Scientists in La Jolla to use smartphones for monitoring air pollution


Computer scientists in the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering have built a small fleet of portable pollution sensors that allow users to monitor air quality on a smartphone. The sensors could be particularly useful to people suffering from chronic conditions, such as asthma, who need to avoid exposure to pollutants.

CitiSense sensors detect the most common pollutants emitted by cars and trucks: ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. The user interface displays a smartphone reading by using a color-coded scale based on

the EPA’s air quality ratings

, from green (good) to purple (hazardous). The ultimate goal of CitiSense is to build and deploy a wireless network in which hundreds of small environmental sensors carried by the public relay via cell phones information to central computers where it will be analyzed and delivered to individuals, public health agencies, and the community at large.

More information at

Expanded environments produce biofuels

UC San Diego biologists have demonstrated that marine algae are just as capable as fresh-water algae in producing biofuels. Scientists genetically engineered marine algae to produce five different kinds of industrially important enzymes and say the same process they used could be employed to enhance the yield of petroleum-like compounds from these salt-water algae.

The ability to genetically transform marine algae into a biofuel crop means the types of environments can be expanded in which algae can be conceivably grown for biofuels. The UCSD study suggests that algal biofuels can be produced in the ocean or in the brackish water of tidelands or even on agricultural land on which crops can no longer be grown because of high salt content in the soil. In contrast, corn, which is currently used to produce ethanol biofuel, requires prime farmland and lots of fresh water.

The achievement is detailed in the journal Algal Research. News release at

Cancer’s ability to spread

In 90 percent of cancer deaths, it is the spread of cancer (metastasis) that ultimately kills the patient by impacting more tissues and functions until the body fails. Ten years ago, a hypothesis arose that metastasis exploits a developmental process known as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) seen in developing embryos that transforms stationary cells into mobile cells able to migrate to new locations and create new types of tissue and organs.

If cancer cells had the ability to hijack EMT, they could detach from primary tumors, enter the bloodstream, and seed new tumors elsewhere. That said, the hypothesis was controversial because researchers haven’t in a decade been able to find supporting experimental evidence of this ability by cancer cells. That is, until now.

A team of scientists, led by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, used a mouse model for carcinoma to show that activation of an EMT-inducing gene (called Twist1) is sufficient to turn “ON” the EMT switch promoting carcinoma cells to circulate in blood. Equally importantly, the researchers found that turning “OFF” the EMT switch at distant sites is essential for tumor cells to proliferate and form metastases.

Other collaborators in the study are from The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (La Jolla) and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (Cambridge, Mass.). Findings appear in the journal Cancer Cell. News release at

— Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.