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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Rick Standiford retires from 37-year career

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 11:24
Image:  Rick Standiford and Keith Gilless Date:  Monday, June 5, 2017 - 11:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, June 5, 2017 - 11:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Faculty Share Expertise on the Future of Climate, Energy & Environment

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 16:33
Speakers at an event

Researchers Max Auffhammer, Bill Collins, and Inez Fung on stage at the Cal Future Forum. (Photo credit: Anastasiia Sapon)

Last month, UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Lab partnered to present the Cal Future Forum, a day-long event highlighting the latest research findings of  leading researchers who are developing solutions to the environmental challenges we face.  Over a dozen prominent researchers provided a synopsis of the state of the planet, a better understanding of the challenges we face, and the solutions being developed at Berkeley—and being implemented globally.

Among the speakers were six faculty from the College of Natural Resources: 

  • Max Auffhamer, Agricultural & Resource Economics
  • Justin Brashares, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
  • Inez Fung, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
  • Rosemary Gillespie, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
  • Dan Kammen, Energy & Resources Group
  • Claire Kremen, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Videos of each of the day's talks are forthcoming. Read more in this article by the Berkeley Lab. 


Image:  Speakers at an event Date:  Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 16:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 16:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Graduate Student Adam Calo and Team Win Big Ideas Prize

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:02
Image:  Date:  Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 10:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 10:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

CNR Honors Research Program Thanks Faculty Founder Anastasios Melis

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 12:21

Anastasios Melis can remember the exact moment he discovered his calling. As an undergraduate at Athens University, he sat in a lecture for a general botany class, enthralled as the professor described a photochemical process in photosynthesis. “I was so fascinated with the idea that a biological system can trap, contain, and then utilize sunlight” he reminisces.

At the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium, Dean Keith Gilless thanked Professor Anastasios Melis for over twenty years of service to the CNR Honors Research Program.

Melis approached the professor after class asking how to learn more, and was welcomed into the professor’s lab with a work assignment on an independent research project. His task was to replicate a recent study published in Nature by Robin Hill, the famous British plant biochemist who first proved that isolated membranes of photosynthesis can, upon illumination, evolve oxygen while transferring electrons to artificial “electron acceptor” compounds. This became known as the “Hill reaction.”   

“There was hardly any documentation of the process in the paper, so I tried a lot of things. Along the way, I made every mistake in the book,” Melis says of his semester spent on the project. In the end, “it all fell together,” and he successfully replicated the experiment, wrote up the process in a detailed report, and presented his findings to the professor and the entire lab. He was rewarded with a handshake from the professor and the satisfaction of tackling the task and learning a lot along the way.

Professor Sofia Villas-Boas congratulates genetics & plant biology major Jackson Tonnies during the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium. Photo by Sofia Villas-Boas.

Fast forward through his doctoral study at Florida State University and postdoctoral training in the Netherlands and at Stanford all the way to 1994, when, as a professor in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, Melis recalled his seminal undergraduate experience. He wondered if CNR students who pursue similar undergraduate research opportunities could be formally recognized for their efforts. Melis proposed the idea of honors research and recognition to the CNR faculty committee on courses and curricula, and during the 1995-96 academic year the CNR Honors Research Program officially enrolled its first student.

To participate, undergraduates with a UC GPA of 3.6 or higher complete 8 units of a departmental honors research course, conduct a year-long independent research project overseen by a CNR faculty mentor, and write an honors thesis on their research. Finally, students formally present their work and answer audience questions during a 2-day Honors Research Symposium held at the end of each term.

Student presenting at a research symposium

Student Alison Ke was one of 42 CNR students who presented their research at the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium. Photo by Sofia Villas-Boas.

Professor Melis has served as chair of the symposium and coordinator of the program since its inception, and to date, over 640 CNR students have successfully completed the program requirements. In his name, CNR awards the Melis Medal to the best student presentation delivered during each day of the culminating event.

Beyond the certificate they receive and the honors status awarded them upon graduation, Melis comments, the program enhances the undergraduate experience for students, who receive their degree better-prepared for careers in both academic and industrial research settings. He also stresses the importance of learning to present to a broadly-based audience and to be able to answer unanticipated questions on one’s own research. “This is something all of us have to do in our research careers, but it is not innate; it needs to be learned” he says. “We are proud to be able to give to our students the opportunity to learn and practice this at the start of their scientific career.”

