UC Profs Earn $500,000 Grants

UCLA neuroscientist Elissa Hallem and UC Riverside emeritus art professor Uta Barth were among 23 fellows — including a journalist, a physicist, a composer, a historian and scholars in various other areas — to receive $500,000 Genius Grants from the highly esteemed John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation.

Barth’s photography has been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums around the world, from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from UC Davis and received a Master’s in fine arts from UCLA before becoming an art professor at UC Riverside.

Hallem attended Williams College before receiving a Ph.D. from Yale University and working as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology. She is currently an assistant professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA, acting as a life scientist researching physiological and behavioral aspects of olfactory recognition.


Cal Research Contributes to Robots 

Research by UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology Robert Full regarding the physical skills of geckos and other gravity-defying creatures has inspired product ideas throughout robotic technology industries nationwide.

Earlier this year, Full and his team of researchers studied the biomechanics and physiology of animal performance by analyzing animal movement through computer simulations, eventually inciting inspiration for product manufacturing at robotics companies such as Boston Dynamics.

Since Full’s lab utilizes mini-robot models to test hypotheses concerning animal performance, his research produces information that can enhance the stability and agility of commercially-built robotic devices.

According to Full, the observed movements of lizards’ tails are one specific source of such information.

“Inspiration from lizard tails will likely lead to far more agile search-and-rescue robots,” Full said in a press release.


Disease Mutations Recreated at UCI

A team of scientists, led by pediatrician Dr. Virginia Kimonis at UC Irvine, has created a new research model to assist in identifying more effective treatments for degenerative diseases.

The study can potentially produce treatments that tackle degenerative illnesses — such as dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease and Paget’s disease — that are triggered by mutations in valosin-containing proteins (VCP). Researchers recreated these mutations in genetically-modified lab mice, who subsequently displayed the same symptoms and abnormalities which patients of these diseases encountered. The resultant findings carry the potential to unlock new treatments for these mutations in humans.

Alterations in VCP genes cause changes in the cell breakdown process, which results in a surplus of proteins in brain cells, muscles and bones. This excess accumulation of damaged proteins causes the breakdown of muscle, spinal cord and brain activity that is associated with many degenerative diseases.