By Date

Study explores impact of cannabis expansion on Western wildlife

College of Natural Resources - Fri, 10/23/2020 - 13:10

In the midst of a new “green rush” of cannabis production in the United States, Western states in particular are grappling with what this rapidly-expanding industry may mean for the environment. Long before statewide legalizations went into effect, cannabis has traditionally been farmed in rural, biodiverse regions. The expansion since legalization raises concerns that a booming industry could negatively impact local wildlife in these areas.

Cannabis farm, with plants in separated beds.

Cannabis is traditionally grown in rural, biodiverse regions such as the farm pictured here. Photo by Phoebe Parker-Shames.

Many small-scale farmers market their products and farming operations as eco-friendly. However, policymakers, environmental managers, farmers, and the public lack sufficient data examining the status of wildlife on and surrounding cannabis farms. Such data could help guide conservation and environmental recommendations for an emerging industry.

New research published in the California Fish and Wildlife Journal today, led by scientists in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), tackles this gap by surveying species on and surrounding small-scale cannabis farms. It is one of the first known ecological studies conducted on active, private-land cannabis farms.

“It’s a really critical first step, so we can start to get a sense of what these farms are like, and what sort of opportunities there might be for wildlife to coexist with this rapid land use change,” said Phoebe Parker-Shames, lead author and PhD candidate in ESPM.

Nighttime image of a fox on a farm.

Wildlife visit cannabis farms at all times of the day. Photo by Phoebe Parker-Shames.

Partnering with farmers and other land owners, the researchers placed wildlife monitoring cameras on small-scale cannabis farms and in surrounding areas in 2018 and 2019. The researchers found that, despite hosting a diverse range of wildlife, the farms were more tolerable to some species than others—for instance, small and domestic animals used the farms at higher rates while most predators became scarcer. In addition, space-use modelling demonstrated that a small selection of species, like black-tailed deer and gray foxes, may avoid cannabis farms all together. The results suggest that cannabis farms could have important ramifications for wildlife behavior and access to habitat.

Previous research on cannabis and wildlife have focused on examining the impact of illegal farming operations, or “trespass grows”, on federal or state land.  Whereas trespass sites have been implicated in widespread wildlife poisoning and poaching, the small-scale farms included in this study had an ecological footprint similar to that of other types of rural development, such as housing in wildland interfaces or subsistence agriculture. The similarities may help provide insights from other studies on rural land use change, informing the development of environmental mitigation strategies for cannabis.

“To me, these results really highlight that trespass grows and small-scale farms, regardless of legal status, operate very differently, and have very different impacts on local wildlife,” explains Parker-Shames. “While this doesn’t mean that small farms can’t have impacts on local wildlife, those impacts are at least a bit more predictable. It gives me hope that these small farms can find a way to manage for conservation needs.”

Senior author and ESPM professor Justin Brashares added, “Legalization moved so quickly in California that regulatory agencies had to enact policy without the benefit of science to inform their environmental protections; we hope this work and other current collaborative efforts help address this gap.”

Additional authors on the study were ESPM PhD candidate Wenjing Xu and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Environmental Scientist Dr. Lindsey Rich. The research is one of many efforts from UC Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center to promote interdisciplinary scholarship on the environmental and social dimensions of cannabis production.

Image:  Rabbit looking at a field. Date:  Friday, October 23, 2020 - 12:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, October 23, 2020 - 12:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

IB participates in UC Berkeley Graduate Diversity Admissions Fair

Department of Integrative Biology - Thu, 10/22/2020 - 23:28

Watch the video of our Zoom info session, featuring IB graduate student Ixchel Gonzalez Ramirez, IB faculty Rauri C.K. Bowie and José Pablo Vázquez-Medina, and IB graduate student services advisor, Monica Albe. Recorded on October 22, 2020.


