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Deforestation ‘tip of the iceberg’ for environmentalists’ concerns about oil palm

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 11:49

Increased demand for palm oil has caused widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss in Southeast Asia. However, a new study by CNR researchers demonstrates that the impacts of oil palm expansion on forests is much worse than previously thought. Wildlife feeding on oil palm fruit can become over-abundant and subsequently cause chronic degradation to remaining nearby forests.

oil palm fruits at harvest

Animals like monkeys and pigs, which feed on the oil-rich fruit produced by oil palm, can become overabundant and cause increased degradation in nearby forests. Image Courtesy of Matthew Luskin.

In a study lasting lasting more than two decades, an international team of scientists working in tropical forests in Peninsular Malaysia observed immense shifts in the tree community. “We knew that forest understory was dying, but we didn’t understand why,” said Matthew Luskin, lead author of the study and an alumnus of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM). “Once we started looking outside the forest to the surrounding oil palm, the story became clear.”

Oil palm produces oil-rich fruit which can be found in a wide range of food and cosmetic products. However, forest animals like monkeys and pigs feed on these same fruits, allowing these animals to rapidly increase in number. The study focused on wild boars because they are well-known to farmers as crop-raiding pests.

The researchers found that the presence of oil palm fruit led to a 100-fold increase in the number of wild boar living in the adjacent forests. In addition to eating tree seeds, wild boar have destructive behaviors such as rooting up soil for food and building nests, which can disrupt tree sapling density. By comparing forest areas that were fenced to exclude wild boar, Luskin and his collaborators found that wild boar reduced the number of small trees by over 50%, raising concerns about the future health of the forests.

“What is most concerning about these findings is that the negative impacts of palm oil plantations are occuring deep within what otherwise looks like pristine forest–miles from the nearest plantation,” said Professor Matthew D. Potts, who, along with Professor Justin Brashares, is a co-author of the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Oil palm growers, and the countries and regulatory bodies that govern them, must now seriously think about the conservation implications of their actions off-farm in the surrounding landscape. Mitigating these longer-term larger-scale impacts will be imperative to conservation in the region.

A research forest right next to an oil palm field

The border of the Pasoh Forest Reserve, adjacent to an oil palm plantation. Image courtesy of Matthew Luskin.

“Even protected areas are not safe from oil palm,” said Luskin.

One option, he noted, is for the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to work with ecologists to co-develop oil palm and conservation plans. To limit negative impacts, the researchers also suggest forest reserves may need to be larger and surrounded by “buffer” areas to limit wildlife access to palm fruits. An undesirable alternative is lethal management of wild boars, but the scientists warn that this could lead to endangered species also being killed. Hunting is also labour intensive and undesirable for the majority of the local population which religion discourages interaction with pigs.

The researchers lastly cautioned that if action is not taken, oil palm may disrupt the ecology and compromise forests throughout much of Southeast Asia’s remaining forested lowlands since most of these are near to oil palm plantations. More broadly, the study is a warning call that even well-protected forest reserves may be insufficient to conserve tropical biodiversity in the face of ongoing agricultural expansion without proper management.

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Image:  An oil palm field in Malaysia Date:  Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 11:45 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

Dean Gilless honored with Excellence in Advising Award

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 00:00
Dean J. Keith Gilless holds his award and stands with CNR advisors Dean J. Keith Gilless (forth from left) with Office of Instruction and Student Affairs advisors.

In a ceremony on December 18th, Dean J. Keith Gilless was honored with a 2017 Excellence in Advising Award from UC Berkeley’s Advising Council. Each year, the Council recognizes the positive impact that faculty, staff, and university leadership have on student learning, performance, and engagement.

In a letter nominating Gilless for the award, the College of Natural Resources (CNR) Office of Instruction and Student Affairs cited his unparalleled and unwavering support for undergraduate education at the College, a population that has increased by nearly 1,000 students during his tenure as dean. By funding undergraduate research that supports faculty engagement with students, Gilless has expanded opportunities for CNR students. He has consistently supported a number of undergraduate programs including  Honors Research, the Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research, travel grants for undergraduates, and biannual undergraduate poster sessions. 60 percent of CNR students now participate in research by the time they graduate.

The nomination letter also highlighted Gilless’s work to address the learning needs of a diverse student population. To provide more educational access, he initiated CNR-specific chemistry courses, and he was the first dean to grant credit for an introductory chemistry course that consistently includes 80 percent female students and 40 percent underrepresented student populations.

As Gilless completes his final academic year as dean of CNR, Rebecca Sablo, Assistant Dean of Instruction and Student Affairs, reflected on his legacy as a leader and advisor. “The innovations Keith has introduced are often the result of his problem-solving approach which takes into consideration the diverse needs and expectations of students, faculty, and staff,” said Sablo. “His accomplishments and dedication to the student experience are remarkable, and he leaves behind a student population that is larger, more diverse, and happier than ever before.”

Image:  Dean J. Keith Gilless and advisors Date:  Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 13:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, December 22, 2017 - 13:30 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

Researchers discover how cells remember infections decades later

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:20

A perplexing question in immunology has been, how do immune cells remember an infection or a vaccination so that they can spring into action decades later? Research led by scientists at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with investigators at Emory University, has found an answer: A small pool of the same immune cells that responded to the original invasion remain alive for years, developing unique features that keep them primed and waiting for the same microbe to re-invade the body.

Before this study, scientists were not sure how cells can remember an infection from up to 30 years earlier. To tease apart this mystery, the research team tracked a specific kind of immune cell through the human body in the weeks, months and years following a vaccination that gives long-term protection.

Marc Hellerstein

March Hellerstein, professor of nutritional science and toxicology, applied a technique that he developed for his HIV/AIDS research in the 1990s to answer fundamental questions about how the immune system remembers infections decades after the first exposure.

The researchers tracked T cells inside people’s bodies after they were given the long-lasting yellow fever virus vaccine, using a technology developed at Berkeley for monitoring the birth and death of cells in humans over long periods of time. The researchers found that CD8+ T cells, responsible for long-term immunity against yellow fever, proliferate rapidly on exposure to the vaccine but then evolve, beginning about four weeks after the vaccination, into a “memory pool” of cells that live more than 10 times longer than the average T cell.

“This work addressed fundamental questions about the origin and longevity of human memory CD8+ T cells generated after an acute infection,” said Marc Hellerstein, senior coauthor and professor of nutritional science and toxicology at UC Berkeley. “Understanding the basis of effective long-term immune memory may help scientists develop better vaccines, understand differences among diseases and diagnose the quality of an individual person’s immune responses.”