Anastasios Melis and Sofia Villas-Boas

Starting in fall 2017, professor Sofia Villas-Boas will take over as faculty coordinator of the CNR Honors Research Program.

The spring 2017 symposium held this month—during which 42 students presented their work—saw a “changing of the guard” as Melis passed the position of faculty coordinator and symposium chair to Sofia Villas-Boas, a professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics. Villas-Boas is especially well suited as his successor, Melis says, because she too has a track record of supporting undergraduate research through the honors program and other initiatives like CNR’s Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program and the campus-wide Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship program.

Students at the CNR Honors Research Symposium

Graduates of the CNR Honors Research Program pose with student advisor and honors program coordinator Elizabeth Storer at the spring 2017 symposium. Photo by Sophia Villas-Boas.

“Professor Melis proposed a program that has become a key component of the academic enrichment activities available to CNR students,” commented CNR Dean Keith Gilless. “We are thankful for his remarkable dedication and service to the Honors Research Program over the past 22 years.”

Recalling all the students he got to know through the program, Melis says the best moment was always placing the Honors Research Cord around the neck of each graduate after the symposium presentations. “Their beaming faces and the pride in their eyes, it is absolutely incredible. That alone—how happy and excited they are to accomplish this—that alone is reward enough for me.” 

Image:  Professor Sofia Villas-Boas placing an honors cord around Professor Anastasios Melis' neck at honors research symposium Date:  Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 11:45 byline:  by Julie Gipple, College of Natural Resources Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

CNR Students Work with Cal Dining Chefs to Revamp Recipes

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 15:54
Image:  Healthy dishes being served in a cafeteria Date:  Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 15:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 15:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Sequencing of Green Alga Genome Provides Blueprint to Advance Clean Energy, Bioproducts

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 14:59

Plant biologists have sequenced the genome of a particularly promising species of green alga, providing a blueprint for new discoveries in producing sustainable biofuels, antioxidants, and other valuable bioproducts.

The researchers targeted Chromochloris zofingiensis, a single-celled green alga that has drawn commercial interest as one of the highest producers of the best lipids for biofuel production.

Rotating view of a cryo-soft X-ray tomography reconstructed cell of the green alga Chromochloris zofingiensis dividing into 16 daughter cells with segmented nucleus (purple), chloroplast (green), mitochondria (red), and lipids (yellow). (Credit: Melissa Roth/HHMI and Andreas Walters/Berkeley Lab)

The team of scientists, led by researchers in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology (PMB) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles, recently published their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The work was conceived of and developed at Berkeley Lab by Krishna Niyogi, chair of PMB and faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab.

“This genome will be an important resource to develop renewable and sustainable microalgal biofuels to facilitate clean energy and a cleaner environment,” said study lead author Melissa Roth, a postdoctoral researcher in Niyogi’s lab. “Algae absorb carbon dioxide and are intrinsically solar-powered by photosynthesis, but C. zofingiensis has an added benefit in that it can be cultivated on non-arable land and in wastewater.”

Niyogi also pointed out that C. zofingiensis is a natural source for astaxanthin, an antioxidant derived from dietary algae that gives salmon its pinkish hue. In algae, astaxanthin is thought to provide protection from oxidative stress.

“This alga has potential as a nutraceutical,” said Niyogi, who is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Studies are already underway to determine whether astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial in treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, and other human health problems.”

To get an inside look at the cells, the researchers relied upon the National Center for X-ray Tomography (NCXT), a joint Berkeley Lab-UCSF program located at the Lab’s Advanced Light Source. Using soft X-ray tomography, a technique comparable to a computerized tomography scan, scientists imaged and then reconstructed sections of the algal genome to generate a 3-D view. Cells were captured dividing into two, four, and even sixteen daughter cells.

“Combining multiple sequencing techniques, we were able to generate a chromosome-level assembly of the genome, which is an uncommonly high level of architecture for an alga and similar to that of a model organism. In fact, the quality of the C. zofingiensis genome rivals the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which was first sequenced about a decade ago,” said Roth.

The alga contains approximately 15,000 genes.

Other senior authors on the paper include Sabeeha Merchant, UCLA professor of biochemistry; Matteo Pellegrini, UCLA professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology; and Carolyn Larabell, NCXT director and professor of anatomy at UCSF.

This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Science, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Advanced Light Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. NCXT is jointly funded by DOE and the National Institutes of Health.

Read this article at the source. 