Categories: Science News

Protect the Antarctic Peninsula — before it’s too late

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 10/21/2020 - 14:42
Image:  Researchers with penguins in Antarctica, with a boat in the background. Date:  Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 14:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 14:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

Active volcanoes feed Io’s sulfurous atmosphere

UC Berkeley Science News - Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:00
Fumes from more than 400 volcanoes contribute much of the poisonous sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of Jupiter's hellish moon Io
Categories: Science News

Student Spotlight: Aileen Lavelle

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 10/21/2020 - 01:00
Turtle swimming [image caption]

This sea turtle monitoring, research or rescue was conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028. Photo by Aileen Lavelle.

Anjika Pai Fourth year, Environmental Sciences major

Aileen Lavelle, an undergraduate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, has always loved studying wildlife. Before coming to Berkeley, Lavelle volunteered at the Philadelphia Zoo, where she first discovered her interest in turtle conservation. This past summer, Lavelle worked—under socially-distanced conditions—at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Longboat Key, Florida. In this month’s Student Spotlight, Lavelle speaks about her experience visiting Berkeley for the first time, studying abroad in Australia, and being a part of the Peer Advising Leadership Program.

Aileen Lavelle holding a red salamander. [image caption]

Photo courtesy of Aileen Lavelle.

1. What first sparked your interest in herpetology research and education? 

My interest in wildlife conservation began during my time volunteering at the Philadelphia Zoo and Elmwood Park Zoos. I started as a public programming volunteer in high school and then later worked with zookeepers on the KidZooU Program in my junior and senior year. One keeper in that program was especially influential in kindling my passion for poison dart frog habitat and species preservation. 

The people in my program shared a common interest in conservation biology, offering a community of like-minded environmentalist peers. Outside of our volunteer hours, we went on day trips to local environmental organizations to explore other fields. For instance, we visited the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey several times to observe and assist the Institute's conservation work with Diamondback Terrapins, a turtle species. While aiding with fence maintenance to prevent turtles from entering the highway, I fell in love with the organization’s work and eventually completed my own research on mapping Diamondback Terrapin behavior through the Coastal Conservation Research program at the Wetlands Institute. 

Outside of volunteering at the two zoos, I was a part of my high school’s Science Olympiad team. I focused on ecology, geology and astronomy, but I knew I wanted to study environmental science in college.

2. Describe your position as a herpetology curatorial assistant at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. How has this work enriched your experience at Rausser College? 

I began working for the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) during my sophomore year. Using AmphibiaWeb, a website containing taxonomic information for every recognized species of amphibian globally, I mapped habitat ranges and wrote accounts of newly discovered species. The position got me hooked on herpetology, and the work was the perfect combination of public education and conservation.

Later, I transitioned to a herpetology curatorial position at MVZ. Working under Dr. Carol Spencer, I organize and conduct upkeep of the herpetology collection. I can also apply my taxonomic knowledge from courses I have taken at Rausser College, aiding the museum in making acquisitions and loans of specimens to other academic institutions. During a normal semester, I am also a student in the prep lab class, where I learn how to prepare museum skeletons and preserve animal specimens. Through my three semesters in the prep lab, I have had the great opportunity to learn about our specimens and how the collection is used for research.

My experience at MVZ has been pivotal in my academic career. This year, under Spencer’s  supervision, I will conduct my senior thesis on heat mapping of light and predator interference on Loggerhead sea turtles on Longboat Key, Florida, drawing upon the skills and passions I have gained from the MVZ.

Aileen Lavelle holding a turtle. [image caption]

This sea turtle monitoring, research or rescue was conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028. Photo courtesy of Aileen Lavelle.

3. What did you study in Australia for your semester program?

I completed the Marine Biology and Terrestrial Ecology program through the University of Queensland during my junior year. It was a highlight of my time here at Berkeley as I made great friends, explored the Australian bush, and saw my first nesting sea turtle! Since my program was conducted through the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP), there were students from other UC schools. Now, in addition to my many new eco-conscious Berkeley friends, I have eco-conscious friends spread throughout California and the world. 

