tooth-forming cells.

The proper functioning of these cells is critical for human development and health. When neural crest biology fails, various birth defects and illnesses – cleft lip/palateHirschsprung and Waardenburg syndromes, melanoma and neuroblastoma – result.  A better study of these cells is crucial, therefore, to aid in clinical efforts to diagnose and treat such conditions.

But access to these embryonic cells in humans is very difficult. As an alternative, scientists turned to models based in embryonic stem cells.

While protocols to generate human neural crest cells from human embryonic stem cells have progressed since the first report 11 years ago, they still have considerable limitations for their use in basic and clinical research. This is because these protocols commonly use ingredients or components not well defined, such as blood serum which contains many unknown components of varying concentrations.  Some protocols result in large clusters of cells, impairing the identification of specific molecules and their roles during neural crest cell formation.  Furthermore, the fastest of these protocols takes 12 days (of very costly culture conditions) to convert human embryonic stem cells to neural crest cells.  Oftentimes the protocols provide low yields, making the isolation of the desired neural crest cells a time-consuming and technically challenging process.

Work done by a research team led by an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside now addresses these problems by providing a robust, fast, simple and trackable method to generate neural crest cells.  The proposed method can facilitate research in basic sciences and clinical applications alike.

“Our study provides a superb model to generate neural crest cells in just five days starting from human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent cells, using a simple and well-defined media with all ingredients known and accounted for,” said Martín I. García-Castro, whose lab led the study published in the Feb. 1 issue of the journalDevelopment. “Our cost-effective, efficient and fast protocol allows a better analysis of the relevant signals and molecules involved in the formation of these cells.  Our results suggest that human neural crest cells can arise independently from – and prior to – the formation of mesoderm and neural ectoderm derivatives, both of which had been thought to be critical for neural crest formation.”

The mesoderm is the middle layer of the embryo in early development.  It lies between the endoderm and the ectoderm, the latter being the outermost layer.  García-Castro’s previous work on birds already challenged the dogma suggesting that neural crest cells form without mesodermal or neural contribution.  Unpublished results from his lab have also confirmed the same using rabbit embryos as a mammalian model.

With regard to identifying specific molecules and their roles during neural crest cell formation, García-Castro’s new work demonstrates the critical role played by a molecule known as WNT and highlights contributions from protein families called FGFs and BMPs.

Briefly, WNT proteins are signaling molecules that regulate cell-to-cell interactions during development and adult tissue homeostasis. The FGF protein family controls a wide range of biological functions.  BMPs induce the formation of bone and cartilage and form tissues throughout the body.

“Our work provides strong evidence of the critical and initiating role of WNT signals in neural crest cell formation, with later contributions by FGF and BMP pathways,” he said.

García-Castro emphasized that the proper function of neural crest cells is essential for human development and health.

“The study of these cells is essential to improve clinical efforts to diagnose, manage, and perhaps prevent diseases and conditions linked to them, and our lab has already launched efforts towards facial clefts – lip and or palate – and melanoma, and we hope to make substantial progress in both areas thanks to this novel protocol,” he said.

The study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health as well as Connecticut Innovations, a funding source for companies in Connecticut.

García-Castro came to UC Riverside in November 2014. His coauthors on the research paper are Alan W. Leung (first author of the research paper, currently at Yale University, Conn.) and Barbara Murdoch (currently at Eastern Connecticut State University), both of whom are former members in his lab; and Ahmed F. Salem, Maneeshi S. Prasad, and Gustavo A. Gomez at UC Riverside.

This research is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

To read the full article, click here.

UCR Research Advances Oil Production in Yeast

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on January 26, 2016.)

Photo Credit: UCR Today
Photo Credit: UCR Today

A team led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has adapted the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system for use in a yeast strain that can produce useful lipids and polymers. The development will lead to new precursors for biofuels, specialty polymers, adhesives and fragrances.

Published recently in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the research involves the oleaginous (oil-producing) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which is known for converting sugars to lipids and hydrocarbons that are difficult to make synthetically. Until now, Y. lipolytica has been hard to manipulate at the genetic level, but the application of CRISPR-Cas9 will change that, allowing scientists to tap into its bio-manufacturing potential.