Image:  Date:  Friday, May 19, 2017 - 14:45 byline:  By Sarah Yang, Lawrence Berkeley Lab Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, May 19, 2017 - 14:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Dan Kammen Featured in Climate Lab Video from UCOP, VOX

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 10:43
Dan Kammen during an interview with Vox

Climate Lab is a six-part series produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox, exploring global climate change and UC’s groundbreaking work to mitigate its effects. The fifth episode of the series—an investigation of how and whether we can rethink and reinvent nuclear power—features comments from professor Dan Kammen of the Energy & Resources Group on developing technologies in the field.

Kammen describes new small, modular reactors that can be applied at different scales than traditional power plants. “The whole nuclear power plant comes on the back of a flatbed truck or arrives on a barge, gets parked, plugged in—and when the fuel is used up, it simply gets taken away as a unit to be reprocessed,” he says.

The episode also highlights Per Peterson, a UC Berkley professor of nuclear engineering who is working on a next-generation reactor design that uses a new form of fuel that can withstand higher temperatures than conventional fuel rods and is much safer to use.

In a related article published on the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative website, Kammen cites issues of time and cost as reasons why, even though new technologies are promising, nuclear energy may not be the most immediately important source of energy in the fight against climate change. “We're seeing solar plants installed for under three cents a kilowatt hour, while the comparative price for nuclear in the best situation is well over ten cents a kilowatt hour—more than three times as expensive as a no-risk alternative,” he explained.

About Climate Lab

Featuring conversations with experts, scientists, thought leaders and activists, the Climate Lab series takes what can seem like an overwhelming problem and breaks it down into manageable parts: from clean energy to food waste, religion to smartphones. Each video is hosted by Emmy-nominated conservation scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan, an alum of UC Santa Cruz and a visiting researcher at UCLA.  Visit the Climate Lab website for more information and other videos in the series. 

Image:  Screenshot of a Vox video on nuclear energy Date:  Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 10:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 10:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Alum Dick Beahrs recalls MLK’s visit to Berkeley 50 years ago

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 09:33
Image:  Dick Beahrs and Martin Luther King JR Date:  Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 09:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 09:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Rosalind Bump

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:07

Senior Rosalind Bump shares fond memories of her years at Cal, ideas for incoming freshmen, and the story of one class that helped her understand the relationship between nature and poetry.

Rosalind Bump 4th Year, Molecular Environmental Biology, emphasis on Human & Environmental Health


Rosalind Bump

Best study spot on campus?

I enjoy studying outside, so you’ll often find me on the patio of the Free Speech Movement Cafe. If it’s serious studying though, I quite like the Hargrove Music Library, with its glass windows overlooking the surrounding trees. If there are a few minutes between classes, I love getting work done at the CNR Student Resource Center, where there’s always a familiar face and good company.

Best Cal memory?

There are so many! Carefree afternoons on the glade, as the laughter of friends and frisbees filled the air and the Campanile marked the hours; the moments in classes where concepts finally clicked; mornings of espresso, musings, and people-watching at Strada; adventures up the fire trails and down to the marina; the intense concentration of dead week and the feeling of triumph and relief after finals end, alongside peers who have become an irreplaceable support system throughout the years.

What is your favorite CNR class or professor and why?

I have very fond memories of ESPMC12 (English C77) “Introduction to Environmental Studies” from my freshman year. The course was one of my very first at Berkeley, and it asked us to reflect upon really essential questions, like “What is ‘the environment’? What does it mean to be ‘environmental’? Are those different, or the same, and why does it matter?” Coming into college without a direct path ahead of me, I had often found myself at the crossroads of my love of both nature and poetry. The course validated for me that the two not only intersect, but are in fact intertwined, and it was the first of many classes at Cal that redefined how I interpret and engage with the world. Plus, the professors, Bob Hass and Gary Sposito, are so incredibly welcoming, intelligent, and personable. 

Rosalind catching a sunset on North Stradbroke Island in Australia, where she conducted marine biology research

Rosalind and her friend catching a sunset on North Stradbroke Island in Australia, where they conducted marine biology research

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

There are so many opportunities and communities at your fingertips! Don’t be afraid to jump in—whether that be a research lab, one of the museums on campus, or a volunteer group—if even you don’t feel like you have “enough” experience, because the experience will come with time. Invest yourself thoroughly in the classes and activities that you join, but know that at the end of the day, it is just as important to invest in the people around you (for they will be the friends to pick you up on the rough days). Lean in to the uncomfortable challenges and moments of adversity that will inevitably come your way, because they will likely be the moments in which you grow most deeply.