I lived with an Australian host mother who encouraged me to explore the world and to venture out of my comfort zone. Outside of our time with our host family and in the classroom, we took many immersive field trips. We would hike upwards of twelve miles a day and complete field work at the Carnarvon Gorge and Lamington National Parks for our terrestrial ecology course. For marine biology, we conducted independent field research at Moreton Bay and Heron Island Research Stations, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef--one of the only areas of the Great Barrier Reef that is not suffering from significant coral bleaching, which is caused by increasing global temperatures. It was so incredible to be able to see these ecosystems that I have read about and seen in nature documentaries, as well as to better understand the urgency of fighting climate change.

4. Can you describe your internship position at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium?

This summer I was an intern with the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program in Longboat Key, Florida. More than ninety percent of sea turtle nests in the United States are found on the Florida coasts—an area with the largest number of loggerhead sea turtle nests in the western hemisphere—making Florida essential to sea turtle nesting and recruitment. Our days started at twilight, where we would survey the beach for sea turtle tracks and nests, with each nest containing more than a hundred eggs on this sixteen-square mile island alone. Nesting females only come onto land at night to lay and cover eggs. In addition to identifying, marking off, and excavating nests, we assisted disoriented hatchlings on their journey to the ocean.

[image caption]

This sea turtle monitoring, research or rescue was conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028. Photo courtesy of Aileen Lavelle.

Sea turtles unfortunately face many anthropogenic risks to their survival, but two huge concerns that I witnessed are artificial lighting and predator interference. Under normal conditions, sea turtle hatchlings depend on light and shape identification to orient themselves towards the ocean. Artificial light leads hatchlings and adults in the wrong direction, away from the ocean and towards the dunes, where hatchlings can confusedly travel for hours and become vulnerable to predation. Additionally, as humans continue to develop coasts globally, food waste in refuse often feeds invasive species which can wreak havoc on native fauna. For example, the raccoon population on Longboat Key has exploded, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of sea turtle nests. Sea turtle hatchlings have an estimated one in ten-thousand chance of surviving to adulthood, even before counting the thousands of hatchlings lost to predators. 

A lot of my time this summer was spent responding to predator damage, both on sea turtle nests and hatchlings, which was a gruesome and time-intensive activity. We also had to respond to disorientation events and search the dunes for lost sea turtles before predators found them. Some hatchlings could be saved through emergency care at the hatchling hospital at Mote Marine Lab. However, without serious conservation efforts and the eradication of problems like raccoons and artificial lighting, this endangered species will be in serious trouble.

Aileen Lavelle holding a turtle. [image caption]

This sea turtle monitoring, research or rescue was conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, and 028. Photo courtesy of Aileen Lavelle.

5. Describe your involvement in the Peer Advising Program and what that space means to you. 

The Peer Advising Program is a team of dedicated students that works to enhance the experience of all students at Rausser. As part of their leadership program over the past three years, I have planned and implemented several successful events to strengthen the bond of the Rausser community. One of my favorite events we had last spring was Bagels and Bingo, where students could enjoy bagels (as well as other vegan options!) and participate in College-themed bingo for prizes. Peer advisors are meant to help students gain perspective, whether that be on planning the semester, major, study abroad, research positions, clubs, or general adjustment to campus life. We welcome any student to come to our virtual office hours this semester from 10am - 4 pm Monday to Friday!

I distinctly remember my first day on campus in my senior year of high school, when I fell in love with Berkeley. My dad and I visited for Cal Day, and to say Rausser College blew us away would be an understatement. I felt that there was nothing I couldn’t do at Berkeley, and the advising staff at Rausser is unparalleled. Rausser staff and students care about fostering a welcoming community, and I think that is what makes our corner of campus so special. Every time I walk into 260 Mulford, there is a feeling of familiarity that only comes from a place you can call home. I hope to make other Rausser students feel heard and valued, just as I do.

6. What are your post-graduation plans? What are you considering doing for a career?

I would love to be a Peace Corps or AmeriCorps volunteer after graduation, though everything is up in the air. In the long term, I’m hoping to continue doing field research and sea turtle conservation. I would love to move to Hawai‘i or go back Australia to study how climate change is affecting sex ratios in sea turtle populations.


