News in Brief for the week of May 2, 2017

Local News

UCR researchers use CRISPR technology to make new red-eyed wasps

By: Jaya Vengadesan, Staff Writer

UCR researchers have created wasps with red eyes, a new phenotype that has never been expressed in the species before. Working under Assistant Professor of Entomology Omar Akbari, this group of researchers utilized clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technology, a relatively new piece of biomedical instrumentation, to find and alter a specific gene in the wasps that previously determined eye color.

CRISPR injects CAS9, an enzyme that cleaves the foreign DNA where the targeted gene is located, in vivo and guides an RNA strand to attach onto the spliced DNA strand. CAS9 locates and disables the targeted gene, allowing researchers to now edit the gene. This technology has been used on animals, vegetables and insects, but never on something as small as a wasp.

Ming Li, a postdoctoral student at UCR and the project’s lead researcher, explained how the team’s purpose behind this project was to gather data that would further provide evidence on the ability to use CRISPR on extremely small insects by testing it on wasps.

Li hopes to build on these recent findings to further his research on complicated forms of targeted genome editing to manipulate gene function. His future project will apply CRISPR “on male mosquitoes and other male wasps to target a specific reproductive gene that allows them to kill only female embryos and keep the males,” for a real-world application to reduce mosquito related diseases in developing countries concluded Li.

Title: UCR researchers turn waste glass to ion batteries

By: Ixia Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

UCR Professor of Electrical Engineering Mihri Ozkan and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cengiz Ozkan have recently discovered a way to turn used waste glass bottles into high-performance lithium batteries with the potential to store four times the amount of energy as a typical battery of this type.

By using this kind of battery in everyday electronic items such as electric vehicles, mobile phones and laptops, these items will be able to hold more power with fewer charges.

This finding is part of a series of projects that the research team is working on in creating environmentally sustainable lithium battery anodes. With billions of glass bottles put to waste each year, the team questioned whether they could use the silicon dioxide found in these items and transform them into high-purity silicon nanoparticles that can be used in lithium batteries.

In the past, silicon anodes have proven to be difficult when used to create energy, although they are able to store up to 10 times more energy than conventional graphite anodes. By downsizing the amount of silicon and using a low-cost chemical process that stabilizes the silicon, the team was able to create this higher storage lithium battery.

$250,000 awarded to UCR professor for aging with HIV research

By: Jaya Vengadesan, Staff Writer

Assistant Professor in the Center for Healthy Communities Department of Social Medicine and Population health, Brandon Brown, received a $250,000 grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) Engagement Award program. The funding will be utilized to conduct research on aging HIV patients through Brown’s research project called, “The Coachella Valley Community Research Initiative for Healthy Aging with HIV.”

Brown, whose background includes previous HIV research in Brazil, explained the specifications of his award during an interview with the Highlander. The Engagement Award program requires their research projects “to engage the PCORI community, specifically the five major stakeholders: HIV-positive patients, their caregivers, their providers, community-based organizations and academics,” said Brown.

Brown also mentioned that the Coachella Valley, specifically Palm Springs, “is a retirement community with the nation’s highest prevalence of HIV-positive gay men over age 50.” The members of this community are a part of the Coachella Valley Community Research Initiative, which is the main partner organization of his project. By collaborating with such stakeholders, he said the project will work with clinical and socio-behavioral researchers to focus on what the patients and other members of the Coachella Valley community, choose as the top priority of HIV and age-related topics.

National News

Trump’s budget cuts funding and lowers taxes: UCR professor speaks on its significance

By: Evan Ismail, Senior Staff Writer

President Donald J. Trump proposed his first congressional budget on Friday, March 17, with Friday, April 28 resulting in an emergency spending measure that will fund the government for the rest of the week, until Friday, May 5. On Sunday, April 30, a bipartisan agreement was made to fund the government through September.

