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Nogales: New Insights in Gene Silencing

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 12:08

New research from a team led by MCB Professor and HHMI Investigator Eva Nogales has provided new insights into the structure of PRC2, a complex of proteins that regulates gene silencing in cells. PRC2 is critical in understanding cell development and uncontrolled cell growth, and this research could lead to new developments in cancer therapies.

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Artificial leaves to produce fuel on Earth and, one day, Mars

UC Berkeley Science News - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 15:34
Chemist Peidong Yang is developing ways to convert sunlight, water and carbon directly into fuel, just as a leaf converts sunlight into food
Categories: Science News

Amid flu epidemic, more bad news about its spread

UC Berkeley Science News - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 15:52
Just talking or breathing can transmit the virus, new study shows
Categories: Science News

100 million dead trees in the Sierra are a massive risk for unpredictable wildfires

College of Natural Resources - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:53

To drive through parts of the Sierra Nevada these days is to witness a morbid reminder of California’s extreme drought: Vast landscapes of standing dead trees, a brown tide sweeping across the green landscape. It’s more than eerie; it’s a dangerously combustible situation, argues a new publication from Berkeley fire scientists.

dead sierra trees

A swath of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada mountains (Photo by Scott Stephens).

The problem is so severe in the central and southern Sierra Nevada that some areas have experienced greater than 90 percent tree mortality. The study authors caution that these dead trees have created unprecedented levels of fuel, which could create dangerous wildfires in the near future that are beyond the predictive capacity of current fire models, making fire behavior and its impact on structures and public safety difficult to manage and predict.

Forest managers have already been struggling to determine whether the massive number of dead trees will increase wildfire intensity and/or severity, what the near- and long-term effects on forest communities will be and how land management agencies should respond. The new study argues for more prescribed fires, mechanically thinning forests and physically removing dead trees to combat the near-term fire threat. For long-term adaptation to climate change, the study highlights the importance of moving beyond triage of dead and dying trees to making live forests more resilient.

“If our society doesn’t like the outcomes from recent fires and extensive drought-induced tree mortality in Sierra forests, then we collectively need to move beyond the status quo,” said study co-author Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at Berkeley. “Working to increase the pace and scale of beneficial fire and mechanical treatments rather than focusing on continued fire suppression would be an important step forward.”

The study was published January 17 in the journal BioScience.

Most western U.S. ecosystems like the Sierra Nevada are fire dependent, meaning that for millennia, the flora and fauna depended upon periodic low- to moderate-intensity fires to maintain ecosystem integrity. Following Euro-American settlement, aggressive fire suppression in the early 1900s created denser forests. These denser forests, in turn, have created greater competition among trees for water and other resources, making them prone to mortality from things like bark beetles during multi-year droughts, which is what happened in the Sierra. According to recent estimates, more than 100 million trees have died in California primarily in the southern and central Sierra Nevada, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.

In many wildfires burning today in forests that historically had frequent fires, tree mortality patches are an order of magnitude or two larger than those that occurred in the past. The study points to many other implications from the recent tree mortality for the future of these forests and the ecological goods and services they provide to society.

Future wildfire hazard following this mortality can be generally characterized by increased surface fire intensity in the short- to intermediate-term. That’s because many of the trees killed by bark beetles are the largest trees and not the trees that would be preferentially killed by low-moderate-severity wildfires or targeted for removal in restoration projects. Also, bark beetle-killed trees are often not removed, as is commonly the case in restoration projects involving mechanical thinning or in forests subject to centuries of frequent fires. So tree biomass remains on site as potential fuel for fires.

Dense forests of dead trees increase the amount and continuity of dry, combustible, large, woody material. Unless some of this dead biomass is removed, either mechanically or by fire, recent and current bark beetle-caused tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada could add 10s to 100s of megagrams per hectare of dry woody fuel to the wildland fuel complex.

The massive amounts of large-sized woody fuels in future decades may contribute to dangerous fires beyond the predictive capacity of current fire models. These fires can generate their own wind and weather conditions and create fire-producing sparks or embers that are carried by the wind and which start new fires, making fire behavior and its impact on structures and public safety difficult to manage and predict. In addition, such intense fires could prevent forests from becoming re-established.

