UCD vs. UCD Biochemistry Games Set--Davis and Dublin

Jan 26, 2021

UCD vs. UCD Biochemistry Games Set--Davis and Dublin

Jan 26, 2021

What a novel idea! UCD vs. UCD!

One is the University of California, Davis, or UCD. The other: University College Dublin, or UCD.

Just add "UCD vs. UCD Biochemistry Games," and you get a friendly global rivalry between undergraduate biochemistry students at the two universities.

That's what's coming soon in an event planned by organizer Walter Leal, a UC Davis distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology). 

"Both UC Davis and UC Dublin are global research universities," said Leal. "The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered our efforts to exchange students. Meanwhile, remote learning is causing ZOOM fatigue and impairing student's ability to focus. We hope that this educational activity will promote physically distant, socially close interactions between undergraduate students and further our institutions' ties.”

Both universities maintain vibrant research programs, Leal said.  More than 39,000 students attend UC Davis, a public land-grant research university and a member of the Association of American Universities. More than 33,000 attend UC Dublin, a member institution of the National University of Ireland, and Ireland's largest university.

To determine the UC Davis participants, The Big Game will be preceded by a preliminary game, the Eric Conn Biochemistry Quizzes, set for 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20. This memorializes noted plant biochemist Eric Conn (1923-2017), whose tenure at UC Davis spanned 43 years. He co-founded with Paul Stumpf (1919-2007) the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, which evolved into the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

“The final Games will focus on protein structures, including two proteins closely related to SARSCoV-2 inflicted COVID-19 disease,” Leal said. “Specifically, students will be asked questions about the structures of human hemoglobin--the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues (and return carbon dioxide) and the virus' spike protein-- that binds to a human receptor, known as ACE2, and starts the process of invading human cells.” The Eric Conn Quizzes will cover other topics of fundamental biochemistry. 

Leal said that one of the most notorious presentations of COVID-19 is hypoxia (insufficient oxygen in the blood). “While the virus replicates and the spike proteins trigger invasion to other cells, hemoglobin cannot capture enough oxygen because the lungs' alveoli are filled with the mucus derived from the viral infection.”

UC Davis students (prospective participants) and the public can register at https://tinyurl.com/y33eyc4v. Up to 500 members of the public can register. The number of UC Davis students selected to compete is undetermined, depending on responses from UC Dublin, Leal said. “It may be between 10 and 15 students on each team.”

Two Department of Molecular and Cell Biology emeriti professors Charles Gasser and National Academy of Sciences member J. Clark Lagarias, will ask questions and serve as judges for both the preliminary game and the final game. Two UC Dublin judges also will be selected. Prizes are pending. 

Let the Games Begin!

Eric Conn
The event promises to be an educational and entertaining activity but at the same time honoring Conn, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and world-renowned in his field for his contributions to the understanding of plant metabolism.

Described as an excellent teacher and researcher, Conn received the UC Davis Academic Senate's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1974 and the Academic Senate's highest honor, the Faculty Research Lecturer Award, in 1977. He won the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement in 1989.

“He is remembered as an architect and advocate of biological sciences programs at UC Davis whose leadership helped establish the academic spirit of the College of Biological Sciences as it exists today,” according to a Sept. 21, 2017 article on the College of Biological Sciences website.

Born in Berthoud, Colo., the youngest of four sons, Eric moved with his family in the early 1930s to Bellaire, Kan.  He considered himself a “child of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.” Eric received a four-year scholarship to the University of Colorado, earning his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1944. He worked as an inorganic chemist with the Manhattan Project through the remainder of World War II, first as a citizen and then as a private with the U.S. Army.

Conn received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chicago in 1948 and served as a postdoctoral fellow there for two years before joining the faculty of UC Berkeley in 1950. Conn joined the UC Davis faculty in 1958, founding the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics with UC Davis colleague Paul Stumpf (1919-2007). The department they founded evolved into the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Conn organized the university's introductory course in biochemistry in 1959 and taught it until his retirement in 1993. The course became a requirement for numerous undergraduate majors. Conn was the third recipient of the UC Davis Prize for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement (https://youtu.be/TdwJkcjQvbw

Let the Games begin!