The study was published December 13 in the journal Nature. The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

When someone gets a vaccine or is exposed to a new infectious agent, cells that recognize the invader but had never have been called into action before – called naive cells – respond by dividing like crazy and developing infection-fighting functions. This creates a large pool of so-called memory cells, named for their ability to remember the specific infectious agent and respond effectively to repeat threats later. Over time, the large pool shrinks to a small number of long-term memory cells, which are primed to provide late protection. But scientists have debated how these memory cells are maintained and ready to strike for so long after the initial exposure.

This study found that one way the pool is maintained for years after vaccination is through the development of several unique features. On the surface and through the actions of their genes, they look like cells that have never been exposed to an infection, but on their DNA the researchers found a fingerprint, called a methylation pattern, that identifies them as having been through battle as an infection-fighting cell, which are called effector cells.

“These cells are like veteran soldiers, camped in the blood and tissues where they fight their battles, waiting for yellow fever to show up,” said Hellerstein. “They are resting quietly and they wear the clothes of untested new recruits, but they are deeply experienced, ready to spring into action and primed to expand wildly and attack aggressively if invaders return.”

For the study, Hellerstein applied a technique that he developed for his HIV/AIDS research in the 1990s and has used widely since to track the birth and death of cells in the human body. The research team had subjects drink small amounts of water that had deuterium instead of hydrogen. Deuterium is non-toxic, but it is slightly heavier than hydrogen, so scientists can track it by mass spectrometry when it gets incorporated into newly replicated DNA in the body’s cells, which occurs only during cell division. Using this method, scientists can learn if a pool of cells is new or old, because newly born cells will have deuterium in their DNA. Scientists or clinicians monitoring the cells over time will see that the deuterium levels in short-lived cells will be diluted after the patients return to drinking regular water, while the deuterium levels in long-lived cells will remain high. In the new study, people drank the deuterium water at different times after receiving the live yellow fever virus vaccine and researchers isolated T cells from the patients, then analyzed their deuterium content.

Yellow fever virus is not a threat in the United States, which means that all the subjects had not been previously exposed and would not get exposed after the tagging period, making the vaccine ideal for studying what happens to newly generated cells over a long period of time, when there is no longer any infectious agent to fight.

After a first acute exposure to an infectious agent or vaccine, the body has an initial phase with lots of short-lived infection fighting soldiers, called effector-memory cells. Then after the threat is cleared, effector cells go away and small numbers of long-term memory cells are present. One of the central questions in immunology was whether the long-term memory cells went through an effector stage or went on a separate pathway of their own. The research team found that that a subset of the effector-memory pool that had divided extensively during the first two weeks after vaccination stayed alive as long-term memory cells, dividing less frequently than once every year.

The extremely long life-span of the surviving memory cells allows them to specialize over time into a unique, previously unrecognized type of T cell. The long-term memory cells have some molecular markers that make them look like naive cells that have never activated, including a gene expression profile that looks like that in naive cells, yet have other molecular markers on their DNA of having gone through battle as effector cells.

“These results make it clear that true long-term memory cells were once effector cells that have become quiescent,” Hellerstein said. “This apparently keeps them poised to respond rapidly as new effector cells upon re-exposure to the pathogen.”

The research team calculated that the half-life of these long-term memory cells is 450 days, compared to a half-life of about 30 days for the average memory T cell in the body, during which they are in general repeatedly exposed to common antigens in the environment. So when the memory pool goes quiet, these unique cells retain a fingerprint stemming back to the original exposure, and remain primed to respond rapidly if there is re-exposure to the pathogen.

“The combination of molecular evidence of a unique life history with direct measurement of their long life span is what gives this study such power,” Hellerstein said. “The technology to measure the dynamics of the birth and death of cells and advances allowing it to be applied to very small numbers of cells let this study happen.”

Read the article at its source, UC Berkeley News.

Image:  Medical professional giving a patient a shot Date:  Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:15 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:15 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

CNR Dean Search: Call for Nominations

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:26

The University of California, Berkeley invites nominations and applications for the position of Dean of the College of Natural Resources. The appointee is expected to join the faculty beginning July 1, 2018. This is an internal system-wide UC campus search restricted to those who have attained the rank of Professor at any UC campus or research field station.

The College comprises four Departments:  Agricultural and Resource EconomicsEnvironmental Science, Policy, and ManagementNutritional Sciences and Toxicology, and Plant and Microbial Biology. It also has an interdisciplinary graduate program that functions as a department, the Energy & Resources Group. Additionally, it has several centers of expertise. These programs enroll approximately 1900 undergraduate students and 460 graduate students, and are supported by 140 faculty and 16 environmental and agricultural Cooperative Extension Specialists. The College is part of the Land Grant System, and its faculty have appointments in the Agricultural Experiment Station of the State of California.

Top candidates for this position will present records of academic distinction in fields constituting or related to the environment and use of natural resources from a biological, ecological, economic, or social science perspective. The ideal candidate will have an appreciation of the breadth of the College’s research and education. S/he will have a strong sense of the role of the College with respect to the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources(link is external). S/he must be able to work with faculty, students, staff, administrators, and external constituencies to develop a vision and a strategy for the future, with a focus on fundraising, and possess a record of strong administrative skills. S/he will have a record of supporting diversity and a commitment to promoting equity and inclusion for faculty, students, and staff.

Nominations are also sought: these should include the name of the nominee, and a brief statement of the nominee's qualifications. Nominations must be received by December 15, 2017. Applications must be received by February 1, 2018.  Applications should include a curriculum vitae, and a statement of interest.  Please send these materials to:

Chair, College of Natural Resources Dean Search Committee
Office of the Vice Provost for the Faculty
Electronic submissions should be sent to:

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. This position is a sensitive position and is subject to a criminal background check. Questions may be referred to Carolyn Capps at (510) 642-6474 or

College of Natural Resources Dean Search Committee Roster 2017-18
  • Jennifer Wolch, Dean (Committee Chair), College of Environmental Design
  • Kathryn Baldwin, Development Officer, College of Natural Resources
  • Carrie Maser, Alumni and Advisory Board, College of Natural Resources
  • Whendee Silver, Professor, Environmental Science, Policy & Management
  • John Coates, Professor, Plant & Microbial Biology
  • Sofia Villas-Boas, Professor, Agriculture & Resource Economics
  • Hei Sook Sul, Professor, Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology
  • Dan Farber, Professor, Energy & Resources Group
  • Hector Rodriguez, Professor, School of Public Health
  • Nipam Patel, Professor, Integrative Biology
  • Sheila Barry, Graduate Student, Range Management, CNR
Image:  Giannini Hall Date:  Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Scott Silva

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 09:53
Scott Silva in front of rocks

Scott Silva at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Scott Silva

3rd year,  Environmental Sciences and Ecosystem Management & Forestry with a minor in Geographic Information Science and Technology

Junior Scott Silva wants to make Cal’s trash one of its reusable treasures. He tells us about his efforts at the Zero Waste Research Center, attending Forestry Camp, and how geocaching led him to study environmental science.

