Biochemistry Department Makes Strides in Diagnostic Testing


This month the Journal of the American Chemical Society published findings by chemistry and biochemistry professor Kevin W. Plaxco and his team of researchers that have led to the design of quick and inexpensive medical tests used for the detection of human disease.

The diagnostic tests are based on models in nature and can easily detect antibodies found in a number of human diseases — such as autoimmune diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and allergies — through a microscopic DNA part. The tests are more convenient and affordable than current ones and can therefore potentially allow for earlier treatment. Treatments administered earlier on in disease development may significantly reduce effects or terminate the pathogen itself.

Plaxco said current tests are not necessary faulty in their accuracy but fail to reveal the presence of diseases soon enough, particularly in the case of sexually transmitted diseases.

“Patients typically must wait for days or even weeks to receive the results of most STD tests … The blood sample has to be transported to the lab, its content analyzed by trained personnel, and the results sent back to the doctor’s office,” Plaxco said in a press release. “If we can move testing to the point of care, it eliminates the lag between testing and treatment, which would enhance the effectiveness of medical interventions and — for infectious diseases like STDs — reduce transmission.”

Co-author and post-doctoral scholar Alexis Vallée-Bélisle said the tests’ use of natural occurrences and bioengineering is what gives them their revolutionary efficiency and speed.

“All creatures, from bacteria to humans, monitor their environments using amazing ‘molecular nanoswitches’ that signal the presence of a specific target by changing their structure,” Vallée-Bélisle said in a press release. “For example, on the surface of our cells, there are millions of receptor proteins that detect various molecules by switching from an ‘off state’ to an ‘on state.’ The beauty of these switches is that they are able to work directly in very complex environments such as whole blood.”



Local Clean Energy Houses Honored by SB Major Helene Schneider


Today the Santa Barbara Community Environmental Council will hold an award ceremony hosted by Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, honoring 27 Santa Barbara homes and 10 renewable energy contractors for their efforts to cut down on household energy intake in an aesthetically integrated manner.

The Santa Barbara Solar Energy System and Passive Solar Guidelines and Recognition Program, which promotes clean energy use that accommodates for stylish architectural design, will give awards in six different categories based on visibility, architectural design and method of implementation. The ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the David Gebhard Public Meeting Room in downtown Santa Barbara.

According to a press release, there have been 70 installations in Santa Barbara that were considered for the honors just this past year; roughly 200 awards have been given since 2007.



Campus Study Aims to Determine Consequences of Ocean Acidity


UCSB and five other West Coast research institutions have received a shared $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the increase in ocean acidity and its effects on marine life.

The research will focus on the effects of the steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that have led to an increase in the acidity of the ocean. Researchers will monitor pH changes and their correlating effects on mussel populations along the west coast.

According to a press release, UCSB professor of ecological physiology of marine organisms Gretchen Hofmann said the concern lies in how marine ecosystem are adapting to these ongoing changes.

“The big question is whether species will be able to adapt to future levels of ocean acidification,” Hoffman said.

Carol Blanchette, an associate research biologist at the UCSB Marine Science Institute, said in a press release that the first step in tackling the issue of long-term ocean acidification is analyzing aspects of the ocean itself. Blanchette added that it is necessary to study pH conditions through the latest methods of marine biology research.

“In order to make predictions about how coastal species may respond to future ocean conditions, we need to be able to understand the natural range and variability of pH conditions in the very nearshore environment, where many ecologically and economically important species occur,” Blanchette said. “Building and maintaining our network of nearshore pH sensors will provide information on the conditions that these organisms are currently experiencing, as well as allowing us to measure how these conditions will change over time.”