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Innovation Award for Amoeba ‘Cell Nibbling’

By Andy Fell on April 15, 2019 in University

Katherine Ralston, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences, is the recipient of the UC Davis Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation for 2019. 

The one-time award of $40,000 will support Ralston’s research into the recently discovered process of trogocytosis, in which cells bite pieces off each other. 

Ralston initially discovered trogocytosis, or “cell nibbling,” in the single-cell gut parasite Entamoeba histolytica as a postdoc at the University of Virginia and has continued to work on it since joining UC Davis in 2014. Entamoeba apparently uses trogocytosis to attack and kill human cells, causing diarrhea and ulceration. 

“It’s truly horrifying,” said Mark Winey, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. “Invading microbial pathogens will bite off and ingest parts of our cells to kill them. This a fundamental means of attack recently discovered by Katy Ralston. Her work is opening up new and exciting directions in host pathogen research, which will be supported by this well-deserved award.”

This harmful process turns out to be very similar to a method cells of the immune system use to exchange material. It may also play a role in some cancers. 

Ralston earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in 2001 and a Ph.D. from UCLA. In 2016 she received a Pew Scholarship in Biomedical Sciences from the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

The Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation is now in its third year, funded by anonymous donors and designated for nontenured, ladder-track faculty members who exhibit great promise as a creator and innovator in their research.

Media contact(s)

Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533,