Learning From Jellyfish and Ancient Cholesterol

David Gold sits at round table being interviewed by Chancellor Gary S. May
David Gold, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, talks with Chancellor Gary S. May for an episode of Face to Face With Chancellor May. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

A jellyfish might seem very different from a person, but studying the way the undersea creatures can heal themselves may eventually be applicable to humans, this month’s guest on Face to Face With Chancellor May said.

Purple graphic with text "Face to Face with Chancellor May"

“At the genetic level, they truly aren't that different,” David Gold, an assistant professor of geobiology and paleobiology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said of jellyfish and humans. “And so understanding which genes are allowing them to reverse their life cycle, postpone aging, deal with the cellular damage that occurs — those might be things that we can apply to ourselves as well.

Gold sat down with Chancellor Gary S. May to discuss his research, how he first got interested in science, the music currently on his playlist and more.

The pair also discussed another of Gold’s current projects, which uses cholesterol molecules and other items preserved in ancient rocks to determine what sorts of animals were once alive to deposit those chemicals.

Roaring into science

A 2021 recipient of a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, Gold said he first got interested in science the way many other kids do.

“I was one of those kids who loved dinosaurs,” he said. “That's kind of where I began. … And that's sort of where I think my blend of thinking about deep history, thinking about the fossil record, but also thinking about life and living organisms around us.

The two also discussed Gold’s favorite place on campus to take his 3-year-old, and Gold asked Chancellor May how the university can better support parents of young kids, along with undocumented students. Hear their full conversation in the video above.

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Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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