How did you decide to study environmental science and forestry?

I became interested in forestry and environmental sciences when I was young, and enjoying the outdoors was one of the only things I enjoyed doing. In addition to being known for wine tourism, my hometown of Napa has a big hiking culture, and my dad took me for hikes often. I started going geocaching, which is an outdoor scavenger hunt that sometimes involves solving puzzles in order to find hidden "caches" that contain a logbook and small knick knates for trading. I learned a lot about the natural landscape while talking with my father and being outdoors, which made me wonder more about how and why nature does what it does.

In high school, my love of hiking grew when I joined the hiking club. I eventually became president of the club, and loved taking my friends out to places to do trail work, hike, or do clean-ups, which helped me gain outdoor leadership experience. I then got to meet a lot of people in working in the field of environmental science and was amazed at the fact that you could get paid for helping the environment. I made it my goal to be involved with environmental sciences, as I wanted to be a manager of natural resources and have a say in land management decisions. All the while, climate change and other anthropogenic impacts were unfolding around the world, fueling my political drive to fight for something I believed in.

Scott Silva in a tree

As a student here at UC Berkeley, you attended Forestry Field camp. Could you tell us about your experience in the program?

At Forestry Field Camp, we learn about current forestry industry and how it impacts the world’s natural resources. The summer I spent in the program began by taking Sierra Nevada Ecology with Scott Stephens, in which we studied the ecology and natural systems that exist within the Sierra Nevada. This class was super fun because we got to learn the taxonomy and functions of many of the plants found in the Sierras, which involved hiking and be in the field for class. We were even “poisoned” by professor Joe McBride after he fed us blue elderberry. Then, we took Forest Measurements with Rob York, which focused on how foresters measure and select trees for harvest. We also took part in a class called Silviculture with Kevin O'hara, which took us to multiple industrial and state-owned forests to examine about how the timber industry and forest ecosystems operate hand-in-hand. Finally, we had our Forest Management and Assessment class with Frieder Schurr and Rick Standiford, where we were assigned a 160-acre parcel and were asked to write a management plan about it. This class was a good example of what a professional forester does, and we were given many opportunities to create a project that was something craft on our own and take pride in. After this camp, I feel that I know how a professional forester manages a forest, as well as the ecology and cultural experiences that go along with management.

In addition to school, we had many weekend and extracurricular adventures. Every day after class, all of the people at camp would meet for dinner at the dining hall, where we would just joke and laugh about the day, or hang out with local environmental officials and professors. We would also go camping nearly every weekend, whether it be climbing Mount Lassen, floating at Butt Lake, or just fishing in the Feather River. Finally, nights were filled with recreational activities such as dance parties, "forest" ball (a volleyball variant), and night hikes. Participating in these activities helped us form great and lasting friendships. It’s been great to meet people in my major and get to know my classmates on a personal level.

You're involved in the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC)—what are your primary responsibilities at the Center?

I work in the Zero Waste Research Center at SERC, which looks for upstream and downstream solutions to waste problems on our campus. I am in charge of researching and implementing zero waste programs on campus that are economically viable, as well as sustainable. I look at social, economic, and political impacts of waste projects, and I try to help combine people and programs in order to maximize the efficacy of the zero waste movement. Since launching in 2012, the Zero Waste Research Center has been awarded a grant from The Green Initiative Fund and started recycling and composing projects across campus. With composting, we are attempting to implement a vermi-composting program with aquaponics on campus. Our current recycling projects involve attempting to create 3D printer filament out of plastic waste, as well as other ways to reuse UC Berkeley’s waste in an effort to transform trash into potential resources. With resources like transforming plastic waste into 3D printer filament, we have the opportunity to create an economic advantage of our waste to benefit the Berkeley community’s sustainability efforts.

Scott Silva doing a CHAOS hike

Scott Silva on a CHAOS Hike at the annual Gourmet Trip in Henry Coe State Park.

In addition to your work with SERC, you’re the president of the Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society (CHAOS). What are some benefits of being involved in a student organization like CHAOS?

CHAOS is a great club because it is full of diverse people who have one goal: hiking. This brings together unique crowds and creates a very inclusive atmosphere. Our club gives our members a lot of perks such as coupons from various brands, access to outdoor recreational spaces and stores, and free gear rentals from our gear shed. Being involved in a student organization helps students find community, helping them establish a “home away from home” on campus. Being part of a student organization can make campus feel smaller, which helps many people feel less lost.

What advice would you offer to students looking to get involved in the outdoors at Cal?

JUST GO OUTSIDE! Between studying for midterms, school groups, and plain old procrastinating, many of us don’t have the time or energy to go outside. But with proper planning and oversight, it’s easy to find time to go on a hike to relax and enjoy the outdoors. This way, students can foster a deeper connection with their environment, which makes being involved with the outdoors much more meaningful.

Image:  Scott Silva Date:  Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 09:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, December 1, 2017 - 09:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Student Spotlights

Microorganism in East Bay sludge reveals new CO2 fixation pathway

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:26

Scientists from the Department of Plant and Microbiology (PMB) have identified the first natural example of a pathway for carbon dioxide fixation previously thought to be only synthetically derived. This discovery has the potential to lead to applications in developing new methods for carbon capture and conversion for the sustainable storing of electrical energy in liquid fuel form.

The finding was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by professor John Coates and researchers from his lab, including the study’s first author, Israel Figueroa, a PMB doctoral alumnus.

Carbon fixation is the process by which living organisms like plants or microorganisms convert inorganic carbon to an organic compound for biomass production. The launch point for Figueroa’s doctoral research was a sole microorganism identified by a laboratory in Germany, which—unlike all other known living organisms—uses phosphite as its energy source to fix carbon dioxide. Very little is known about this metabolism or the underlying biochemical pathway, or even the prevalence of phosphite, so Figueroa set out to search for its occurrence in nature.  

Headshot of Israel Figueroa Israel Figueroa (pictured), the study's first lead author, conducted this research in Professor John Coates's lab. Photo by Natalea Schager.

Figueroa began scouring the Bay Area for potential environments that could host anaerobic microorganisms capable of utilizing phosphite and carbon dioxide simultaneously. After sampling locations that included Strawberry Creek on the UC Berkeley campus and marine sediment along the coast, he finally located a sample from East Bay wastewater treatment sludge capable of CO2 fixation that relies on phosphite as an energy source. Using advanced genetic techniques on this sample, he identified a new microorganism and the existence of the novel CO2 fixation for the first time in nature.

