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Autism Expert Elected to American Association for the Advancement of Science

December 17, 2009

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Editor's Note: David G. Amaral co-directs the School of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Children's Environmental Health
University of California, Davis
December 17, 2009


Eight UC Davis faculty members are among 531 new fellows elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science this year for their efforts to advance science or its applications. The new fellows will be presented with a certificate and rosette pin on Saturday, Feb. 20, during the society's annual meeting in San Diego.

Here are the new AAAS fellows from UC Davis:

Professor David G. Amaral holds the Beneto Foundation Chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and at the Center for Neuroscience. Amaral was selected for his contributions to the neuroscience of memory, emotion and behavior, and for his leadership in translating neuroscience and advancing understanding and treatment for autism spectrum disorders. His research deals with the neurobiology of primate social behavior, the development and neuroanatomical organization of the primate and human amygdala, and hippocampal formation. He also has carried out a longstanding program designed to understand the organization of brain regions involved in memory. His research now also includes postmortem studies of the autistic brain, magnetic resonance imaging studies  of children with autism spectrum disorders, and developing models of autism in nonhuman primates. As research director at the UC Davis MIND Institute, he leads a comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis  of children with autism called the Autism Phenome Project, which seeks to define biomedical characteristics of different types of autism.

Peggy Farnham, professor of pharmacology and associate director of the UC Davis Genome Center, was elected for "distinguished contributions to the field of biology, particularly for genome-wide characterization of transcription factor binding sites and chromatin modifications." Farnham's laboratory searches for the control points in the genome -- short pieces of DNA that are responsible for activating or switching off other  genes. Sometimes those switches are located close to the gene they control, and sometimes far away. Farnham is taking part in a large collaboration funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute to map such functional sites in the genome. The collaboration is known as the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or ENCODE.

Professor Katherine Ferrara oversaw the establishment of the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering as its founding chair. The department has grown from six faculty in July 2001 to 24 today, with major strengths in biomedical imaging, bioinformatics, cellular and molecular systems and musculoskeletal biomechanics. Ferrara's own research is in the application of imaging techniques in medicine. As well as pushing the boundaries of imaging, her laboratory is developing ways to use ultrasound and radiofrequency energy to steer doses of drugs contained in nanocapsules to specific sites in the body, for example to a tumor, and then release them in a precise fashion.

Richard Karban, professor in the Department of Entomology and in the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, studies population regulation of animal species and the interactions between plant-eating insects and the plants on which they depend. His current research focuses on how sagebrush emits volatile chemicals when some of its branches are damaged. These chemical cues cause many changes in neighboring plants, some of which make the nearby undamaged plants better able to defend themselves against their plant-munching enemies. Karban also has been monitoring populations of wooly bear caterpillars at Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, for 25 years, and is working to better understand the factors that impact the abundance and distribution of the caterpillars in that area. He teaches courses in field and community ecology.

Professor of chemistry Susan Kauzlarich is interested in problems that overlap physics, chemistry, biochemistry and engineering, with an emphasis on designing and making new compounds. Since 1992, her laboratory has worked on nanomaterials, compounds with crystal structure at a very small scale that may have properties different from those of bulk materials. Kauzlarich's citation highlighted her discovery of  unprecedented magnetic behavior in Zintl-type compounds, a group of chemical compounds named after German chemist Eduard Zintl, some of which are semiconductors. Kauzlarich was also honored for her  leading role in mentoring young scientists, especially from underrepresented backgrounds. In 1988, with geology professor Peter Schiffmann, she established Project SEED on the UC Davis campus. The SEED program enables high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds to spend a summer doing hands-on research on a university campus, and get on a track to college. Kauzlarich also regularly has undergraduate students and high school students working in her lab.

Jay Rosenheim, professor of entomology and a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, seeks to better understand interactions between insects and plants, predators and their prey, as well as  parasites and the plants on which they feed. His current studies include research on how organisms evolve to maximize their reproduction despite limiting environmental factors. He also is studying how the vast  biological data now available can be tapped to address important problems in agricultural insect ecology. His third area of research aims to develop a sound understanding of how communities of insects, spiders, crustaceans and other arthropods function, with a special emphasis on the role of predators in those communities. He teaches courses on introductory biology and population biology.

John R. Roth, distinguished professor in the Department of Microbiology, was honored for "important and fundamental contributions to the understanding of bacterial genetics and metabolism." Roth's laboratory  uses Salmonella bacteria as a model to explore the basic genetics and biochemistry of all bacteria, including how bacteria evolve and adapt to their environment. Roth is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Valerie Williamson, Department of Nematology, is an expert on nematodes, or roundworms, which are found in virtually every environment on earth. She also is an authority on the molecular and genetic basis of pest-resistance in crop plants. Her current research is focused on root-knot nematodes, a group of parasitic nematodes that live in the soil and cause plants to form galls or giant cells on their roots, resulting in significant crop damage. In 2008, Williamson and a team of researchers completed the genome sequence and genetic map for the tiny northern root-knot nematode, one of the world's most common  and destructive plant parasites and a model species for research on plant-parasitic nematodes. She teaches courses on molecular biology laboratory techniques and on agricultural biotechnology.

The AAAS, founded in 1848, is the world's largest general scientific society. Its mission is to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and  more.

Media contact(s):
* Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-4533,