Described in 2012, CRISPR-Cas9 is a groundbreaking technique that enables scientists to make precise targeted changes in living cells. Unlike traditional gene-editing methods, it is cheap, easy to use and effective in almost any organism.

“Traditionally, researchers have focused on model organisms that are relatively easy to manipulate at the genetic level, and those working on less tractable species have had to go through long and tedious processes to create new strains. Our work with Y. lipolytica is a good example of how the CRISPR-Cas9 system is facilitating research in organisms that are biologically interesting but historically difficult to work with,” said Ian Wheeldon, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering and the study’s principal investigator.

In the paper, the team adapted CRISPR-Cas9 for Y. lipolytica, showing that the system could be used to knock genes out and introduce new genes, both useful tools in bio-manufacturing.

Wheeldon said the current work was the first step in a National Science Foundation-funded project to create long chain hydrocarbons—used to make specialty polymers, adhesives, coatings and fragrances—from yeast rather than synthetically.

“Currently, these molecules are produced from non-renewable raw materials derived from petroleum in processes that are inefficient and pose safety risks, so being able to produce them from cheap raw materials in a bio-manufacturing process is very appealing,” Wheeldon said.

Other researchers may use the system to create precursors for biofuels, reducing the current reliance on edible plant oils, Wheeldon said.

The work was done by Wheeldon, Cory Schwartz, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at UCR, and Murtaza Shabbir Hussain and Mark Blenner from Clemson University in South Carolina. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

UCR is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s Catalyst for Innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

To read the full article, click here.

California Researchers Re-Create Forest Blazes

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Rory Carroll and published in theguardian.com on November 8, 2015.)

Photo Credit: Noah Smith for the Guardian
Photo Credit: Noah Smith for the Guardian

The US Forest Service fire laboratory in Riverside, a quiet university city two hours east of Los Angeles, is tasked with studying – and helping to stop – the conflagrations.

Billboards along the highway to Riverside advertise Spectre, the new James Bond film. The lab has no Q-type boffin with Hollywood-esque fire-quenching gadgets, but it does have a team of engineers, physicists, meteorologists, ecologists and computer geeks who devise models and tools for colleagues in the field. They work from a collection of offices, workshops and prefab metal buildings scorched by pyrotechnic experiments. There is another, similar facility in Montana.

“We’re still trying to understand why live fuel burns,” said David Weise, the lead research forester in Riverside. “It’s not just about heat. When fuel breaks down, it produces gas. It’s a pretty chaotic environment.”

Heat transfers through convection, conduction, radiation and mass transfer, such as embers. Wind and gas affect fluid dynamics. Multiple variables such as a leaf’s resin, or type of moisture, can determine whether a fire sputters or turns into an inferno.

Researchers produced elaborate models of fire behavior 40 years ago, but Weise said firefighters have noticed a problem: such models don’t work. Some big fires are burning in unpredictable ways, consuming faith in the science along with the trees.

“Observation and experience is what they’re relying on,” he said.

Forest service technicians and students from UC Riverside have conducted about 120 experiments in the wind tunnel to build up data for a new model, a painstaking, incremental slog involving weeds, twigs, blowtorches and differential equations.

This research is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

To read the full article, click here.

Students Create Green Storm Drain Filter

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sean Nealon and published in UCR Today on November 2, 2015.)

The Sustain-A-Drain team recently won a $15,000 grant from the EPA for their reusable storm drain filter. Photo Credit: UCR Today
The Sustain-A-Drain team recently won a $15,000 grant from the EPA for their reusable storm drain filter. Photo Credit: UCR Today

A team of students from the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for a reusable storm drain filter that is less costly and more environmentally friendly than currently available models.

The key innovation is the calibrated indicator and filter system. The filter is made of 100 percent recycled textiles. The indicator is a 3-D printed device made with the same material as the filter and a translucent biodegradable plastic that includes a polymer that changes from a powder to a gel when it is saturated with oil and/or heavy metals and needs to be replaced.