This pathway represents the seventh natural mechanism by which living organisms on Earth can capture carbon dioxide and convert it into organic carbon. UC Berkeley has been integral to research in the area of CO2 fixation pathways. Of the seven natural pathways now known, three were discovered on campus, including the Calvin-Benson Bassham cycle and the Arnon-Buchanan cycle, two of the most widely studied pathways. The Calvin-Benson Bassham cycle pathway is considered the primary mechanism by which all plants on Earth fix CO2 through light-dependent photosynthesis.

Understanding and synthesizing carbon fixation is a potential key to creating a more sustainable future for the planet. The discovery of the seventh pathway in nature is a preliminary finding that could that could lead to further advances toward pulling carbon dioxide out of the environment and converting it into a chemical alternative to petroleum that can be used to generate and store energy.

This discovery is part of a broader research mission in the Coates lab, which is investigating the uses of phosphite as a renewable energy source. “We need to consider a different energy future and landscape,” said Coates. “If we can find ways of harnessing this naturally energy-rich chemical, through either chemistry or biology, to make the materials that we need to create sustainable energy resources, we could be closer to an effective means of powering the world.”

Image:  Graduate Student Israel Figueroa examines a test tube Date:  Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 15:15 byline:  By Mackenzie Smith Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 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):  Research News

CNR researchers awarded grant to promote and study Bay Area urban farming

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 10:25

Three CNR researchers have been awarded a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to promote ecological resilience and economic viability for the Bay Area’s urban farms. The research will be led by Jennifer Sowerwine, an assistant Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), as well as ESPM faculty members Timothy Bowles and Céline Pallud, and Charisma Acey from the College of Envrionmental Design.

The team will work to improve the sustainability and resilience of urban farms by building healthier soils, conserving water, and promoting beneficial insects. Researchers will also evaluate the effectiveness of existing urban and peri-urban food access and food distribution methods for meeting food needs of urban low-income, food insecure communities.

FFAR, a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, awarded Sowerwine’s team a $295,000 Seeding Solutions grant. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from UC Berkeley and other private sources for a total investment of nearly $600,000. Drawing from expertise in soil science, ecological diversity management and urban planning, the team will use the grant to conduct research that studies urban farming from multiple angles, from soil to supply chains and distribution to community access to agricultural products.

“In order to ensure urban agriculture can grow and sustainably feed urban populations into the future, we need to better understand urban agriculture challenges from a policy and systems perspective,” said Sowerwine. “This Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grant will support both research and a participatory process with the public to co-create solutions that can support ecological sustainability, economically viable livelihoods, and equitable access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods in culturally acceptable ways.”

Policy recommendations and best practice outcomes will be developed in close collaboration with low-income and culturally diverse communities, community leaders, technology and marketing innovators, policy advocates, food producers, educators and extension specialists. The Berkeley Food Institute is providing coordination in this project and will work with the team to disseminate the results widely to decision makers, community advocates, and urban food producers and distributors.

Research will take place throughout the East Bay and findings will be applicable to other urban communities throughout the United States. Collaborators include several urban farming businesses and nonprofit organizations, including the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture and Planting Justice.

This project is supported by FFAR through its Seeding Solutions grant program, which calls for bold, innovative, and potentially transformative research proposals in the Foundation’s seven Challenge Areas. This grant supports the Urban Food Systems Challenge Area, which aims to enhance our ability to  feed urban populations    through urban and peri-urban agriculture, augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

“The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support this integrated approach to improving the economic and environmental strength of urban agriculture systems,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of FFAR. “This project shows exciting potential to improve urban farmer livelihoods and nutrition in food insecure communities.”

Read the full story at its source, FFAR’s website.

Image:  Headshots of Jennifer Sowerwine, Timothy Bowles and Céline Pallud Date:  Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 10:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 10:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Dan Hammer wins inaugural Pritzker Award

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 09:01

Dan Hammer, an Agricultural and Resource Economics PhD candidate who has worked to make information about the environment accessible and understandable for journalists, has been honored with the first-ever Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award.

The award was presented during a ceremony at the California NanoSystems Institute at University of California, Los Angelos (UCLA) on November 8. The honor, which carries a $100,000 cash prize, was created by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to recognize individuals 40 and younger who have shown exceptional promise as champions for the environment.

Most awards in environmental studies are given to people who have already made their marks. The Pritzker Award, which was funded as part of a $20 million gift to UCLA from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, is the field’s first major honor for young innovators—those whose work stands to benefit most from the prize money and prestige.

Hammer is an environmental economist and data expert, and the co-founder of Earth Genome, a nonprofit that seeks to provide environmental data to decision makers. His current project, Overview News, would give journalists and other storytellers easy access to satellite imagery and help them understand it—all in order to support lucid, reliable news about the environment. 

Dan Hammer

“There is nothing more unbiased than the flyby images from a small piece of metal in low Earth orbit traveling at 10,000 miles per hour,” Hammer wrote in his statement to the Pritzker Award judges.

In presenting the award, Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, said that recent extreme weather and wildfires have been urgent reminders of the importance of dealing with environmental challenges.

“The last few months have demonstrated why we all have to take the environment seriously,” Waugh said. “We need innovation, we need courage and we need energy to help solve these problems, because they’re not getting solved on their own. It takes the dedication of people like [the Pritzker Award finalists] and the researchers at UCLA.”

Hammer also co-founded a platform called Global Forest Watch, which uses satellite images to detect deforestation. During the Obama administration, he was a senior policy advisor on technology to NASA and the White House. Democratizing scientific data—making it more accessible to the public—is a consistent focus of his work.

“Each time, it’s about provisioning environmental data in a way that modern web developers can use and incorporate into their applications,” Hammer said.

In addition to his efforts to make data more accessible, Hammer teaches math to inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

He was chosen from among six finalists whose interests range from protecting endangered elephants to ensuring equitable access to water. 

Read the full article at its source,  the California NanoSystems Institute.

Image:  Dan Hammer Date:  Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 08:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 08:45 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

California birds nesting a week earlier than they did a century ago

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 16:09

A new study suggests that many of the state’s birds are adapting to rising temperatures by breeding earlier than they did a century ago.

A comparison of nesting data recorded in the early 1900s with similar data today for more than 200 species of California birds shows that overall they are breeding five to 12 days earlier than they did 75 to 100 years ago. Earlier studies found that many but not all birds in California’s mountains are moving north or to higher elevations to find cooler temperatures in the face of global warming.

“The shift to earlier breeding that we detected allows birds to nest at similar temperatures as they did a century ago, and helps explain why half the bird species in the mountainous areas of California did not need to shift upward in elevation in response to climate warming over the past century,” said co-author Steven Beissinger, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM).

