UC Davis Awards Grants to Advance Innovative Solutions with Commercial Potential

Wheat plants photographed in Robbins Hall at UC Davis

Wheat plants photographed in Robbins Hall at UC Davis. UC Davis Professor Jorge Dubcovsky and Postdoctoral Researcher Josh Hegarty are collaborating with flour mills and artisan bakers to test and select a variety of Triticale, a hybrid that combines wheat and rye. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

DAVIS, Calif. — Seven scientists at the University of California, Davis, are receiving grants to advance research and innovations with commercial potential. The recipients are addressing an important range of challenges — from cancer to climate change — with unique solutions.

Now in its seventh year, the Science Translation and Innovative Research, or STAIR, grant program provides awards of up to $50,000 to campus innovators to enable demonstration of early proof-of-concept for technologies being developed at the university. A second program, Data, Informatics and Application Launch (DIAL), provides awards of up to $20,000 for innovations specifically geared toward data, information science or software.

“UC Davis is committed to seeing that innovations from the lab, clinic and greenhouse make their way to the marketplace so society can benefit from our discoveries,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research. “The funding and support from this grant program fill a critical gap, allowing researchers to explore and test the commercial potential of novel and bold ideas that otherwise may not have been possible.”

The programs are funded and managed by Venture Catalyst in the UC Davis Office of Research. Several campus and industry partners also joined this cycle to increase the funding, including BASF, Elanco Animal Health, the UC Davis School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Biological Sciences.

External review committees consisting of industry professionals, investors, and experienced entrepreneurs, assembled by Venture Catalyst, reviewed the proposals and selected the recipients of the awards.

In addition to receiving grants, recipients participate in a structured entrepreneurial training program, such as the Entrepreneurship Academy hosted by the UC Davis Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Awardees are also paired with experienced business mentors to provide guidance on commercial translation. Read more >

UC Davis Releases 5 New Wine Grape Varieties

Grape Vine

Plants Are Resistant to Deadly Pierce’s Disease


For the first time since the 1980s, University of California, Davis, researchers have released new varieties of wine grapes. The five new varieties, three red and two white, are highly resistant to Pierce’s disease, which costs California grape growers more than $100 million a year. The new, traditionally bred varieties also produce high-quality fruit and wine.

“People that have tasted the wine made from these varieties are extremely excited,” said Andrew Walker, geneticist and professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, who developed the new Pierce’s disease resistant varieties. “They are impressed that they’re resistant but also that they make good wine.”

Pierce’s disease a growing threat

Pierce’s disease is caused by a bacterium spread by a group of insects called sharpshooters. It causes grapevine leaves to yellow or “scorch” and drop from the vine. The grape clusters also dehydrate, and infected vines soon die. While the disease has been around since the beginning of wine grape production in California, concerns have escalated with the arrival of the nonnative glassy-winged sharpshooter, which has the potential to spread the disease more rapidly. Pierce’s disease occurs most often near rivers and creeks, and around urban and rural landscaping where sharpshooter populations reside.

Read more…

Grape Rootstocks Resistant to Nematodes Released for Commercialization in Europe

Grape Rootstocks Resistant to Nematodes Released for Commercialization in Europe

The University of California, Davis, and Global Plant Genetics, a European company that manages intellectual property for various crops, have entered into an agreement to commercialize and distribute two UC Davis-patented grape rootstocks in Europe. Both rootstocks, GRN1 and GRN3, are resistant to a number of nematodes, including root-knot, which are microscopic, unsegmented roundworms that feed on, and harm, the roots of grapevines.

Rupert Hargreaves inspecting grape rootstocks

Rupert Hargreaves, co-owner of Global Plant Genetics

Nematodes cause damage to plants by stunting root elongation, changing root growth patterns and removing nutrients. And since many countries around the world prohibit the use of soil sterilants to control them, the economic impact of damage from nematodes is growing.

Efforts to find nematode-resistant grape rootstocks began at UC Davis in 1993, when 75 crosses were made, producing 5,000 individual seedlings for assessment. Evaluation of the results of these crosses began in 1996, with 1,000 seedlings identified — from which the best 100 were advanced to test for nematode resistance. This work was undertaken by Andy Walker, grape breeder and professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology, and Howard Ferris, professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, both from UC Davis.

Walker and Ferris continued their testing and laboratory analysis, using soils with high known and quantifiable nematode infestations as well as plants in pots infected with nematodes. Tests were also undertaken, against a control variety, at temperatures of 30 degrees and higher, where root-knot nematode resistance often breaks down. Having narrowed down the group of seedlings to five selections, two were identified by UC Davis for commercialization in Europe — GRN1 and GRN3.

GRN1 was found to be the most nematode resistant of all the rootstocks tested. It offers resistance to root-knot, dagger, citrus, lesion and ring nematodes as well as phylloxera, a tiny aphidlike insect. This rootstock may be particularly beneficial to wine producers in areas where soil sterilization is no longer an option. GRN1 has a relatively deep rooting profile with moderate vigor and will likely suit warmer climates. It is potentially adaptable to all grape cultivars and has proven easy to graft assuming well matured cuttings are selected.

GRN3 has moderate to high vigor and is more likely to do well in lime-based soils. GRN3 is easy to graft and more adaptable to colder climates. It offers resistance to root-knot, dagger, citrus, lesion and phylloxera, but not ring nematodes.

“We are pleased to be working with Global Plant Genetics as our licensee in the EU to commercialize these rootstock varieties,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of research and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “The novel properties of the rootstocks developed by professors Walker and Ferris are expected to support the environmentally and economically sustainable production of grapes within the European context.”

Media Contacts

Rupert Hargreaves, Global Plant Genetics

AJ Cheline, UC Davis

Innovation that feeds the world

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field. Photo taken in 2010.

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field.

Jorge Dubcovsky, Ph.D., a worldrenowned plant geneticist who leads the UC Davis wheat breeding program, develops genetic resources for improving the yield, disease-resistance and nutritional value of wheat — one of the most widely grown cereal crops on the planet. Global demand for wheat continues to increase dramatically, up nearly 20% from just ten years ago (U.S. Wheat Associates Annual Report).

Wheat is a vital part of the farming economy in California, grown from the Imperial Valley in the south to the Klamath Basin in the north, and from the inland valleys to the coastal agricultural regions. Due to California’s large size and diverse climate, wheat can be planted for harvest in both the fall and spring seasons, depending on the region. Dubcovsky’s ground-breaking work has enabled researchers and breeders around the world to accelerate the development of more nutritious and better-adapted wheat varieties.

Dubcovsky and his team have released eleven distinct UC wheat varieties, each protected by InnovationAccess under U.S. Plant Variety Protection, and licensed to 30 commercial entities.

Consistent with the land-grant mission of UC Davis, wheat varieties released out of Dubcovsky’s breeding program are licensed only to the California wheat industry during the first three years following release, effectively providing an economic advantage for the state. InnovationAccess works closely with the California Wheat Commission in setting up licensing arrangements. After this initial three-year period, licensing is opened to other geographical areas beyond California.

This year, Dubcovsky’s lab released the ‘Yurok’ wheat variety (UC Case 2016-066), a Dry wheat waves in the sun on Friday May 22, 2015 at UC Davis. This wheat is part of wheat geneticist and UC Davis plant science professor Jorge Dubcovsky's wheat research.semi-dwarf Hard Red Spring variety, which offers a high-yielding plant and a resulting grain with high protein content and excellent bread-making quality. This variety is resistant to current races of stripe rust disease and is well adapted to the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys in California.