What is your plan for after graduation?

I plan to work in a research lab for one to two years before applying to grad school, ideally to a program that allows me to pursue questions of public health and environmental health through the lens of molecular biology.

Muir Woods, because Rosalind loves that being in Berkeley means having access to so many places of natural grandeur nearby.

Rosalind says that being in Berkeley means having access to so many places of natural grandeur nearby, such as Muir Woods.

What have been the most meaningful activities you’ve been involved with while at Berkeley?

The past few semesters I’ve been able to explore my love of science communication and outreach through BEAM (Berkeley Engineers and Mentors). BEAM mentors are so wonderfully enthusiastic and committed to hands-on, scientific discovery for elementary and middle school students in Berkeley, and we hope to inspire the next generation of budding scientists. I have also been quite involved with a variety of projects on campus: from the Specimen Prep Lab at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, to STeam (ASUC Sustainability Team), to plant research with the Lemaux Lab and my current research on tissue regeneration with the Hariharan Lab. Additionally, studying abroad in Australia (while not at Berkeley, per se) is one of my most cherished experiences; I am so thankful to have been able to immerse myself in marine biology and terrestrial ecology for a semester, alongside truly brilliant professors and peers. 

Image:  Rosalind Bump Date:  Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 11:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 11:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Blair Conklin

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 10:44

Graduating senior Blair Conklin tells of some incredible moments he's had at Cal, his professional skimboarding career, and his plans for the future.

Blair Conklin

Photo courtesy of Blair Conklin.

Blair Conklin 4th Year, Environmental Science

Best study spot on campus?

My favorite study spot is the patio of the Free Speech Movement Café on a calm sunny day.  Be wary of the hungry squirrels.  

Best Cal memory?

One of my favorite Cal memories was generated from a Tropical Island Biology and Geomorphology class (ESPMC107) I took in the fall of my junior year at Berkeley’s Gump Station in Moorea. On a day with exceptionally calm seas and not a single cloud in the sky, our class took out two aluminum boats on the hunt for humpback whales outside the barrier reefs of Moorea. After seeing spouts from a group of humpbacks in the distance, our captain moved us closer. A whale surfaced for air about 20 feet off the bow of our boat. After we were told it was safe to enter the water, our entire class of 20 dove right in. With 100 feet of visibility, watching these graceful giants beneath the ocean’s surface will be a scene engrained in my memory for life.

What is your favorite CNR class or professor and why?

A course on communicating ocean sciences to informal audiences (IB C100) was one of my favorite classes while at Cal. I found this class was invaluable in helping me to understand the processes by which we learn. This class and its three fantastic professors were very effective at reinforcing my understanding of the scientific process and teaching me the skills to effectively communicate and teach others about science.  Teaching students at the Lawrence Hall of Science provided me with the hands-on experience to become a better communicator and sparked my interest in the field of science education.

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

My advice to an incoming CNR student would be to get involved in groups or activities on campus that align with your interests and passions. It is a great way to meet people and make friends that may open many different doors for you while at Cal.

Blair Conklin

Image courtesy of Blair Conklin.


What have been the most meaningful activities you’ve been involved with while at Berkeley?

  • Senior Thesis project:  For my thesis I studied intertidal boulder fields in the Point Reyes National Sea Shore.  I was interested in looking at the seasonal cycles of sedimentation that occurred in this area; the boulder fields would be buried by sand in the summer and exposed for intertidal organisms to inhabit during the winter. I was also curious about how the increase in basin wide wave energy that occurred in the winter of the 2015-2016 El Niño events would impact these intertidal boulder fields and the amount of sediments within them.
  • Cal Surf Team: This past year I joined Berkeley's first-ever surf team, which began competing on the college NSSA—the National Surfing Scholastic Association. Before this group was organized, I never would have thought that there were so many good surfers who go to Berkeley. I have always appreciated the strong friendships that arise from meeting people who enjoy ocean sports as much as I do. If a group of surfers can organize meetings and get together at Berkeley, I am confident that anyone can come to Cal and find their niche community or interest group.    

Tell us a little more about your skimboarding career.

For those who have never heard of skimboarding, it is a small but growing sport that is similar to surfing. Unlike surfing, you start from the beach where you run, drop your board, and slide on the sand and surface of the water to catch waves that are breaking close to shore.  