“Tree mortality at the levels we’ve observed in the central and southern Sierra Nevada sets the stage for potential fire activity that is well beyond what we can predict with our current operational fire-behavior models,” said Brandon Collins, a research scientist at the Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach, and a co-author of the study. “This heightened fire potential is even more daunting when you consider how much total area has already experienced high levels of tree mortality.”

Read the article at the source.

Image:  dead sierra trees Date:  Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 11:30 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

100 million dead trees in the Sierra are a massive risk for unpredictable wildfires

UC Berkeley Science News - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 05:55
The dead trees have created potential fuel for dangerously unpredictable wildfires in the near future.
Categories: Science News

Allison Receives 2018 NAS Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:24

Former MCB Immunology professor and Director of the Cancer Research Lab at UC Berkeley, James P. Allison received the National Academy of Sciences 2018 Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal "for important medical discoveries related to the body's immune response to tumors." He is presently at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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Doudna Receives NAS Chemical Sciences Award

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:32

MCB & Chemistry Professor Jennifer Doudna has received the 2018 Chemical Sciences award from the National Academy of Sciences. The award recognizes her "pioneering discoveries on how RNA can fold to function in complex ways” and her co-invention of CRISPR-Cas9 technology.

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Recording a thought’s fleeting trip through the brain

UC Berkeley Science News - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 08:30
Berkeley researchers record from the surface of the brain to obtain best view yet of how prefrontal cortex coordinates our responses
Categories: Science News

Berkeley anthropologist honored with 2017 Huxley Award

UC Berkeley Science News - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 16:00
Berkeley's Margaret Conkey is honored with one of anthropology's highest tributes.
Categories: Science News

Podcast: Bot Garden series explores the science of cannabis

UC Berkeley Science News - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 16:00
With recreational cannabis newly legal in California, the UC Botanical Garden has lined up a full roster of experts to discuss the latest research on the commercialization and use of the popular plant
Categories: Science News

Heald and Nomura: Cellular Basis of Hybrid Incompatibility

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 21:25

Research from the labs of MCB Professor Rebecca Heald and Associate Professor Daniel Nomura has revealed the cellular basis of hybrid incompatibility when closely related frog species are interbred.

This finding uncovers why the offspring of female African clawed frogs and male Western clawed frogs can survive, whereas offspring with the opposite set of parent species are incapable of living past the early stages of development.

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Hammond, Miller and Savage Identified as "Future of Biochemistry"

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 20:40

Ming Hammond (Assistant Professor, MCB & Chemistry), Evan Miller (Assistant Professor, MCB & Chemistry), and David Savage (Associate Professor, MCB & Chemistry) have been "identified as representing the future of biochemistry" by the American Chemical Society.

Hammond, Miller, Savage, and 41 other early career biochemical scientists are featured in the January 2018 publication of Biochemistry.

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Podcast: Here’s what our recent quake sounded like

UC Berkeley Science News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 16:00
Toppling tchotchkes and whining dogs were only some of the sounds from last week’s 4.4-magnitude earthquake on the Hayward Fault. Underground at UC Berkeley, seismic sensors captured the quake’s deep rumble
Categories: Science News

Largest recorded underwater volcanic eruption sheds light on deep-sea events

UC Berkeley Science News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:07
Seafloor eruption in 2012 produced a huge raft of pumice in the southern Pacific
Categories: Science News

SETI project homes in on strange ‘fast radio bursts’

UC Berkeley Science News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 09:55
Some bursts may be from advanced civilizations, but this one is likely immersed in the strong magnetic field of a massive black hole
Categories: Science News

Changing when we use energy to fit the ‘duck curve’

UC Berkeley Science News - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:17
As more solar power comes online, the available energy peaks at midday, forcing Californians to shift their usage to take full advantage of renewables
Categories: Science News

California’s Dry Regions are Hotspots of Plant Diversity

Department of Integrative Biology - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 13:01

The first “big data” analysis of California’s native plants, using digitized information from more than 22 herbaria and botanical gardens around the state, provides some surprises about one of the most thoroughly studied and unique areas in the country.

For one, the state’s arid regions, including deserts such as Death Valley, are hotspots for originating new plant species and providing refuges for older plants that have disappeared elsewhere.

Categories: Science News

First Hacking for Impact Class Buzzes Around the Mosquito Problem

Department of Bioengineering - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 11:18
IEEE Spectrum talks with Professor Amy Herr, founder of Berkeley's Hacking for Impact course, about the non-technical challenges of pursuing impact.
Categories: Science News