1921 photo of scrubjays

California scrub jay nestlings in Berkeley, May 20, 1921. A new study compared nesting data from the early 1900s to similar data today and found that California birds are nesting earlier to avoid warmer weather. Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

The study, led by former ESPM graduate student Morgan Tingley, now an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, UConn postdoc Jacob Socolar, former ESPM postdoc Peter Epanchin, now of the United States Agency for International Development, and Beissinger will be published online the week of November 13 by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Early spring arrivals have long been noted by the public and reported by scientists, but the assumption has been that the birds are tracking resources, primarily food: with warming temperatures, plants produce leaves and seeds earlier, and insects emerge earlier.

The new study spotlights another major reason: By nesting a week earlier, birds produce eggs and young at a temperature about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than if they nested at the normal time in the same place. This exactly counterbalances the approximately 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures over the past century.

“By nesting a week or 10 days earlier, birds are avoiding some of the negative effects of climate warming,” Beissinger said.

“The good news is that there may be more flexibility for species to respond to climate change than we thought, and not all species may need to move farther north or to higher elevations,” he added. “But we don’t know yet whether staying in place and shifting schedules earlier is a permanent solution, or only provides temporary relief from the 2 degree Celsius (3.5 degree Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures forecast to occur.”

Birds may find, for example, that the window of good temperatures for breeding becomes shorter, which may limit the opportunity to re-nest if they fail the first time. Larger species that have a longer nesting period might not have a enough time to complete their nests before it starts to become too warm, he said.

Early 1900s data from historic Grinnell survey

The researchers used historical data on animal species and numbers collected between 1911 and 1929 by UC Berkeley biologist Joseph Grinnell and his colleagues and students. These data have proved invaluable for assessing how the state’s birds and mammals have altered their geographic and elevational ranges over the past century. In 2009, Tingley, then an ESPM graduate student, and Beissinger used this data to show that about half the state’s birds had physically moved northward or to higher elevations to escape the heat as temperatures increased over the past 100 years.

With the Grinnell survey data as a baseline, UC Berkeley researchers have conducted resurveys of the entire state as part of the Grinnell Resurvey Project. Beissinger and his colleagues focused on the bird data, looking at the shift in nest timing for 202 species across most of northern California, from the northwest coast to Monterey, and in the western mountains from Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks to Lassen National Park. To help understand the relationship between temperature and nesting, the researchers also accessed data from 47,023 monitored bird nests across North America from over 100 species that had been collected by citizen scientists contributing to Project Nestwatch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in New York.

Analyzing these data, the researchers discovered that nesting success varied significantly on the fringes of birds’ breeding ranges: At warmer temperatures, birds on the northern, cooler fringes saw higher success, while those on the southern, hotter fringes saw less breeding success. 

A dusky flycatcher bird photographed in 1925

A dusky flycatcher tends its nest near Battle Creek in Tehama County on June 17, 1925. Joseph Dixon photo courtesy of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

“In the colder parts of the breeding ranges, abnormally warm summers increase the survival of nestlings, but in warm southern parts of ranges, abnormally warm summers decrease their survival,” said Tingley. “Breeding earlier means breeding colder, and temperature matters for survival of nestlings.”

“Previously adaptations of range changes and timing changes have always been thought of separately. What we show is this might not be so simple and they could be intertwined,” said Socolar.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the California Energy Commission.


Read the article at its source, UC Berkeley News

Image:  1921 photo of scrubjays Date:  Monday, November 13, 2017 - 16:00 byline:  By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 16:00 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

Student Spotlight: Laura Driscoll

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 13:17

In our first graduate student edition of our Student Spotlight series, Laura Driscoll tells us about her dissertation research, the organic farming report that she co-authored, and how studying anthropology sparked her interest in ecology.

Laura Driscoll

Laura Driscoll

PhD candidate, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

You are in the process of completing your dissertation. What’s the focus of your doctoral research?

My doctoral research looks at how food safety measures on vegetable farms impact environmental sustainability goals. I’m comparing the landscape of regulatory tools and private food safety standards that exist in the United States and United Kingdom, to see which tools create the best outcomes for both food safety and the environment. Regulatory approaches are very different between the two areas, while private standards are fairly similar. I’m finding that outcomes for food safety and environment are best with a blend of public and private governance, and food safety rules seem to be less in conflict with environmental goals under EU rules than they are here in the United States. Working with professor Kate O’Neill, I’m exploring all this in my dissertation to get into the details of why it works differently in each location, and what lessons we can learn for better management of both food safety and the environment.

How did you become interested in this field?

Prior to beginning graduate school at Berkeley, I studied anthropology at Stanford. For my master’s thesis, I examined how tourism was impacting community cohesion and resource use in indigenous communities along the Tambopata river in southeastern Peru, potentially impacting nearby national parks. After completing my masters, I began working for the Center for Responsible Travel, a non-profit policy-based research organization promoting sustainable travel that benefits local communities and protects the environment. In partnership with governments and other NGOs, we conducted studies comparing stay-over tourism to cruise tourism in Mexico and Belize, and comparing ecotourism to conventional tourism in Costa Rica. The backbone of all this work was interviews with tourism employees and household surveys in the nearby communities, where I was using my anthropological training to understand the social and economic impacts of different styles of tourism.

Many of the questions that we asked during interviews ran up against agricultural issues, like the tense relationship between environmental conservation messages and the necessary income communities made from export agriculture in palm oil or bananas. There was also hunger in some of these communities, even though many of the people not working in tourism were farmers, and I saw that much of what they grew was exported. I became very interested in questions around food and agriculture through doing this work, and how agriculture is tied into environmental goals and social equity questions. I started exploring agriculture through a blended social science and environmental lens, and that’s what led me to become a graduate student at Berkeley.

Laura Driscoll and a tree

Laura beside a kapok tree in Tambopata National Reserve in Madre de Dios, Peru.

You co-authored a Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) report, Growing Organic, State by State: A Review of State-Level Support for Organic Agriculture. The report highlights the opportunities and challenges facing state departments of agriculture as they support a growing number of organic farmers. What led to your interest in organic farming research and how did you become involved in this report?

Working with farms of different sizes and types in my doctoral work got me interested in the unique challenges and benefits of organic farming. As the market for organic products continues to grow, it will be important to increase information and resources for supporting organic farmers. Environmental protection and sustainability in agriculture is a wide topic area that includes many different elements, but organic agriculture is one important component and we need to promote organic at the policy level. BFI selected me as a Graduate Student Researcher to conduct this study, to see what support currently exists for organic farming at the state level and how it could be strengthened.  

What was the interviewing and research process like as you were writing the report?