I started skimboarding at the age of 4 in Laguna Beach and began competing at 7 years old. I have skimboarding to thank for taking me to some amazing places around the world. I have travelled to countries such as Angola, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Portugal, Indonesia, Japan, and Taiwan.  A major milestone for me took place during the fall semester of my senior year when I walked away with the United Skim Tour World Championship title. 

What is your plan for after graduation?

After graduation, I will travel and compete on the world tour for skimboarding during the summer months.  I plan on applying for a position as an environmental science educator for weeklong science camps, which take place in the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains. In the more distant future, I will prepare for grad school and would like do research in a location that takes me a little closer to the ocean or back to the warm waters and coral reefs of Moorea.  

Image:  Blair Conklin Date:  Monday, May 15, 2017 - 10:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 10:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Harshika Chowdhary

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 10:57

In the 2nd of our interviews with CNR students, we hear from graduating senior Harshika Chowdhary on her time in the Berkeley Medical Reserve Corps, her research experiences, and her advice for incoming students. 

Harshika Chowdhary

Photo by Natalea Schager

Harshika Chowdhary 4th year, Microbial Biology

Best study spot on campus?

The best spot is either Doe Library or on the hill near Mulford Hall in the summer.

Best Cal memory?

Taking over Woo Hon Fai Hall to run a mass casualty incident with 170 EMTs, moulaged patients, UCPD, and ROTC!  

What is your favorite CNR class or professor and why?

Professor Britt Glaunsinger's Comparative Virology class was my favorite CNR class. This class encourages students to go beyond learning viral properties and critically think about treatments and effects on the host based on similarities and dissimilarities in viral life cycles.

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

Never be afraid to use the CNR resources. The advisors are there to guide you and will try their very best to help you succeed, academically and otherwise. Attend the study groups at the Student Learning Center, and ask your professors and GSIs for help when you need it. There are resources all around you, but you must be proactive and avail them.

Harshika at work in a medical mission in a India

Harshika at work in a medical mission in a India.

What is your plan for after graduation?

I will be applying to medical school this June. I will continue to serve as an EMT, research, and volunteer during my gap year.

What have been the most meaningful activities you’ve been involved with while at Berkeley?

I will always cherish my time in the Berkeley Medical Reserve Corps, Dr. Portnoy's lab, and the Student Learning Center.

Harshika Chowndry attending to ROTC

Harshika organized a mass casualty incident through the Berkeley Medical Reserve Corps each semester.

We heard that you were recently published, congratulations! Can you tell us a little about that?

I am researching the role of miRNA in the early detection of prostate cancer. I am very passionate about research because it is what takes science from simple memorization to the exciting phase of exploration. I am eternally grateful to UC Berkeley for giving me the scientific foundation to understand, design, and conduct research and the Dahiya lab for providing me the mentorship and resources to research prostate cancer in their laboratory.

Image:  Harshika Chowdhary Date:  Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 10:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 10:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Mary Firestone elected to National Academy of Sciences

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 17:48
Mary Firestone

Mary Firestone, a professor of soil microbiology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, has been elected to The National Academy of Sciences. 

Firestone’s research involves the fundamental understanding of soil microbial ecology, and its applications to problems such as global change, sustainability, and biodegradation.

Professor Firestone is one of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates recently elected by the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. 

More about the award and the other recipients. 

Image:  Mary Firestone Date:  Monday, May 8, 2017 - 17:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, May 8, 2017 - 17:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Study refutes findings behind challenge to Sierra Nevada forest restoration

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 17:22
Image:  forest Date:  Monday, May 8, 2017 - 17:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, May 8, 2017 - 17:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Brooke Maushund

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 14:42

In the first of our series of interviews with students in the College of Natural Resources, Brooke Maushund tells us about her once-in-a-lifetime experiences at the COP22 Conference in Morocco, the Cal ski team, and why you shouldn't always follow the rules. 

Brooke Maushund 4th Year, Conservation and Resource Studies

Best study spot on campus?

I've spent a lot of time on the 4th floor of CITRIS, but East Asian Library has been my steadfast home — you can’t beat those giant glass walls.

Best Cal memory?

Wow, there are a lot, but I've got to say my first semester in the Berkeley Student Cooperative system, at Stebbins Hall, was cumulatively my favorite Cal memory. Now at the end of my three-year stint in the co-ops, I see the flaws in the system, but I cannot express how grateful I was for the sense of community I experienced my first semester in Stebbins. Coming home to housemates who genuinely cared about my day, had such different interests than my own but were just as passionately driven to pursue them, crafted such a creative and open space to challenge one another, and made a house a home was not something I knew I could find here.