The budget has been plagued by obstacles for Trump as he first insisted on including in the budget funding for the construction of a wall along the United States-Mexico border, later dropping that demand on Saturday, April 25 amidst heavy opposition.

Trump’s budget cuts the funds for several governmental and non-governmental organizations. Among those organizations, is the Environmental Protection Agency whose budget will be slashed by 31 percent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development which will be cut by 13.2 percent and eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the parent company of PBS, among others.

In an interview with Matthew C. Mahutga, a sociology professor at UC Riverside, he explained that Trump’s harsh budget cuts were only adjustments of the discretionary portion of the budget, about 34 percent of the entire budget, and were “deficit neutral.” This means, according to Mahutga, that Trump is taking money from other departments and transferring that to the military instead.

Editor’s Note: The interview with Mahutga occurred before the agreement to fund the government was reached on April 30.

Global March for Science takes stance against potentially detrimental policy in Washington

By: Evan Ismail, Senior Staff Writer

On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, thousands of people marched in cities across the United States to protest recent policies by the Trump administration that the protesters consider a disregard for evidential science by leaders in Washington, D.C.

Protests were not only held in the United States but also around the world in cities like Sydney, Berlin, Rome and even at the German research station Neumayer Station in Antarctica. A demonstration also occurred in Riverside where hundreds of people gathered at 9 a.m. at the Riverside County Superior Court building, walked in a mile loop and ended at Riverside City Hall.

An Earth Day celebration then commenced on Watkins Lawn at UC Riverside from 1-7 p.m. and was co-sponsored by UCR’s Graduate Sustainability Network.

International News

Tensions increase in Korean Peninsula after missile tests, international community responds

By: Evan Ismail, Senior Staff Writer

North Korea, the isolated communist nation on the Korean Peninsula, has tested two missiles: One, on Tuesday, April 18 after a military parade celebrating the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and the second on Friday, April 28, with both failing upon launch and never leaving North Korean territory.

North Korea’s testing of a nuclear weapon heightened tensions after some experts, as reported by The New York Times, revealed the regime could build a nuclear weapon every six to seven weeks. North Korea has threatened to test another nuclear warhead which would be its sixth blast in 11 years, with the last test being in September of 2016, yielding a Hiroshima-sized explosion. This concern was exemplified with the deployment of a fleet of U.S. warships led by the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson on April 18 which holds anti-ballistic missile capabilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for tougher sanctions against the regime, even punishing third party entities that continue to cooperate with the North Korean government and reinforced his position that North Korea immediately dismantle their nuclear arsenal. China has called for a more neutral position, asking the U.S. to halt their military buildup in South Korea in exchange for the North halting weapons tests.

Kaylla Baek, a third-year business major at UCR, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea, explained her fear that Kim will use his weapons to “prove to the rest of the world that they have power.” Baek continued, “I don’t want to doubt his power over nuclear weapons because that is not something to take lightly … the facade,” speaking of Kim’s weapons, “proves how poorly managed the government (of North Korea) is.”

First round of French presidential elections conclude

By: Nicholas Frakes, Staff Writer

On Sunday, April 23, France held the first of two rounds of elections to determine their next president. The first round is meant to determine the primary two candidates to be voted upon in May.

According to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, translated from French to English for comprehension, the first round of elections concluded with center-left “En Marche!” candidate Emmanuel Macron receiving 24 percent of the votes while his opponent, far-right, and former head of the National Front party, candidate Marine Le Pen, received 21.3 percent of the vote. The runner-up in the first round was former French Prime Minister and Republican candidate Francois Fillion, who received 20 percent of the vote. Between 22 and 23 percent of the eligible voters in France abstained in this round of voting.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Wednesday, April 27, via Facebook, that he will be voting for Macron in the second round of elections. Sarkozy also described Le Pen as being a grave threat to France. This came despite Sarkozy wanting to “retire from a politically active life” after not receiving the conservative nomination for president in November 2016.

The final round of the elections is set to take place on Sunday, May 7.

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