After choosing states that would create a representative sample accurately reflecting each region, I worked to communicate directly with the departments of agriculture in each state to learn about the portfolio of ways that they’re supporting organic farmers. We wanted to know: What services do they offer organic farmers, what are the biggest challenges that they’re facing, and what are some things that their state does really well in terms of supporting organic? It was fascinating to talk to department staff.

It wasn’t always easy to figure out who was the best person to talk to in each department, because organic isn’t managed the same way in all states. For instance, some state departments are organic certifiers, and others do not handle certification. Tracking down and speaking with the right people was the longest part of the process because resources are stretched thin in many of these departments.

What are some recommendations that states could potentially take away from this report?

Our research revealed that state departments of agriculture may offer very different services based on whether they offer certification in-house or whether they do not certify. Those that do certify must comply with specific rules, and they often offer fewer services as a result. It could be helpful to reorganize how services are offered, or to strengthen links to universities and nonprofits that can fill in those gaps.

Laura Driscoll at a vineyard Harvesting grapes at a community-run vineyard in Portola Valley, CA.

Another important takeaway from the report might be: Know your state’s organic farmer population and know how you can best help them. Many of the personnel working in these states have a good understanding of what’s most useful in their state. For example, in the northeast, there’s an emphasis on local products like dairy or maple syrup and organic is one group within that, and in the midwest a lot of energy is spent on issues of pesticide drift on grain farms. Some states have really large organic farmer populations so issues are around managing a high volume of service needs, and others have fewer organic farmers so their biggest work is around spreading information and growing that producer base. Different responses are needed for different farmer populations, in accordance with the resources each department has and how organic fits into their overall agricultural plan as a state. The states that were offering the best support for organic farmers were those that had a strong understanding of their farmers’ needs, and robust links to groups outside the department that could provide additional resources for farmers.

Of these recommendations and these conclusions, where do you see the most potential or the most political will?

This is going to be different for each state, and it remains to be seen what the response will be. It will be interesting to see what develops across the country on the heels of this work and other work that is being done to promote organic farming. One part of the report that is really promising is knowing which states are doing really well despite having few resources to put toward organic support. There are lessons there that could help other states, and opportunities for additional growth. Helping to connect farmers to resources outside the department is something that any state can work toward regardless of resources, so that is really promising.

There are ways that departments can facilitate or make space for work being done by university extension personnel and nonprofits, so strengthening the bonds between these state agencies and other players in the field is really important to best leverage limited resources. It was interesting seeing how organic regulations function on a national level and how they then trickle down into decisions and practices at the state level, different from state to state. How those different levels of regulation are articulated was really interesting to think about, since that is a topic I’m also dealing with from a different angle in my dissertation.

Image:  laura driscoll Date:  Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 08:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 08:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Student Spotlights

Four CNR faculty named 2017 Hellman Fellows

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:31

Four faculty from the College of Natural Resources have been named 2017 Hellman Fellows. The Hellman Fellows Program supports junior faculty research on the ten campuses of the UC system and at four private institutions.  

Established by Warren & Chris Hellman and their children in 1994, the purpose of the Hellman Fellows Program is to support the research of promising assistant professors who show capacity for great distinction in their chosen fields of endeavor. The Hellman Fellows Program has made over 850 awards during the life of the program. 

Headshots of James Sallee, David Anthoff, James Olzmann, and Matthew Traxler

CNR's 2017 Hellman Fellows from left to right: James Sallee, David Anthoff, James Olzmann, and Matthew Traxler.

James Sallee
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics
Project Title: Heterogeneity, Equity, and Energy Policy

David Anthoff
Assistant Professor, Energy Resources Group
Project Title: Social Cost of Carbon Estimation for Climate Policy

James Olzmann
Assistant Professor, Nutritional Science & Toxicology
Project title: Global identification of endogenous ERAD substrates

Matthew Traxler
Assistant Professor, Plant and Microbial Biology
Project Title: Mining Unexplored Microbiomes for Antibiotics Discovery Using Mass Spectral Imaging


For fellowship information and a complete list of awardees, visit the Hellman Fellows Fund website.

Image:  Headshots of James Sallee, David Anthoff, James Olzmann, and Matthew Traxler Date:  Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - 11:45 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

Berkeley Noted for Environment/Ecology, Plant & Animal Science by U.S. News & World Report

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 15:27

In the U.S. News & World Report's “Best Global Universities Rankings,” published this week, UC Berkeley was ranked #1 in Environment/Ecology and #4  in Plant and Animal Science.

According to the report, “The field of environment and ecology includes subjects such as environmental health, environmental monitoring and management, and climate change” as well as the relationships between living things and the physical world. The report states that topics in the plant and animal science category include plant research, plant pathology, plant nutrition, veterinary medicine, marine and freshwater biology, and zoology.

CNR is honored to be a part of the campus community conducting groundbreaking research, teaching, and outreach in these subject areas.

UC Berkeley placed fourth in the overall global university ranking. Other highly ranked subject areas at Berkeley include Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Biochemistry, Microbiology, Engineering, and Space Science.

Image:  Bancroft library and Sather tower Date:  Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 15:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 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 Research News

UC Berkeley establishes the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 14:51
Jon Jarvis in a redwood grove on the UC Berkeley campus

After 40 years with the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis will head up the new Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity at UC Berkeley. Photo by Jeremy Snowden.

UC Berkeley announced today the establishment of the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity to tackle the most pressing issues facing the future of parks, including climate change and equitable access. The institute’s inaugural executive director will be Jonathan B. Jarvis, who served 40 years with the National Park Service (NPS) and as its 18th director from 2009 to 2017.

“Our national, state and local parks are facing a myriad of challenges from climate change while simultaneously expected to provide recreation, wildlife refuge, public gathering space, health benefits, and environmental justice,” Jarvis said. “I am very excited by this opportunity to bring together the extraordinary academic talents at UC Berkeley with the professionals in the parks and public lands to tackle these challenges.”

Jarvis brings a lifetime of park management experience to the institute. During his tenure as NPS director, he initiated extensive programs to address climate changes in the national parks, expanded the NPS by 22 new parks, and led the service through its Centennial with a vision for a second century of park stewardship, engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.

Resources Legacy Fund (RLF) provided $250,000 in seed funding to launch the institute, continuing its nearly 20-year history of advancing conservation across the West. The nonprofit recently led efforts to help modernize the California park system through the Parks Forward Commission.

“The new institute will help inform future policy and management directions for parks,” said Michael Mantell, the founder and president of RLF. “Today we understand better than ever the economic, ecological, and societal values of protecting parks and biological diversity. That’s why we need a new vision for parks that includes equitable access and climate resilience, and policy to achieve that vision. Resources Legacy Fund is pleased to help UC Berkeley pioneer the interdisciplinary approach that can help advance our parks and serve society for the 21st century and beyond.”