What is your favorite CNR class or professor and why?

This has got to be a tie between Professor Callaway & Dr. Sager's ERG 290 "Microgrids and Decentralized Renewables for Global Energy Access" and Professor Kammen's ERG C271 "Energy and Development." Both were graduate seminars I took spring semester my junior year, and really were the first time I could see everything I have learned tie together. The seminar style of the classes, especially with the heavy theoretical focus in ERG C271 and then applied project focus in ERG 290, allowed me to explore the roots of sustainable development, then apply them directly to a microgrid project while conversing with my much more experienced peers.

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

Follow your interests, don't be afraid to make mistakes, and—at your own discretion—don't always follow the rules. If you want to take a grad class and the prerequisites online don't let you enroll, and you don't have “x, y, and z classes” under your belt, but feel qualified: email the professor with a resume. Read some of their publications and go into their office hours. Start a conversation. Cal can be a bit soul-crushing if you see it in black and white, but never underestimate what can come out of starting a conversation: you never know what you don't know. Working around the lines, finding the opportunities in the grays is how you pave your own unique path here. And that doesn't come without a healthy amount of failures; trust me, I have plenty. Regardless of what you've been told, it's not sheer talent or brains that will get you through this place better on the other side: it's resilience.

What is your plan for after graduation?

I'm still weighing some options, but as of right now my plan is to move out to Yosemite Valley to work as a gardener for the concessionaire —and rock climb/trail run a lot—for the summer with my best friends from high school. In August I'll come back to the Bay and work full time in energy access.

Brooke Maushund rocking climbing

Brooke sport climbing in Sella, Spain.


What have been the most meaningful activities you’ve been involved with while at Berkeley?

This is a hard one, but I've got to say that joining the Cal Ski Team—the best ski team—was the best choice I made at Cal. After growing up in a place where I could surf most days or go somewhere new to trail run, being in such an urban area freshman year without a car or friends who enjoyed the outdoors was a bit weird at first. I also knew that Greek life wasn't for me, but wanted to be social. Joining ski team gave me a social circle, and I met so many people who were passionate about the outdoors, getting rad, and were very intellectually talented at the same time. I got some awesome powder days out of it and learned how to climb, but more importantly I learned a lot about academics and working hard to advance in the work world from a lot of the older members on the team. Unforgettable experience. CAL SKI TEAM #1!

Brooke Maushund speaking at a conference

Brooke speaking on stage in Marrakech at the Women Leaders and the Global Transformation Summit at COP22 .

We heard that you presented at the COP22 Conference in Morocco - tell us about that experience.

Through a series of very serendipitous events, Jessie Knapstein, who was the co-president of Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative (BERC) the same time I was co-president of the undergraduate arm of the club (BERC-U), offered for me to fill her spot to go to the Africa Renewable Energy Forum (AREF) to author the official report on the state of renewable energy in Africa going into COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

After my AREF responsibilities had concluded, I had the rest of the conference to simply absorb and process all of the happenings at COP22—a real treat. After studying and discussing all of these topics for years, even participating in mock climate negotiations for a class at Berkeley, actually being at a COP was nothing short of the one of the best applied educational experiences I’ve ever had. You can only imagine my thrill, excitement… and nervousness and feeling of responsibility when Professor Dan Kammen, who I also happen to work under on research in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, offered for me to step up twice more, due to some speaking engagement conflicts he had. I filled in and spoke as a panelist on my work at an event put on by the Cluster Industriel pour les Services Environnementaux (CISE), and spoke as a rapporteur at a much larger event: the Women Leaders and Global Transformation Summit.

After facilitating discussion amongst some of the most powerful, strong women I’ve had the pleasure to be around at the Women Leaders and Global Transformation Summit, we drafted recommendations in a smaller working group for how the UN Secretariat could empower women while addressing climate change through innovation. Shortly after, I spoke on stage regarding our outcomes. As the youngest person in the room I was of course nervous, but getting to work with women among the ranks of those at this conference was a truly remarkable experience that I will not forget.

My experiences at AREF, COP22, and especially the Women Leaders and Global Transformation Summit are something I know I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my career. I cannot thank BERC, Jessie, Dan, or EnergyNet enough.