The team received the $15,000 as a phase one winner of EPA’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition. Team members are: Franklin Gonzalez, Karim Masarweh, Johny Nguyen, Diego Novoa, Kenneth Orellana and Taljinder Kaur. With the exception of Kaur, who is an MBA student, all the students are seniors and either environmental or chemical engineering majors. Kawai Tam, a lecturer at the Bourns College of Engineering, advises them.

Bourns College of Engineering is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

To read the full article, click here.

Center For Catalysis Established On Campus

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Iqbal Pittalwala and published in Inside UCR on October 8, 2015.)

Photo Credit: Ozarch
Photo Credit: Ozarch

catalyst is a substance—usually a metal or an oxide—that facilitates or allows a chemical reaction, but is neither consumed nor altered by the reaction itself. Crucial to the reaction’s success, a catalyst is like the car engine enabling an uphill drive.

A new center at the University of California, Riverside has now received formal approval from the Office of Research and Economic Development on campus to focus on catalysis. The UCR Center for Catalysis brings together expertise in catalysis and nanotechnology already available at UCR to address the large and complex challenges facing the field in the 21st century.

Research at the center will provide valuable experience for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting researchers, who will work on interdisciplinary projects, interact with multiple research groups, and gain wide exposure to a variety of scientific skills, including the synthesis and characterization of complex molecular and solid catalysts and the use of novel nanotechnologies.

This new research center is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar.  The educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial research.

To read the full article, click here.

3-D Printed Devices Help Scientists Trap and Study Tree-Damaging Bugs

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Elizabeth Lee and published in Voice of America on October 22, 2015.)

Beetles not native to Southern California are causing much damage to trees, including those that bear avocados, a lucrative California crop. Scientists at the University of California-Riverside are fighting this problem with the help of 3-D printers.

The invasive beetles are from Southeast Asia, and scientists aren’t sure how they got to California. One guess is that they were in packing materials used in shipping products to California from Asia.

The beetle, technically known as the polyphagous shot hole borer, drills holes into a critical part of the tree, disrupting the flow of water from the roots to the leaves. It also carries a fungus in its mouth that harms the trees. The fungus grows and further clogs the vessels that carry nutrients and water to the tree, eventually starving it to death.

Entomologists have been trying different treatments to kill the beetles and the fungus. But it was time-consuming and difficult to learn whether the treatments worked until a 3-D-printed bug trap was developed to place over the holes in the trees.

If the beetle is still active, that means the pesticide is not working. Scientists say a 3-D-printed trap speeds up the data-collection process and makes the results reliable. The 3-D printer allows researchers to easily tailor their traps to the insects they are studying.

It’s a relatively inexpensive tool that can create new possibilities for researchers to help them get results.

The creation of this 3-D printed trap is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, California, and the world to follow.

To read the full article, click here.

Lawnmower Emission Reduction Device Wins National Award

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sean Nealon and published in UCR Today on October 13, 2015.)

The Nox-Out team receives its award with their advisor,
The NOx-Out team receives its award with their advisor, Kawai Tam, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the Bourns College of Engineering. Photo Credit: UCR Today

A team of University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering students won a national sustainable development award last week for creating a device that drastically reduces harmful emissions from lawnmowers.

The team — Alyssa Yan, Priyanka Singh and Anna Almario — their advisor and the University will receive $43,000 for winning the Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development. They learned they received the award during an Oct. 8 award ceremony in Miami, where they were accompanied by Kawai Tam, their advisor, who is a lecturer at the college, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the college.

“This win is a testament to our college’s commitment to hands-on undergraduate research that can be applied in the real world,” Abbaschian said. “With a single device, these students can significantly improve our air quality and have the potential to revolutionize an industry that has been around for more than 100 years.”

UCR is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

To read the full article, click here.

CBU’s Dean Of Engineering Named Mayor’s Innovation Honoree

(This article contains excerpts from the article published in CBU News & Events on October 7, 2015.)