The new institute continues Berkeley’s long tradition of involvement in the national parks system, starting with its very foundation. In 1915, Stephen T. Mather, class of 1887, and Horace M. Albright, class of 1912, gathered a group at Berkeley’s campus to plot a future for the country’s existing and evolving national parks. The result of their efforts was legislation establishing the NPS in 1916, with Mather serving as its first director and Albright as its second.

For more than 100 years, research at Berkeley has helped guide evidence-based management policies and actions for parks. Berkeley’s faculty, graduate students and natural history museums’ curators conduct research in and for parks that produce key data and insights. Interdisciplinary studies of ecosystems yield important information about the management of biodiversity in the face of climate change, introduced species and other threats, and assess how protected land contributes to the health of the economy and the health of the planet, including carbon sequestration and ecosystem services. Research on the social, cultural, and health benefits of parks contributes to decisions on park use and human enjoyment. The new institute will connect field managers and researchers to improve management of national, state, and local parks and other public lands.

Creation of the institute comes as the original concept of managing parks as discrete natural areas is increasingly out of date. Wildlife do not obey boundary lines, and climate change makes the historical record an unreliable predictor of future conditions. Park access must be expanded for underserved communities and urban populations, and to ensure continued support, parks must be managed in ways that engage younger generations.

One hundred years after the founding of the NPS, Berkeley hosted the 2015 summit “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century” to advance the conversation about the future of parks. In the wake of this summit, the institute will help prepare parks, people and biodiversity for multiple futures, incorporating the best available science. The institute will bring together Berkeley faculty, researchers and practitioners across diverse disciplines to chart the course of park and protected space management for future. Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources will host the institute, but the academic talents of the university’s various colleges and disciplines will be involved, including public health, environment, education, design, business and law.

“We have world-class faculty who are already working on these issues, and we can look long term to study difficult questions across disciplines,” said Steven Beissinger, Berkeley professor of conservation biology in the College of Natural Resources, who led the push to start the institute.


  • Read the press release on the UC Berkeley News site
  • The Berkeley Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity webpage.
  • VIDEO: Science for Parks, Parks for Science – created by UC Berkeley and the National Park Service during the national parks centennial, this video highlights the importance of science in, around, and for parks.
Image:  Sunrise over a mountain and lake Date:  Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 14:45 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 14:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Berkeley Food Institute podcast features CNR researchers

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 13:27
The farm is full of native pollinators, such as this bumble bee.

Muller Ranch is full of native pollinators, such as this bumble bee. Images from BFI

“If honey bees disappeared tomorrow, we would definitely be compelled to change our farming system. We’d have to provide for the needs of native pollinators.” That’s Claire Kremen, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, and a conservation biologist who studies biodiversity loss. Kremen was recently interviewed about California’s native pollinators on an episode of Just Food, a new podcast series from the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI).

Just Food is a six-part podcast series that investigates food justice and health in California. Produced in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute, the series’ first episode focused on efforts to promote equitable agriculture, and included an interview with Christy Getz, an associate Cooperative Extension specialist. Getz, who has been studying an organization called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), spoke about the challenges that many workers in agriculture face: “Farmworkers suffer from high rates of food insecurity so that’s kind of the paradox, that the very people who pick and harvest our food often can’t afford to eat that very food.” Efforts like the EFI aim to make farming healthier for workers and the environment through improving working conditions and farming habitats.

The podcast’s second episode, “Feeling the Sting: What Can Be Done to Protect Pollinators” featured Kremen as well as a local farmer and a beekeeper. Kremen addressed American agriculture’s reliance on honey bees—which aren’t native to the US—to pollinate crops. This has created a fragile ecosystem, according to Kremen: “Anytime you rely on only one thing, you have no buffer. It's kind of like the stock market—most people recognize that investing all of their assets into a single commodity is not a wise idea.”

To create more robust farming ecosystems, and to protect against disorders like colony collapse, Kremen calls for relying on a greater diversity of pollinators, including native pollinators. Additionally, farms need to create habitats in which native pollinators like green sweat bees can thrive. For many farms that focus on monoculture growing, this means incorporating natural plants and diversifying crops to include plants that bloom at different times of the year, providing food for native pollinators year round.

The podcast series will continue to tackle food justice and health issues in its upcoming episodes. Read more about the podcast and listen to episodes on BFI’s website.

Image:  Colin devotes much of his time tending to the farm’s honey bee hives. Date:  Friday, October 20, 2017 - 08:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, October 20, 2017 - 13:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

CNR experts on Northern California’s wildfires

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 14:38

After an already fierce fire season across the state, October has been a devastating month for wildfires in Northern California, resulting in the destruction of than 6,700 homes and businesses in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. The CNR community is sending thoughts of condolence and hope to those who have been affected. While firefighters work around the clock to evacuate communities and battle the flames, and as these counties look toward returning home and rebuilding, CNR’s faculty and researchers have been sharing research findings and strategies for wildfire management, as well as policy recommendations and concerns. Below are some of the interviews and commentaries in which CNR scientists offer advice, support, and policy direction.

Why California's wildfires, like everything else, keep getting worse
Cooperative Extension specialist Bill Stewart interview in Vice

California’s wildfires: why have they been so destructive?
Professor Scott Stephens in the New York Times

What to do if you’re trapped in a vehicle in the middle of a wildfire
Dean J. Keith Gilless in the Washington Post

San Francisco Is choking on a thick haze of smoke. These are the health risks
Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch in Buzzfeed

Op-ed: Spending more on fire suppression won’t reduce losses
Professor Scott Stephens in the San Francisco Chronicle

Why California needs more smart forestry
Cooperative Extension forest management specialist Richard B. Standiford in the Sacramento Bee

What needs to be done to stop wildfires in drought-killed forests
Assistant Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic on a recent report for the Public Policy Institute of California in News Deeply

More resources

Image:  Buildings engulfed in flames Date:  Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 14:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 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):  Research News

Student Spotlight: Kimberlie Le

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 13:30

Kimberlie Le shares her experience in the CNR Honors Program, recalls conducting research in Taiwan, and tells us about the exciting new social venture she co-founded with her classmates.

Kimberlie Le in front of a particularly colorful mountain.

Kimberlie in Zhangye National Geopark in western China.

Kimberlie Le

4th year, Conservation and Resources Studies, Legal Studies, and Society & Environment, with minors in Food Systems and Music.

How do you see your majors and minors working together? Do they share any commonalities in how you approach these fields? 