Date:  Friday, April 28, 2017 - 10:00 Legacy:  section header item: 

When human illness rises, the environment suffers, too

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 13:35
Image of fishing boats

Fishermen on Lake Victoria. Image courtesy of Kathryn Fiorella.

A toxic environment is known to create health problems for people, but sick people can also create health problems for the environment. Around Kenya’s Lake Victoria, a fishing community where locals battle high rates of disease and a depleted fish stock, scientists found that human illness exacerbates unsustainable fishing practices.

The study challenges the long-held assumption in environmental research that human disease provides a natural check to environmental exploitation and demonstrates a new way that poor human health may harm the environment. The study suggests that quality healthcare could have benefits beyond human populations and help people manage their environment and the sustainability of those resources.

“Studies have suggested people will spend less time on their livelihoods when they are sick, but we didn’t see that trend in our study. Instead, we saw a shift toward more destructive fishing methods when people were ill,” said Kathryn Fiorella, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at Cornell University. Fiorella was a doctoral student at Berkeley during the study, working in the lab of professor Justin Brashares.

The study will be published the week of April 3 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and Rocca fellowships to Fiorella through the Center for African Studies at UC Berkeley.

Understanding the links between human and environmental health is critical for the millions who cope with recurrent illness and rely directly on natural resources for sustenance.

“Healthy people, it turns out, are better for the environment,” said Richard Yuretich, program officer for the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, which funded the research. “When you feel well, you can plan the tasks you need to accomplish more carefully. But when you’re sick, you often just want to get things done fast, with the result that you may be more wasteful. This project illustrates the complex relationships we have with the world around us. Investigating these links is the principal aim of NSF’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program.”

Added Brashares: “We’re focused on identifying and illuminating these connections between a changing environment and its potential impacts on human economies, health and social systems,”

To study these connections, Fiorella spent three months of each year of her graduate studies at Lake Victoria, a place where health and the environment are intertwined in complex ways and have been for decades.

Lake Victoria transformed after British colonists introduced Nile perch, a predatory fish, to the lake in the 1960s to support commercial fishing. Nile perch quickly dominated the lake and caused the extinction of hundreds of native cichlid species. During the 1980s and 1990s, commercial fishing grew around the lake and Nile perch started to decline, so regulations were enacted to save the fishery. During the same time, the HIV epidemic was spreading throughout East Africa. As Lake Victoria’s fishing community grew sicker, the environmental exploitation of the fishery worsened.

To explore how illness was altering fishing practices, the researchers tracked 303 households living on Lake Victoria. The households were interviewed four different times over a year. The researchers collected data about household health and fishing habits and looked for trends during times of sickness and good health.

Among active fishers, the study found limited evidence that illness reduced fishing effort. Instead, ill fishers shifted the methods they used. When ill, fishers were more likely to use methods that were illegal, destructive and concentrated near the shoreline, but required less travel and energy, the study found. Ill fishers were also less likely to use legal methods that are physically demanding, require travel to deep waters and are considered more sustainable.

“When people are chronically ill, they have different outlooks on the future,” Brashares said. “That different outlook means that they increasingly rely on unsustainable methods because they’re focused on short-term gain.”

Read more on the UC Berkeley news site. 

Image:  Image of fishing boats Date:  Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 13:30 byline:  Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 13:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Renewable energy has robust future in much of Africa

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 08:53
Image:   recreation, energy generation and livestock grazing. (Grace Wu photo) Date:  Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 08:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, April 3, 2017 - 08:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Moorea course offers students transformative field research experience

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:05
Image:  Photograph taken in the ocean with view of Moorea island mountains Date:  Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 10:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 10:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Are you ready to explore baby’s genome?

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 11:08
Doctor's hands and a baby's foot during newborn genomic screening

When you have a day-old baby, a nurse or a phlebotomist performs a heel stick to take a few drops of blood from your infant and sends it off to a state lab for a battery of tests. Most of the time, you never hear about the results because your child is fortunate enough to not have a rare disease, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, or any of the dozens of conditions for which most states screen. You, as a parent, may not even remember hearing about newborn screening.

Newborn screening is mandatory in most states, including California, unless parents refuse for religious or other reasons. Screening is generally accepted because it is only performed for conditions where measures are available to save the baby’s life or mitigate the harms of such conditions, if found early enough—and where, without screening, the disease would not be clinically evident and so would likely not be recognized until too late. However, now that scientists have developed methods for sequencing the entire genome, what would happen if states began incorporating genome sequencing to find out more about baby’s health? How would that work? What should parents learn about their baby’s genome? What shouldn’t they?

