College of Natural Resources
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.”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
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.
Image: Date: 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
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.
Image: 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
Thirteen UC Berkeley faculty, seven of them women, are among 47 new investigators chosen by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to receive up to $1.5 million each over the next five years to conduct cutting-edge biomedical research — with no strings attached.
The investigator awards are the first individual grants by the CZ Biohub as it seeks to foster unconventional scientific exploration and encourage researchers to invent new tools to accelerate the pace of discovery.
The CZ Biohub was established in September 2016 with $600 million over 10 years from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, and operates as an independent nonprofit medical research organization collaborating with UC Berkeley, Stanford University and UC San Francisco to fund research. Its goal is to harness science, technology and human capacity to cure, prevent or manage all disease during our children’s lifetime.
“CZ Biohub investigators share our vision of a planet without disease,” said Joseph DeRisi, co-president of CZ Biohub and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF. “To realize this vision, we are giving some of the world’s most creative and brilliant researchers access to groundbreaking technology and the freedom to pursue high-risk research. CZ Biohub investigators will challenge traditional thinking in pursuit of radical discoveries that will make even the most stubborn and deadly diseases treatable.”
Jill Banfield, a professor of earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy and management, explores the medical, industrial and ecological significance of newly found microorganisms. Her previous work has uncovered a vast diversity of microorganisms that depend on coexisting microbial community members for most core metabolic resources, revealing two major evolutionary radiations, one in bacteria and the other in Archaea.
Kimberley Seed, an assistant professor of plant and microbial biology, carries out epidemiologic studies of the interactions between bacteriophages and Vibrio cholera, some strains of which cause cholera, in samples obtained from cholera outbreaks to enhance understanding of how these viruses shape the communities of these pathogens and affect infectivity. She will also determine how microclimates impact phage-host interactions.
Six of UC Berkeley’s new investigators, including Banfield, are senior faculty. Each will receive $1.5 million over five years to pursue their research, with the freedom to change direction if they desire — an option not allowed by most research grants.
The seven other investigators, including Seed, are younger faculty, and will receive half the amount, $750,000 over five years, with a similar flexibility.
“The CZ Biohub has chosen some of Berkeley’s best and most innovative researchers, who offer an amazing breadth of expertise,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. “This first cohort of investigators illustrates the potential and promise of the CZ Biohub to push the boundaries of biomedical research, and to accelerate the development of breakthrough scientific and medical advancements, applications and therapeutics for the public’s benefit.”
The 47 investigator awards, totaling $54 million over five years, also go to 15 faculty at UCSF and 19 at Stanford. They will complement the CZ Biohub’s large-scale collaborative projects, including the Infectious Disease Initiative and the Cell Atlas.
“The 47 CZ Biohub investigators we’re introducing today are quite literally inventing the future of life science research,” said Stephen Quake, co-president of CZ Biohub and a professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Stanford. “The CZ Biohub is distinguished by our emphasis on technology and engineering, and our researchers are inventing tools to accelerate science for the good of humanity.”
For more information and a list of all UC Berkeley investigators, visit the UC Berkeley News Center.
Image: Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 11:45byline: By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy: section header item: Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 11:45headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left
BERKELEY - The first of three large land donations from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to the University of California has been officially transferred, expanding UC’s research forest lands by 1,459 acres.
Named the “Grouse Ridge Forest” after the dominant feature of the property, the land is located on three parcels in the headwaters of the Yuba River in Nevada County. In conjunction with the land donation to UC, a conservation easement was conveyed to the Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), ensuring the permanent protection of the forest land and important wildlife habitat there.
“As California’s forests experience increased stresses from droughts, beetles, fires, and climate change, we need more “living laboratories” to learn how we can increase the resiliency of these critical watersheds over the next century,” said Bill Stewart, forestry specialist and co-director of the UC Berkeley Center for Forestry (CFF). “This new addition of research forest land is valuable as another site along a north-south transect of the Sierra Nevada that ensures that research results are broadly applicable and not just valid in one specific location.”