As a competitive freestyle snowboarder, I have always been motivated to understand and protect our snowy mountain environments. My commitment to addressing environmental issues solidified during my gap year between high school and college when I taught and studied abroad in China, a place where I witnessed firsthand major air and water pollution. I entered Berkeley intending to study music and to just take other classes that interested me. As I was taking my breadth courses, I realized that there were large gaps in many of the analytical frameworks that are used in different disciplines to analyze environmental issues. In the end, I chose my majors and minors mostly to be able to gain a multidisciplinary view of how environmental issues are being understood and addressed from the scientific, economic, legal, and social points of view.

Kimberlie Le snowboarding Hitting the slopes in Park City, Utah.

One of the defining experiences during my time at Berkeley was the privilege of being able to travel abroad to conduct independent research in Taiwan through the CNR Honors Program. Through this experience interacting with and studying rivers in agricultural communities, I realized my passion for research that looks at issues within the globalized food system from an interdisciplinary perspective. I hope to be able to use all of the knowledge that I’ve acquired through my journey at Berkeley, both technical and theoretical, in my future studies and research. I think that the lenses that my three majors take to tackle food systems and environmental issues are very different. I hope that in my career I will be able to find an effective way to communicate and advocate for our environment to make legal and policy changes that positively impact our climate.

Could you tell us more about why you’re drawn to freestyle snowboarding?

Although I skated when I was a kid, I've always wanted to go faster and feel smaller in this huge world, and I dislike feeling trapped in an urban environment. Most of my high school experience was spent on the mountain where I learned how to effectively manage my time between school, training, and other extracurriculars such as teaching and music, both lifelong passions of mine. It's hard to describe why I snowboard, but I think that beyond the adrenaline rush and competition that keeps me going, the best way I can put it is that snowboarding gives me a way to be connected with nature and makes me feel small so I keep asking questions and finding answers. In a sense, my love for the mountains and snowboarding gave me drive and really motivated my path within science, which in my mind is the process of critical inquiry. Sometimes when I'm stuck inside most of the day, it seems like nature is small and distant, but when I'm on the slopes between large trees floating through fresh powder, there is a sense of harmony that is indescribable.

We heard that while you've been involved in a new social venture  - can you tell us about this project and how it came about?

I spent this past summer travelling throughout Asia working on a social venture that was born out of a course I took at Berkeley called Challenge Lab, which was sponsored by the Sutardja Center and the U.S. Department of State. The problem that we were tasked with solving was the lack of energy infrastructure in developing countries. The venture is called Povigo, which means “power” in Esperanto, a language spoken in more than 100 countries and often called a “universal language.” Povigo aims to connect artisan communities to consumers who want to make a direct impact by helping fund clean energy resources. My team came up with the idea by using the problem-solving skills, teamwork, and knowledge that we acquired through our time at Berkeley and we are really excited to see our work becoming a reality to impact the lives of others. Currently, we have a selection of teas and gift sets that were collected from our trip that can be purchased online via our website: Each of our products comes with a brief story and background about the regions we are targeting and how we are planning to help the communities in these areas. By purchasing these products, consumers can directly aid in the investment of much-needed clean energy resources for these communities. We will be using a community-based model to provide the clean energy resources which are essential to empower and educate future generations in these areas.

Kimberlie Le Conducting research in Shei-Pa National Park in central Taiwan.

What has been the most valuable part of studying at CNR?

One of the most valuable skills that I’ve learned from being in CNR is how to think critically and make decisions while also understanding and seeing different viewpoints. Something that was hard for me to learn was how there is rarely a clear-cut solution to issues and how critical inquiry is ever so important in a world where information is so readily available. Not only has the course content in my classes been helpful and thought-provoking, but my peers have inspired and motivated me throughout my journey at Berkeley.

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

Make your own journey and don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable: Berkeley is a big place and it can be extremely overwhelming trying to figure out what you “should” be doing. I think it’s important to explore your personal interests and not get caught up trying to figure out what others are doing to try to fit in. There are tons of clubs, courses, and organizations on campus with most accepting students of all years and backgrounds. I’d also highly recommend studying abroad as it allows you to explore a new environment and forces you to get out of your comfort zone.

Make connections and take advantage of the resources that are available: Even as someone who is an extrovert, I found it hard and scary at first to approach and talk with my graduate student instructors and professors, but after you go to office hours a few times it becomes a lot easier. These connections were important for me as I have gotten invaluable help and advice about my academic and personal life. Professors and instructors have all been an undergraduate at some point in their lives, so they can relate! Cal is full of resources and people who are here to help students with everything from how to navigate scheduling to research resources. If you ever feel lost or want help finding resources, good sources of information are teaching staff, fellow students, and advisors.

Image:  Kimberlie Le in front of a particularly colorful mountain. Date:  Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 13:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, October 2, 2017 - 13:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Student Spotlights

Berkeley and Novartis collaborate to tackle ‘undruggable’ disease targets

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 09:55

UC Berkeley has joined forces with Novartis to develop new technologies for the discovery of next-generation therapeutics. The partnership will pursue the vast number of disease targets in cancer and other illnesses that have eluded traditional small-molecule compounds and are considered “undruggable.”            

The collaboration establishes the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies, based in existing labs at Berkeley, and includes support for joint research projects between Berkeley and Novartis scientists. The projects harness covalent chemoproteomics technology that rapidly maps locations on protein targets—including those that have been considered undruggable–-where compounds could form lasting bonds while providing starting points for novel therapeutics.                  

“Never before have we been able to explore what we call the proteome, the totality of over 20,000 proteins in the body, with such breadth, depth, and speed,” said Daniel Nomura, director of the new center and an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. “Combining technology advances in proteomics and chemistry allows us to imagine creating compounds to bind every known protein in the body, especially those underlying serious diseases such as cancer.”                   

The alliance will also explore the potential of emerging therapeutics known as degraders, which involve the use of bifunctional molecules that bind to disease targets on one end and on the other end to a key component in a cell’s natural protein-disposal system. The collaborators plan to test whether the covalent chemoproteomics technology could aid in reducing the time required to create potential degraders from years to months.              

“Traditional drug compounds bind to proteins at places that cause them to malfunction, but many disease targets lack these functional binding locations,” said John Tallarico, head of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics at NIBR. “Degraders are different because they can bind to disease targets at non-functional sites and trigger the destruction of the target proteins, resulting in the interference of their function.”    

Other aspects of the collaboration include screening natural product compounds and using the covalent chemoproteomics system to discover their targets, understanding mechanism of action, and developing new platform technology enabling the discovery of compounds to bind to greater numbers of proteins.

“Novartis pioneers new therapeutic paradigms, creating definitive medicines for life-threatening diseases,” said Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. “Our Berkeley alliance powerfully extends our ability to advance discovery of molecules aimed at the historically inaccessible drug targets.”                

Read more about the partnership on Novartis’s website.

Image:  Date:  Thursday, September 28, 2017 - 09:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 09:45 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