Steven Brenner, a professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, is part of a national consortium of researchers and doctors studying the ins and outs of potentially using genome sequencing for newborn health screenings and beyond. 

Called NSIGHT, the consortium includes four NIH grants and spans multiple institutions, including 4 lead institutions:

  • University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
  • University of North Carolina School of Medicine
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital/ Boston Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine
  • University of California San Diego Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine

The group published an overview of their current and future research in the journal Pediatrics  last month. Their studies are working to address using genome sequencing in three clinical scenarios:

  • Screening: to test healthy newborns for preventable or treatable conditions that genetic sequencing could detect or help confirm.
  • Diagnostic: to find the specific genetic causes of congenital anomalies or unexplained illnesses in babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units.
  • Predictive: to explore the entire genome of the child, as a resource for health care throughout the course of the child’s life.

In collaboration with researchers at UCSF and the California Department of Public Health, Brenner is a part of the group working on the screening scenario, with research in computational genomics. The group is creating the tools needed to analyze the genome for the dozens of metabolic disorders that are now a part of California’s newborn screening program. The state has archived residual dried blood spot samples from infants since 1982. The group focused on a subset of the archive—samples collected from approximately 4 million babies from 2005-2013—analyzing blood from the 1,500 babies in that group who had an inherited metabolic disorder identified by screening. At first it was not clear that enough intact DNA could be obtained from the tiny dried blood spots on the archived filter paper, but as Jennifer Puck of UCSF said, “It is remarkable that the sequence quality obtained from this material was equivalent to sequences from fresh blood samples.” Puck is co-principal investigator for the grant and leader of the UCSF DNA extraction laboratory.

From all this material and multiple DNA databases that serve as a reference tool, Brenner’s group aims to sort out the gene variants involved in the disorders and assess what roles they play. “The metabolic disorders are amongst the best understood genetic diseases, which makes them a promising set of disorders to explore with genomic sequencing,” said Brenner. “Our results are showing both unexpected limitations as well as potentially lifesaving applications of the genomic technology in screening.”

This NSIGHT consortium will work with parents and conduct genomic sequencing on newborns to develop evidence that may support guidelines for whether and how this new technology could be effectively and appropriately incorporated into newborn screening or the care of newborns.

In addition to the lead sites, NSIGHT includes researchers and administrators from the National Institutes of Health (the National Human Genome Research Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences); RTI International; University of California, Berkeley; American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics; Harvard Medical School; University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health; California Department of Public Health; Oregon Health & Sciences University; University of Washington; and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

Related Information


Image: Doctor's hands and a baby's foot during newborn genomic screeningDate: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 11:15Legacy: section header item:  Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 11:15headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left

EBI, Shell sign $25 million partnership to fund new energy tech research

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 10:32
Attendees at a signing ceremony.

Attendees at the signing ceremony at EBI. From left to right: Melanie Loots, Isaac Cann, Liesl Schindler, John Coates, Ajay Mehta, Paul Alivisatos, Yuri Sebregts. (UC Berkeley photos by Peg Skorpinski)

UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute has entered into a five-year research agreement with Shell International Exploration and Production to fund research that meets the growing demand for energy in ways that are economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

The agreement is to spend up to $25 million over five years on fundamental research in the areas of global energy transition and new energy technology. The agreement will make EBI a global leader in energy technology research to make next-generation fuels a competitive, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

“The Shell agreement brings the first of EBI’s new sponsors into the institute and adds a new dimension to the research focus incorporating research in material sciences, electrochemistry, and computational analysis,” said John Coates, director of the EBI and a Berkeley professor of microbiology.

EBI and Shell are now accepting proposals to initially pursue fundamental research in the areas of solar energy transformation, advanced energy storage and novel synthesis routes to create new products, and to leverage new capabilities in computational material science and biosciences and bioengineering.

The collaboration will also focus on creating new energy technology that will enable fuels derived from sustainable sources to be readily available alongside conventional fossil fuels in the market. EBI’s research focus to date has been on enabling feedstock availability — a goal shared with Shell, which currently holds 50 percent equity in Raízen, the world´s largest producer of one of the lowest-CO2 biofuels available today.

Read the complete story at the UC Berkeley News site.


Image: Attendees at a signing ceremony.Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 10:30byline: By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy: section header item:  Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 10:30headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left