How clean is your spinach?

Nichola Kinsinger in a lab holding spinach.

Nichola M. Kinsinger

Ever wonder what the words triple-washed or pre-washed on a bag of baby spinach mean?

Not much, according to engineers at the University of California, Riverside. They discovered that small peaks and valleys in baby spinach leaves could be a key reason why there have been numerous bacterial outbreaks involving leafy green vegetables.

Currently, disinfectant is put into the rinse water, and not specifically applied to the leaf surface. The researchers in the Bourns College of Engineering found that because of the varied topography of the spinach leaf nearly 15 percent of the leaf surface may reach concentrations as low as 1,000 times that of the bleach disinfectant being used to rinse it.

As a result, as the leaves move through the processing facility after being rinsed the bacteria may continue to live, grow, spread, and contaminate other leaves and surfaces within the facility.
Following rinsing under the low bleach condition, upwards of 90 percent of adhered bacteria were observed to remain attached to and survive on the leaf surface.

“In a sense the leaf is protecting the bacteria and allowing it to spread,” said Nichola M. Kinsinger, a post-doctoral researcher working with Sharon Walker, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering. Read more about their research here.

Changing environments can fuel rapid evolution, study finds

David Reznick

David Reznick

Does an individual’s response to environmental conditions within its lifetime predict evolutionary changes in future generations? The answer to this long-standing question is yes — but not for the reason many scientists have historically assumed, according to a recent study by a research team that includes UC Riverside evolutionary biologist David Reznick.

The researchers transplanted guppies from waters rife with natural predators to streams with few enemies. Previous research had shown guppies could rapidly evolve genetically based differences in their appearance, behavior and physiology to adapt to the presence or absence of predators. The new research demonstrates that how guppies initially respond to a new environment influences which set of genes evolve first.

The results have implications for not only predicting how plants and animals might respond to changing environmental conditions such as those associated with climate change, emerging diseases and habitat modification, but also for how bacteria or pathogens will respond to an antibiotic or other drug.

 The results, which were recently published in the journal Nature, show that guppies from the transplanted population initially respond to a lack of predators with coping mechanisms that include changes in the expression of genes in the brain; some of the changes were beneficial, while others were disadvantageous. Read more about the study here.

UC Startup Competition: Compete for $300,000 in Awards

Researchers in the life sciences are invited to apply for the new UC-wide startup competition launched by the UC Office of the President. Application deadline is Sept. 25, 2015.

The first primeUC event, focusing on identifying and fostering life science startups emerging from the 10 UC campuses and 3 national labs, will be held July-December 2015. Any startup that has a UC alum founder (students or staff), faculty advisor, or is resident in a UC incubator can apply, as long as he or she has not raised more than $1M in private capital (excluding grants).

An application process will lead to an event on Dec. 2, 2015, where 20 finalists will be invited to a day-long program to pitch their company and network with active seed investors and partners. The day will culminate in an announcement of the winners of a $150K grant prize and three $50K runner-up awards across the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and consumer health sectors. Prizes are no-strings-attached awards sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Life science researchers can have their questions answered by contacting Rebeccah Goldware at (951) 827-6411 and

Grant will fund research into how trees respond to drought

Louis Santiago

Louis Santiago

With California is in its fourth year of drought, mass mortality of trees and shrubs is happening more quickly than researchers can quantify. Rapid changes in vegetation cover are already leading to loss of biodiversity, opportunities for invasive species, and novel ecosystems with entirely new plant communities.

Louis Santiago, an associate professor of botany and plant sciences, has received a grant of $180,000 for two years from the National Science Foundation to study how trees and shrubs respond to extreme drought.

“The current California drought represents the driest three-year record in the state’s history,” he said. “We know that many trees and shrubs have died during this extended drought. Unfortunately, we still cannot predict which plant species will suffer most mortality and which species are likely to survive during the next extreme drought. It is now urgent that we link the identity of survivors with physiological mechanisms, such as deep roots or specialized leaf and wood types, so that in future droughts, we can predict which plants will live and which ones will die.”

Santiago believes that deep roots are the key. Read more here

UCR Professor Helps Discover New Star-Studded Galaxies

Gillian Wilson

Gillian Wilson

An international team of astronomers has discovered a distant massive galaxy cluster with a core bursting with new stars.

The discovery, made with the help of W. M. Keck Observatory’s MOSFIRE instrument, is the first to show that gigantic galaxies at the centers of massive clusters can grow significantly by feeding off gas stolen from other galaxies.

“It is very exciting to have discovered such an interesting object,” said Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Riverside and a member of the research team. “Understanding its nature proved to be a real scientific challenge which required the combined efforts of an international team of astronomers and many of the world’s best telescopes to solve.”

Clusters of galaxies are rare regions of the universe consisting of hundreds of galaxies containing trillions of stars, plus hot gas and mysterious dark matter. The galaxies at the centers of clusters, called Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs), are the most massive galaxies in the universe. How they become so huge is not well understood.

The study appears in The Astrophysical Journal. Click here to find out more.

Gay Sex Is Nothing New for Straight White Men

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

Straight white men have engaged in gay sex for centuries, and not just in circumstances that can be explained away as momentary aberrations, says Jane Ward, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California, Riverside.

In her new book, “Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men” (New York University Press, July 2015), Ward contends that homosexual contact between straight white men is ubiquitous and is a way of affirming masculinity and racial identity.

“When straight white men approach homosexual sex in the ‘right’ way – when they make a show of enduring it, imposing it, and repudiating it – doing so functions to bolster not only their heterosexuality, but also their masculinity and whiteness,” she writes.

Find out more here.

Witnessing brutality, and its impact on ethnomusicology


Deborah Wong

Ethnomusicologist Deborah Wong was a plenary speaker at a historic conference organized by the International Council for Traditional Music and the Society for Ethnomusicology, titled Transforming Ethnomusicological Praxis through Activism and Community Engagement, held Sept. 13-16, 2015 at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Her presentation was titled “Witnessing: A Methodology.”

She addressed spectacular moments of witnessing over the last year that dominated media coverage focused on police brutality, from Ferguson and beyond. She discussed the Riverside Police Department use of digital audio recorders and critiqued the role of witnesses in a recording of an officer-involved death on University Avenue in 2006.

Wong said her talk offered a “critical genealogy of witnessing and focused on acts of sonic witness that radically disrupt the ethnographic impulse toward collecting, taking, owning, and having, and thus offer a way to decolonize ethnography and ethnomusicology.”

The conference was attended by about a hundred ethnomusicologists and was the first time these two international scholarly societies had collaborated.

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