Meha Jain 

By: Katharine Chi

“If all groundwater is lost from over-exploited regions, India could lose up to 20% of winter cropped area” – Meha Jain

On Jan. 23 at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren Hall, Meha Jain, an assistant professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan presented her research in groundwater depletion and its connection to the ongoing climate crisis. Jain, whose work specifically focuses on India’s agricultural practices and production has examined agricultural decisions made across India using remote sensing, geospatial analyses and census datasets. This methodology led to finding a conclusive relationship between climate change, groundwater depletion and agricultural productivity. Exploring the impacts of groundwater depletion on agricultural output, possible adaptive strategies to alleviate stress on groundwater resources and the relation to groundwater, Jain’s overarching message is that groundwater depletion is quickly becoming a critical issue as temperatures continue to rise: the stakes can be observed from India’s current crop yield, and based on Jain’s research, canal irrigation is only a temporary solution for a global issue. 


António Damásio

By: Emma Holm-Olsen

“Feelings are the ambassadors of the state of life in your organism” – António Damásio

On April 17, leading neuroscientist and University of Southern California professor António Damásio spoke to a crowd of UC Santa Barbara students and staff as part of UCSB’s Center for Portuguese Studies’s speaker series “Celebrating the Carnation Revolution: A Conference in Honor of Eduardo Lourenço.” The topic of the talk was consciousness — more specifically, the physical and psychological origins of consciousness and why Damásio believes our feelings should get more credit. He asserts that feeling, much more so than reason or logic, is the true origin of consciousness. “Feelings are the ambassadors of the state of life in your organism,” Damásio said. According to him, consciousness is also what subsequently allows us to effectively and coherently express our individual experiences to our peers. He argues that without feeling and consciousness, communication, specifically our use of language and literature, is meaningless. Indeed, our ability to experience feelings and emotions, process them and then turn them into decisive thoughts and actions is one of the defining characteristics of our species. 


URCA highlights

By: Emma Holm-Olsen

From May 8-12, undergraduate students shared research and creative projects with the public at the  Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Week. The event included activities such as poster colloquiums, conference panels, and the “Slam,” wherein participants competed for cash prizes with micro-presentations on their research. A few research projects stood out, such as first-year biology and English double major Kathleen Zhang’s. Zhang and her lab advisors study a phenomenon known as “trogocytosis,” the nibbling of pathogenic cells by our immune system’s macrophage cells. They examined whether our immune responses could be manipulated to make trogocytosis more lethal to cancer cells in particular, carrying significant implications for improved cancer treatments. Second-year biology major Riya Nilkant’s research also caught our eye. Along with principal investigators Kenneth Kosik and Soojin Yi of the Kosik Lab, she’s studying the newly discovered PSD-95 protein, a scaffolding protein in our neuronal synapses. Aside from being the first to quantify the organization of atoms in the binding site of the PSD-95 protein, the researchers are investigating how the protein works by inserting fluorescently tagged versions of it into neural cells. The study may also lead to a better understanding of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and autism. Lastly, fourth-year ecology & evolution major Kathryn Koo studies the pathogenic fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) to quantify its spread and deadly effects on amphibian species. Koo and her colleagues at the Cherie Briggs Lab ran experiments to determine how Bd can be detected using environmental DNA samples (eDNA) and whether various elements of eDNA storage and degradation affect its detection in soil samples. 


Cynthia Kenyon

By: Meenakshi Manoj

The hope is that if we can increase youthfulness, we can postpone age-related diseases” – Cynthia Kenyon 

Cynthia Kenyon, vice president of aging research at Calico Life Sciences and director of the Larry L. Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, lectured at Corwin Pavilion this past quarter as part of the “Aging in America’” series, hosted by the College of Letters & Science at UCSB. Her research focus on evolutionary and molecular processes contributing to longevity began with the observation that the impact of chromosomes on the spatial organization of the body in the development of C. elegans. She introduced the concept of regulatory genes after finding that inserting regulatory genes from C. elegans, a type of nematode, into D. melanogaster — commonly known as the fruit fly — resulted in various physical abnormalities. In her lecture, Kenyon highlighted the plasticity of aging and the role of evolution in shaping characteristics and average lifespans. Kenyon discovered that a set of mutated worms in one experiment that had a less efficient Daf-2 gene, a precursor to the hormone receptor analogous to insulin in humans, appeared physically younger compared to their normal counterparts. Kenyon and her colleagues found that worms had hidden life extension potential triggered by a single base pair mutation. The presentation also touched upon heterochronic genes, DNA variations affecting size and longevity and protein aggregation and aging in humans. Finding that age-related diseases in worms, flies and mice are ameliorated due to this mutation opens up the possibility for health longevity in humans.