Do you know of a student or group in Rausser College involved in noteworthy research, community outreach, or extracurricular activities? Let us know by submitting a suggestion with this nomination form.

Student Stories

$275 million commitment to brew better molecules for manufacturing

UC Berkeley Science News - Tue, 10/20/2020 - 15:13
The Department of Defense and dozens of private companies hope to jump-start the nation's bioeconomy
Categories: Science News

Hot-button words trigger conservatives and liberals differently

UC Berkeley Science News - Tue, 10/20/2020 - 09:35
Brain scans reveal that reactive vocabulary drives neural polarization
Categories: Science News

In Memoriam: Richard Calendar

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Mon, 10/19/2020 - 13:36

It is with great sadness we report the passing of our colleague Richard Calendar, Ph.D., who was Professor of Molecular Biology (1968-1989) and, after our reorganization of the biological sciences, Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology (1989-2009), and, then, a Professor of the Graduate School (2009-2020), here at the University of California, Berkeley.


Rausser College joins the California Biodiversity Network

College of Natural Resources - Mon, 10/19/2020 - 09:20

California is home to more species of plants and animals than any other state, accounting for roughly a third of all species found in the nation. But intensive agriculture, resource extraction, habitat loss, invasive species, dwindling water supplies, and a changing climate pose imminent threats to these natural riches.

With this in mind, Rausser College of Natural Resources has joined a new coalition of organizations formed to conserve California’s biodiversity. The California Biodiversity Network will bring together scientific institutions, universities, conservation and stewardship organizations, tribal governments, museums, and other experts to help the state protect its world-renowned natural heritage.

The Network is a key part of California’s strategy to preserve its biodiversity and combat the climate crisis. On October 7, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to consult with stakeholders to guide California’s climate and conservation work. 

The partners in the California Biodiversity Network  will conduct research in support of biodiversity protection, coordinate conservation efforts, and train tomorrow’s environmental leaders. These efforts will involve establishing a baseline of California's biodiversity and creating an inventory of current biodiversity efforts, analyzing and projecting the impact of climate change and other stressors on the state's biodiversity, and expanding the use of tools used to track and protect biodiversity and natural resources. Partners will also "advance multi-benefit, voluntary and cooperative approaches that project and restore biodiversity while stewarding natural and working lands, building climate resilience, and supporting economic stability."

“We’re elated that the governor recognizes the huge challenges ahead to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity, and we are at-the-ready to assist,” says Peggy Fiedler, executive director of the UC Natural Reserve System and a cofounder of the network.

In accordance with an international campaign, the governor’s order also commits California to achieve protection for 30 percent of the state by 2030, joining 38 countries pursuing similar goals at a global scale. The California Biodiversity Network will help develop specific statewide strategies and policies in alignment with the “30 by 30” goal, with the aim of combating ecosystem destruction and species loss in coastal and terrestrial regions.

"We're excited to offer the resources of UC Berkeley's Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity and our Natural History Museums—in addition to the expertise of researchers across the University— in support of achieving California's ambitious biodiversity goals," says David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley and a cofounder of the network.

"From the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1890 to this new executive order from Governor Newsom, California has a long history of conservation leadership," said Jon Jarvis, chair of the advisory board of the Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity. "The University of California, Berkeley, and the Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity—as partners in the new CA Biodiversity Collaborative—will be providing the best science behind the conservation strategies to achieve not only 30 percent but ensuring those protected lands are resilient to climate change and accessible to all Californians.”

The network’s founding partners include natural history museums such as the California Academy of Sciences, land trusts and conservancies such as Pepperwood, the National Park Service, California State Parks, and the University of California.

"Meaningful progress in the fight to address climate change and biodiversity losses can occur only through deep, cross-sector collaboration,” says Dr. Scott Sampson, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences. “The California Biodiversity Network has potential to become a global model for how to engage in this critical work, and the California Academy of Sciences is proud to be a lead partner."

