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UC Davis experts: Experts on agricultural and veterinarian DNA applications

Since 1953, DNA research has had an impact on everything from biology, agriculture and medicine to criminal law and justice, art and politics. At UC Davis, one of the nation's leading research universities in biological sciences, a wide range of experts are available to discuss the significance of Watson and Crick's discovery; current research in DNA; and what the future may hold. If you need more information about these subjects, contact Andy Fell, News Service, (530) 752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu, Pat Bailey, News Service, (530) 752-9843, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu.

Veterinary applications

Niels C. Pedersen, professor of veterinary medicine and executive director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the School of Veterinary Medicine, can discuss the development and application of animal genetic testing procedures, using DNA typing technology for parentage testing of purebred animals, identification of inheritance patterns of genetic diseases, wildlife studies and forensic analysis of animal evidence. Dr. Pedersen's expertise encompasses comparative genetics and animal models of human disease, including AIDS. He oversees the laboratory's extensive DNA databases and supervises several gene-mapping projects in small animals, including the mapping of cat genome, expected to shed light on feline and human diseases of genetic origin. Contact: Niels C. Pedersen, Veterinary Genetics Lab, (530) 752-7402, ncpedersen@ucdavis.edu. (Note: Dr. Pedersen does not use voice mail or a pager; the general lab number is 752-2211.)

Veterinary identification

Wildlife geneticist and veterinarian Holly B. Ernest, associate director of the Wildlife Unit at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the School of Veterinary Medicine, can discuss how DNA typing techniques can be used to identify individual animals, verify parentage, analyze kinship, quantify genetic diversity, examine genetic patterns in populations and investigate genetic susceptibility of populations to wildlife diseases. Dr. Ernest is interested in various aspects of conservation genetics. Her 2003 study examining the genetic structure of the mountain lion shows that California populations of mountain lions are discrete, and there are large genetic differences in mountain lion populations between regions. Contact: Holly B. Ernest, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory/Wildlife Unit, (530) 754-8245, fax (530) 752-3556, hbernest@ucdavis.edu.

Cloned and transgenic domestic and agricultural animals

Jim Murray, professor of animal science and veterinary medicine, studies gene transfer and cloning in goats, cows and pigs. Genetic modification in dairy animals could be used to reduce udder infections and improve food safety, or to manipulate the fat content of milk to make dairy products more healthy. Leslie Lyons, assistant professor of veterinary medicine, studies genetic diseases in cats and is collaborating in mapping the cat genome. Lyons' lab confirmed the identity of the first cloned domestic cat, "cc," cloned by researchers at Texas A&M university last year. Cloned cats could be useful for studying genetic diseases such as polycystic kidney disease in cats, Lyons said.

Contacts: Jim Murray, Animal Science, (530) 752-3179, jdmurray@ucdavis.edu; Leslie Lyons, Population Health and Reproduction, (530) 754-5546, lalyons@ucdavis.edu.

High-growth mice, bioinformatics and milk composition

A single gene mutation that increases the growth rate and adult size of mice by up to 50 percent has been identified by UC Davis researchers led by Juan Medrano, professor of animal science. The supersized mice are not obese and use food more efficiently, Medrano said. Knowledge of the gene may be applied to breed livestock with greater lean muscle mass. Medrano's lab also studies genes related to milk composition. Such genetic markers could be used to breed dairy animals that produce milk with improved cheese yield and quality. His lab has developed bioinformatics tools for genetic mapping of livestock genes 'in silico,' using computer databases. Contact: Juan Medrano, Animal Science, (530) 752-6786, jfmedrano@ucdavis.edu.

Gene flow from GM crops

Concerns about gene flow, the transfer of genes from biotech crops to other crops or wild plants by seed or pollen, have not abated, as shown by recent events such as the potential introduction of transgenic maize in Mexico, unintended use of transgenic crops (Starlink episode in USA), and the potential escape of pharmaceutical compounds produced in plants (Prodigene incident in USA). Research has generally been insufficient to set a foundation for regulatory policies. Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and range science at UC Davis, can discuss how genes might travel from domestic crops to their wild relatives, and the associated risks such as effects on non-target organisms and reduction in genetic diversity. He can also discuss the potential for food crops as pharmaceutical factories and the genetic strategies to limit gene flow involving transgenes. Contact: Paul Gepts, Agronomy and Range Science, (530) 752-7743; plgepts@ucdavis.edu.

Fruit, nuts, tomatoes and seed

Biotechnology can provide new crop varieties and tools for farmers, but the technology faces consumer resistance and regulatory hurdles. Abhaya Dandekar, professor of pomology at UC Davis, uses molecular genetics to study flavor, fruit quality and disease resistance in fruit crops such as apples, walnuts and citrus. Dandekar's lab was one of the first to grow fruit trees with novel genes. They are studying the relationship between genes and complex traits such as flavor, looking for new ways to improve crops and fight pests such as crown gall disease, and developing new tools for farmers. Eduardo Blumwald, professor of pomology, has developed tomato plants that can grow in soil damaged by salt, an increasing problem in many parts of the world including the Central Valley of California. But while genetically modified soybeans, maize and cotton are widely grown in the U.S., regulatory and marketing problems are preventing adoption of biotechnology for other crops such as lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes, according to Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center. Bradford is an expert in seed biology and the use of seed to deliver genetically modified crop plants.

Contacts: Abhaya Dandekar, Pomology, (530) 752-7784, amdandekar@ucdavis.edu; Eduardo Blumwald, Pomology, (530) 752-4640, eblumwald@ucdavis.edu; Kent Bradford, Vegetable Crops, (530) 752-6087, kjbradford@ucdavis.edu.

Rice genetics and genomics

Rice is one of the world's most important food crops. Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology, isolated the first gene conferring disease resistance in rice and can comment on possible applications of biotechnology to rice and other crops and the significance of sequencing the rice genome, completed in 2002. Contact: Pamela Ronald, Plant Pathology, (530) 752-1654, pcronald@ucdavis.edu.


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Last updated Aug. 18, 2008