Dr. Anthony Donaldson (center), flanked by his wife Darla Donaldson and Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, is recognized as the Mayor’s Innovation Honoree at the Riverside City Council meeting on Oct. 6. Photo Credit: CBU News & Events
Dr. Anthony Donaldson (center), flanked by his wife Darla Donaldson and Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey, is recognized as the Mayor’s Innovation Honoree at the Riverside City Council meeting on Oct. 6. Photo Credit: CBU News & Events

Dr. Anthony Donaldson, dean of the Gordon and Jill Bourns College of Engineering, has been named this month’s Mayor’s Innovation Honoree.

The Mayor’s Innovation Honoree Program is designed to recognize people or groups in the City of Riverside that exemplify its motto as a “city of arts and innovation.”

“Your leadership and focus on academic excellence has created a world-class, accredited engineering school which delivers critical-thinking graduates to our community,” Mayor Rusty Bailey wrote to Donaldson to notify him of the award. “The commitment you’ve shown toward city initiatives…continues to be an inspiration for improved collaboration among government, education and private industry stakeholders.”

Donaldson leadership is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, products, scholars, businesspeople, artists and entrepreneurs.

Donaldson received the award at the city council meeting Oct. 6. He briefly addressed the council and thanked his wife and staff and faculty for their support.

To read the full article, click here.

UCR Sets Goal To Become Carbon Neutral By 2025

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Mojgan Sherkat and published in UCR Today on October 6, 2015.)

The Cool Campus Challenge is a friendly competition that begins on Tuesday, Oct. 6 and runs through Dec. 10. Photo Credit: UCR Today
The Cool Campus Challenge is a friendly competition that begins on Tuesday, Oct. 6 and runs through Dec. 10. Photo Credit: UCR Today

The University of California, Riverside will participate in the Cool Campus Challenge, a systemwide UC event to get the word out about UC President Janet Napolitano’s carbon neutrality initiative.

“UC campuses are already leading the world in so many ways. Now we’re on our way to becoming the very first university system to wipe out our carbon footprint for good,” said President Napolitano. “It’s a daring goal, and one that we can only meet if we work together, which is why the Challenge is so important.”

Through commitment and dedication, UCR is always improving and making strides in becoming a green machine.  Exemplifying Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, UCR values the cultivation and support of innovation within our community acting as a trendsetter for the region, California, and the world to follow.

The Cool Campus Challenge is a friendly competition that begins on Tuesday, Oct. 6 and will run through Dec. 10. Between all the UC campuses, the challenge aims to motivate and reward staff, faculty and students for reducing their carbon footprint in support of the UC system reach its Carbon Neutrality goals – as well as create a culture of sustainability across campus.

To read the full article, click here.

Making Batteries With Portabella Mushrooms

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sean Nealon and published in The Press Enterprise on September 29, 2015.)

Diagram showing how mushrooms are turned into a material for battery anodes. Photo Credit: UCR Today
Diagram showing how mushrooms are turned into a material for battery anodes. Photo Credit: UCR Today

Can portabella mushrooms stop cell phone batteries from degrading over time?

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering think so.

They have created a new type of lithium-ion battery anode using portabella mushrooms, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and easy to produce. The current industry standard for rechargeable lithium-ion battery anodes is synthetic graphite, which comes with a high cost of manufacturing because it requires tedious purification and preparation processes that are also harmful to the environment.

With the anticipated increase in batteries needed for electric vehicles and electronics, a cheaper and sustainable source to replace graphite is needed. Using biomass, a biological material from living or recently living organisms, as a replacement for graphite, has drawn recent attention because of its high carbon content, low cost and environmental friendliness.

This paper involving mushrooms is published just over a year after the Ozkan’s labs developed a lithium-ion battery anode based on nanosilicon via beach sand as the natural raw material. Ozkan’s team is currently working on the development of pouch prototype batteries based on nanosilicon anodes.

The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed patents for the inventions above.

This advancement in battery technology is an outstanding model of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar.  The students and staff at UC Riverside cultivate and support ideas, research, and products that accelerate the common good for all.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do in Riverside, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, California, and the world to follow.

To read the full article, click here.