"Pepperwood is proud to join this collaborative to help scale up large landscape solutions for biodiversity conservation in the face of a changing climate," says Pepperwood President and CEO, Lisa Micheli.

Each network partner will utilize their own technical expertise and resources to further efforts to protect biodiversity. For example, museums will make their collections available to help assess the state’s baseline biodiversity. Tribal members could be engaged to provide insights into traditional land management practices that foster ecosystem health. Scientists will research how ecosystems respond to wildfires, climate change, and other environmental stressors, and analyze large, often crowd-sourced datasets to advise the state on conservation decisions.

“Whether the state needs data collection, analysis, public outreach—we are prepared to respond quickly. The California Biodiversity Network has a deep bench with a broad range of talent to provide whatever expertise may be requested. Our mission is not only to advise on science, policy or outreach, but also to help train the next generation of diverse conservationist scientists, too.” Fiedler says.

Read more: “Newsom launches innovative strategies to use California land to fight climate change, conserve biodiversity and boost climate resilience,” Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

Image:  Yosemite landscape Date:  Monday, October 19, 2020 - 09:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, October 16, 2020 - 14:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

MCB Welcomes New Faculty Doris Tsao

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Mon, 10/19/2020 - 07:34

We are pleased to announce the addition of a new MCB Assistant Professor, Doris Tsao, arriving in July 2021.


Berkeley study: Clean Air Act reduced racial disparities in pollution

UC Berkeley Science News - Thu, 10/15/2020 - 17:00
The gap between Black and white Americans’ particulate exposure has declined over the past two decades, due largely to enforcement of the Clean Air Act
Categories: Science News

Nayak Named 2020 Packard Fellow for Science and Engineering

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Thu, 10/15/2020 - 08:19

Congratulations to Assistant Professor Dipti Nayak on receiving a 2020 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering. 


Is English the lingua franca of science? Not for everyone.

Department of Integrative Biology - Wed, 10/14/2020 - 21:42

​English limits entry into the world of science and limits public access to scientific results. Valeria Ramírez-Castañeda, a graduate student in IB, encountered this firsthand when she began writing her master’s thesis at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, her native country. Read more of her story featured in the Berkeley News...

Categories: Science News

Professor Allen Goldstein elected to American Association for Aerosol Research Fellows

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 10/14/2020 - 14:20

Congratulations to environmental science, policy, and management professor Allen Goldstein on becoming a fellow of the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR). The association recognizes Goldstein for his contributions to aerosol science and technology, as well as his service to the AAAR. Goldstein is the second faculty member of UC Berkeley to become an AAAR Fellow.

Goldstein’s research has tackled one of the most challenging problems in atmospheric-organic constituents. He is responsible for developing the Thermal desorption Aerosol Gas chromatograph, a novel experimental technique which measures the hourly resolution of organic aerosol compounds. As the co-Chair for the International Global Chemistry Program and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Future of Atmospheric Chemistry Committee, Goldstein has mentored a new generation of atmospheric and aerosol scientists.

Image:  Allen Goldstien headshot. Date:  Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 14:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 14:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Honors and Awards Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

Is English the lingua franca of science? Not for everyone.

UC Berkeley Science News - Wed, 10/14/2020 - 11:10
A graduate student surveyed scientists in her native Colombia and found that English hinders participation by Spanish speakers
Categories: Science News

Researchers discover link between microRNA and metabolic disorders

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 10/14/2020 - 11:07

In a study published today in the journal Cell,  UC Berkeley Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology professor Anders Näär led a group of researchers from 12 institutions in the United States and Europe, to better understand a region on the second human chromosome previously linked to both the digestion of milk and metabolic disorders. They discovered that a microRNA, which are tiny snippets of non-coding RNA that prevent genes from making proteins, is associated with energy storage and metabolic diseases such as obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

The path to this discovery began with the seemingly unrelated topic of adult milk consumption. For most of human history, humans have been unable to consume milk after infancy because the body stops producing lactase, the intestinal enzyme required to digest the milk sugar lactose, after weaning. About 5,000 years ago, a variant of a chromosome locus containing the lactase gene appeared in Europeans, allowing humans to digest milk into adulthood. Its spread through Europe was attributed to the idea that, in livestock herding populations, adult milk consumption would provide an additional source of nutrition and therefore higher survival rates when food was scarce.