The University of California now has 6,452 acres of research forests, which are managed by the Center for Forestry. Through research, education and public service, the CFF continues to improve scientific understanding of the interconnected role of California’s forests and state watersheds, renewable wood products, fish and wildlife habitat, scenic and recreational opportunities, and climate benefits.
These new lands will allow for increased research on the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems, expanded experimentation of forest-management techniques, and broadened outreach efforts to students of all levels, researchers, and the interested public.
“The importance of research forests as a space for studies on both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change was highlighted again this week with the announcement that we had just had the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row,” said J. Keith Gilless, CNR dean and professor of forest economics.
This is the first time UC has owned a forest property while another entity holds the conservation easement. “The Land Trust is excited for the opportunity to be a partner with the University of California in this endeavor,” said BYLT Executive Director Marty Coleman Hunt in an announcement made by the organization in December. “The forest has been a habitat for wildlife like mountain lion, deer and coyote and will remain so for as long as the forest can support them. As the forest changes over time, the University of California will study how nature adapts, and how the impact of humans can harm or benefit the natural processes.”
The land donation became official with the close of escrow in December 2016. It was originally approved by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council in 2004 as part of PG&E’s bankruptcy settlement, with the goal of ensuring that over 140,000 acres of California's lakes and watershed lands are conserved for the public good and to serve California's young people.
Two more forests have also been pledged to UC by PG&E and are expected to be officially transferred over the next few years: one along Marble Creek in eastern Shasta County and another near along the Bear River that is the dividing line between Placer County and Nevada County.
Once complete, these three donations will more than double the number of acres of UC research forest lands.
More information about the Grouse Ridge Forest Conservation Easement can be found on the Bear Yuba Land Trust Website.Image: Date: Friday, January 20, 2017 - 09:15byline: Julie Van Scoy, College of Natural ResourcesLegacy: section header item: Date: Friday, January 20, 2017 - 09:15headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left
Photogenic animals, from polar bears to people, aren’t the only creatures under threat from global climate change. A new review led by UC Berkeley suggests the phenomenon threatens parasites with extinction, which could have big consequences for ecosystems.
The vast majority of research into parasites and environment change focuses on how hosts, particularly humans, will be harmed. Few studies have addressed how the loss of parasite biodiversity may affect other aspects of host health, ecosystem connectedness and health and biodiversity as a whole. Previous research suggests that parasites are up to 10 times more vulnerable to extinction than are their hosts.
In the new study, the researchers suggest that parasites are as prone to extinction due to climate change as any other taxonomic group. The study predicts that losing parasites could destabilize ecosystems in many ways, such as by increasing more virulent disease or by altering the food web or changing host physiology. The study found that parasites in hosts with variable internal temperatures, parasites of large-bodied hosts, host-specific parasites and parasites with complex life cycles will likely be the most vulnerable to extinction due to climate change.
“This is the first comprehensive review of how climate change may affect parasite biodiversity, from the point of view of parasite conservation,” said Carrie Cizauskas, who led the research as a postdoctoral affiliate in the lab of Wayne Getz, a professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Colin Carlson, a graduate student in the same department, is co-lead author of the review.
The research was published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Previous work from this group has called for further research into parasite vulnerability from parasites’ perspectives, rather than primarily focusing on hosts, and also outlined ways to potentially conserve parasites. In the new study, the authors outline actionable items for researching the vulnerability of parasites. A forthcoming review from Cizauskas and Carlson attempts to quantify these parasite extinction risks using existing data and modeling.
The team outlines a protocol for identifying vulnerable parasites by a set of key risk factors, including host specificity, parasite life cycle complexity and climatic tolerance. The next step involves identifying important unanswered questions in parasite ecology, such as how host phylogeny predicts parasite extinction, or whether parasite extinctions will be clustered in particular ecosystems. Finally, they suggest proposing how ecological disciplines may be used to identify gaps in parasite research data.
“Ultimately, our goal is for this review to act as a catalyst for further research efforts and discussions regarding the important and little-addressed topic of parasite vulnerability in the face of climate change,” Cizauskas said.
Image: Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 12:45byline: By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy: section header item: Date: Friday, January 20, 2017 - 12:45headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left