Luca Disbrow / Daily Nexus

Foolproof Phone Tests

The rapid ascendance of the omicron variant and lagging vaccination rates in many lower- and middle-income countries has proven, once again, that the world is still in need of widespread COVID-19 testing. Unfortunately, as seen in even the likes of Santa Barbara County, tests remain an object of scarcity. Researchers with UC Santa Barbara, collaborating with researchers at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, have worked together to investigate the possibility of using smartphones to provide an “inexpensive, rapid, sensitive, and reliable platform” for influenza and COVID-19 testing. 

Using a loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP)-based methodology, which doesn’t require highly skilled personnel or expensive instrumentation to administer, the researchers conducted a cohort study with 20 symptomatic patients and 30 asymptomatic patients. They found that the smartphone-based LAMP tests worked as well as traditional PCR tests and believe that it may be useful in places with limited resources. 

Which Wood and Why? 

Many tropical islands throughout the world have had their native vegetation snuffed out and largely replaced with human-introduced species. One well-known example of this phenomenon is Palmyra Atoll, an island of the Northern Line Islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean which is dominated by coconut palm, a relatively new arrival from the islands between Southeast Asia and Melanesia. 

A matter of particular interest to low-lying islands now, with accelerating climate change, is whether or not native species are more equipped to sequester carbon than introduced species are. Researchers at UCSB, working alongside The Nature Conservancy, the University of Idaho and the U.S. Geological Survey, sought to answer this question with “field sampling, remote sensing, and parameter estimates from the literature.”

With this data, they found that transitioning to forests dominated by a mixture of native trees would indeed increase the carbon storage potential of Palmyra Atoll, while also serving to protect the island against coral disease.

The Building Blocks of a Brain

The human brain has 85 billion neurons. Researchers have long sought to map out the many coordinated interactions and workings of this network of cells. However, such aspirations face many logistical hurdles. Because of this, there has been much interest in modeling the neural circuitry of simpler chordates. With this in mind, William Smith, a professor at UCSB, working with collaborators at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has labored tirelessly for years to create a wiring diagram of the Ciona, a primitive chordate with only 177 neurons. 

The fruits of Smith’s labor lay in an interaction matrix which details the 6,618 synaptic connections between the Ciona’s neurons, made possible by compiling electron microscopy images. In addition to mapping out this neural circuitry, Smith has begun work with UCSB Electrical and Computer Engineering professor B. S. Manjunath and collaborator Angela Zhang. They work with the aim of figuring out which of six neurotransmitters exist in the neurons using deep-learning models.


Sean Crommelin
Sean Crommelin is the Science and Tech Editor for the Daily Nexus. He can be reached at