Today, highly developed countries face problems related to nutritional overabundance rather than famine. Due to sedentary lifestyles and ample cheap, calorie-dense food, metabolic diseases are on the rise in many countries. Such conditions as obesity, insulin resistance, and hypertension—all tied to excess food consumption—have contributed to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

For a long time, scientists have puzzled over which molecular and genetic underpinnings in the genome are associated with obesity. While obesity has a clear genetic element, studies have largely failed to find strong support for a single “obesity gene.” Interestingly, researchers had found that the chromosomal region associated with lactase persistence was also linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. But this did not explain the ability to drink milk in adulthood.

Indeed, milk spoils quickly and archeological records have revealed that herding populations were able to preserve dairy as cheese or yogurt, a process which removes most of the lactose. Individuals without the mutations were therefore likely able to consume preserved dairy products during famines, raising the question as to whether something else in the variant chromosome locus might provide a survival advantage.

Näär, then a professor in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, had previously noticed that the European version of the chromosome 2 locus not only contained the lactase gene, but was also home to a microRNA called miR-128-1, which he and other collaborators had found was a crucial regulator of circulating cholesterol levels.

“We had discovered that miR-128-1 was present in the same chromosome neighborhood as lactase, and the fact that the locus is also linked to metabolic diseases smelled to us like there might be a connection of the microRNA to human evolutionary adaptation to famine,” said Näär.

Most human genotype-phenotype studies focus on protein-coding genes, but the study was novel because the researchers asked if miR-128-1 could play a role as a key metabolic regulator. Though scientists had long thought that microRNAs only played minor roles in cells and tissues, it’s now known that they can carry out important molecular functions—in many instances, by controlling complex biological cascades and regulating gene expression. Näär and the team posited that miR-128-1 contributes to the energy storage trait, and that this could also link to the ancient lactase adaptation, as well as the diseases associated with excess nutrition.        

In obesity tests using mice, the researchers interfered with the miR-128-1 function either by genetic deletion or by therapeutic molecules. Test mice lacking functional miR-128-1 burned more energy, had much diminished fat stores, and were protected from insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. The findings suggest that miR-128-1 indeed plays a central role in controlling metabolism, by promoting energy storage via fat accumulation.      

“The results were quite striking,” said Näär. “They show that a microRNA acting as a master regulator of the energy storage programs in many metabolically active organs may contribute to metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes linked to nutritional overabundance, as well as genetic selection in humans for obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

The study offers a potential route for clinical therapy to treat metabolic disorders and could have significant implications for public health. Traditionally, drugs to treat metabolic disorders focus on genes and proteins, but the study highlights the importance of non-coding microRNAs as possible therapeutic targets. Theoretically, the therapeutic targeting of miR-128-1 in humans could provide similar improvements in metabolic health.

 “This is a fascinating detective story that brings together ancient evolutionary traits that date back to human domestication of animals and adapting to milk products, together with the current epidemic of obesity and metabolic dysregulation that contribute to both heart disease and cancer risk,” said Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, director of the Mass General Cancer Center. “And the guilty party appears not even to be a real gene, but rather a small piece of regulatory RNA that controls how groups of genes are coordinated. It’s a beautiful story and totally unexpected.”

The study was conducted in conjunction with researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Yale School of Medicine, Technical University of Munich, University of Bergen, Haukeland University, the Boston University School of Medicine, the Harvard Center for Systems Biology, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Aalborg University. The full study can be found on the Cell website.

Image:  Glass of milk against black background Date:  Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 11:00 Byline:  Jacob Shea Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 10:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

Claire Kremen awarded Volvo Environment Prize

College of Natural Resources - Mon, 10/12/2020 - 15:18
An image of Claire Kremen in a field of flowers. Photo by Richard Amies.

Professor Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist, is awarded the Volvo Environment Prize 2020. Her research focuses on how the world can feed itself while protecting biodiversity. Photo: Richard Amies

Today the Volvo Environmental Foundation announced that conservation biologist Claire Kremen is this year's laureate of the Volvo Environment Prize. Kremen has been recognized for her world-class research on the incorporation of biodiversity conservation into agricultural land use.

Globally, the lands where humans extract resources through farming, ranching, and forestry occupy somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of Earth's terrestrial surface. Unfortunately, such “working lands” are often managed to the detriment of wild animal, plant, and insect populations.

"With very large-scale agriculture, we are simplifying landscapes a lot. It makes them much less hospitable for most species," said Kremen, who is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.  

According to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years. The report recorded an average 68 percent decline across more than 20,000 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish since 1970.

Less known is the status of decline among insects. An expert on wild bees, Kremen said she's concerned about how insects are faring. "If we didn't have pollinating insects, we'd be interfering with the reproduction of about 90 percent of plant species,” she said, adding that about 75 percent of the crops humans eat benefit from pollination by insects. “We really need these creatures. If we don't have them, we're not going to have all the fruits and vegetables that are so important for our nutrition."


Kremen’s research focuses on the benefits of diversified farming practices, such as growing multiple crops within the same field, planting hedgerows to create habitat, and incorporating small areas of native vegetation and forest borders into agricultural lands. Critics of diversified farming say that such methods make farms much less productive, with smaller yields in a world where the human population is rapidly approaching 8 billion people.

"I would push back on that," said Kremen. "Some of our agriculture is producing food at a high cost. It produces a lot of greenhouse gases or produces nutrients that end up causing dead zones in the ocean. Sometimes the soils have been mined of their fertility, and they can't be productive in the future."

Diversified agricultural lands, she says, can in fact be extremely productive. “Farmers could promote natural pest control by harnessing the powers of nature, thus reducing the need for pesticides,” Kremen said. “We would preserve the ability to provide clean water, to store carbon in the soils, to provide habitat for biodiversity, even to provide beautiful landscapes that people enjoy."

The Volvo Environment Prize is one of the scientific world's most respected environmental awards. For more than 30 years, it has been granted annually to people who have made outstanding scientific discoveries within the environmental and sustainability fields. The award will be celebrated on November 12th with a live streaming prize ceremony and seminar.

According to the jury of the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation, "Professor Kremen's work on diversified farming systems and conservation has helped us to understand how the increasingly globalized food system affects biodiversity, sustainability and equity, and—most importantly—how to significantly improve this system so that we can feed ourselves while protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change."

Kremen is also a professor and the President's Excellence Chair in Biodiversity at the University of British Columbia, Canada.   

For more information about the award and how to attend the online celebrations and seminar, visit the Volvo Environment Prize website.


Image:  An image of Claire Kremen in a field of flowers. Photo by Richard Amies. Date:  Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 15:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, October 12, 2020 - 15:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Honors and Awards Multimedia Expose in main "News river"?:  yes

Berkeley Bioengineers impress in Biomedical Engineering Virtual Summer Internship

Department of Bioengineering - Mon, 10/12/2020 - 13:21
Four bioengineering undergraduates spent the summer working online to increase PPE compliance in universities as part of the first ever Biomedical Engineering Virtual Summer Internship hosted through the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University. Check out each student’s idea pitch in the videos below: Shalini Namuduri “UV Sanitation Station”  Manasi Kumar “Detection of Missing […]
Categories: Science News

Bustamante Awarded Biophysical Society Honors

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Mon, 10/12/2020 - 09:17

Congratulations to Professor Carlos Bustamante on his 2021 Biophysical Society Kazuhiko Kinosita Award!