This morning during the Big Give, the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology was one of the winners of a "Random Alumni Donor" drawing. That means that whatever that alumni donated, the university will contribute an additional $2K! Check out the Big Give Leaderboard for more stats.
Tobacco leaves showing transient overexpression of genes involved in nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ), a system that protects plants from light damage. Red and yellow regions represent low NPQ activity, while blue and purple areas show high levels induced by exposure to light. (Credit: Lauriebeth Leonelli and Matthew Brooks/UC Berkeley)
Plant biologists have bumped up crop productivity by increasing the expression of genes that result in more efficient use of light in photosynthesis, a finding that could be used to help address the world’s future food needs.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), UC Berkeley, and the University of Illinois targeted three genes involved in a process plants use to protect themselves from damage when they get more light than they can safely use. By increasing the expression of those genes, the scientists saw increases of 14-20 percent in the productivity of modified tobacco plants in field experiments.
The researchers described their findings in a paper published today in the journal Science.
“Tobacco was used as the model crop plant in this study because it is easy to work with, but we’re working to make the same modifications in rice and other food crops,” said co-senior author Krishna Niyogi, a professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. “The molecular processes we’re modifying are fundamental to plants that carry out photosynthesis, so we hope to see a similar increase in yield in other crops.”
Niyogi, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Division of Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bioimaging, teamed up with Stephen Long, a plant biology and crop sciences professor at the University of Illinois, for the study.
In photosynthesis, plants use the energy in sunlight to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into biomass, which we use for food, fuel, and fiber. When there is too much sunlight, the photosynthetic machinery in chloroplasts can be damaged, so plants need photoprotection. Inside chloroplasts, plants have a system called NPQ, or nonphotochemical quenching, for this purpose.
Niyogi compared NPQ to a pressure relief valve in a steam engine.
“When there is too much sunlight, it’s like pressure building up,” said Niyogi. “NPQ turns on and gets rid of the excess energy safely. In the shade, the pressure in the engine decreases. NPQ turns off, but not quickly enough. It’s like having a leak in the system with the valve left open. The photosynthetic engine can’t work as efficiently.”
The highly variable levels of light plants receive, particularly in densely planted crop fields, presents a challenge to the efficient use of solar energy. Plants must adapt to intermittent shading from leaves that are higher in the canopy, or from passing clouds.
Niyogi and his postdoctoral research associates Lauriebeth Leonelli, Stéphane Gabilly, and Masakazu Iwai figured out a way to speed up recovery from photoprotection and demonstrated a proof of this concept in the laboratory. They used a new method to rapidly test gene expression in tobacco leaves. By boosting the expression of three genes involved in NPQ, they showed that NPQ turned off more quickly, and the efficiency of photosynthesis in the shade was higher.
Half of crop photosynthesis occurs in the shade, so any improvement in speeding up recovery from photoprotection could have a big benefit, the researchers said.
Illinois postdoctoral researchers Johannes Kromdijk and Katarzyna Glowacka took the trio of genes studied at Berkeley and put them into tobacco plants for further testing in greenhouse and field experiments.
The work to boost crop productivity comes as concerns about food shortages rise with the world’s population. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that food production will need to nearly double by 2050 to meet increasing demand. Yields of the world’s major staple crops have not been increasing fast enough to meet this projected need.
“My attitude is that it is very important to have these new technologies on the shelf now because it can take 20 years before such inventions can reach farmer’s fields,” said Long. “If we don’t do it now, we won’t have this solution when we need it.”
This research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Any new technology licensed from this work will be made freely available to farmers in poor countries in Africa and South Asia.Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 11:15byline: Sarah Yang, Berkeley LabLegacy: section header item: Date: Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 11:15headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left
Show your love for Molecular & Cell Biology at Berkeley! Safeguard the future of basic research, great teachers, and an incredible student experience -- even a small donation can lead to big things.
This election was particularly stressful. More than 50 percent of Americans reported that it was a significant source of stress, and this was true for supporters of both parties. The surprising result certainly stressed many. So, what do we do now?
The stress response is actually crucial for survival. When we get down to the biology of it, we understand that without it an organism will die when it encounters the first challenge in its environment.
The Department of Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) at UC Berkeley invites applications for a pool of full-time or part-time, temporary non-tenure track Lecturer positions to teach MCB courses as the need arises.
Low-income and Latina pregnant women who seek care at Zuckerberg San Francisco General have widespread exposure to environmental pollutants, many of which show up in higher levels in newborns than the mothers, according to a new study from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Biomonitoring California. The study is the first in the United States to measure exposure to 59 toxic chemicals in pregnant women and their newborns.
“Pregnant women in the U.S. are exposed to many harmful industrial chemicals that have been linked to premature birth, low birth weight and birth defects, but estimates of how efficiently pollutants are transferred from mother to fetus have varied widely,” said Tracey Woodruff, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. Woodruff, the senior author of the study, also directs the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF. “Our findings have found that many chemicals do indeed accumulate in the fetal environment and are absorbed at greater levels by fetuses than by the pregnant women themselves. This may have significant consequences for the growing fetus, since many of these chemicals are known to affect development.”
Researchers measured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), mercury and lead, among other chemicals. These industrial pollutants are common in the environment, and in previous studies many have been detected in greater than 99 percent of U.S. pregnant women, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data.
“Contrary to previous research, we found evidence that several PCBs and OCPs were often higher in umbilical cord samples than in maternal blood samples,” said lead author Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. The study also found that concentrations of mercury and certain PBDEs were often higher in umbilical cord samples than in maternal samples, and for most PFCs and lead, cord blood concentrations were generally equal to or lower than maternal concentrations, which is consistent with previous research.
The study was published Nov. 1 in the print edition of Environmental Science and Technology.Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 12:00byline: Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relationsLegacy: section header item: Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 12:00headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left
Congratulations to Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology Dale McCullough, who was recently awarded the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award by The Wildlife Society (TWS). Bestowed in recognition of an individual's distinguished service to wildlife conservation, the award is the highest honor a TWS member can achieve.
McCullough's recent research projects have focused on the booms and busts of kangaroo populations in outback Australia, the sika deer in its native range of Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, and far eastern Russia, and the Amur leopard in Russia.
“I especially appreciate this award because of my past connection with the Leopold family,” said McCullough, who studied under Starker Leopold, Aldo’s oldest son. “Having that exposure from the start was very important to my career.”Tuesday, November 1, 2016 - 09:45Legacy: section header item: Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 09:45headline_position: Top Leftheadline_color_style: Normalheadline_width: Longcaption_color_style: Normalcaption_position: Bottom Left
After 15 years of research findings on efforts to fight malaria, a researcher has proposed a combination of insect repellents and insecticides to combat malaria scourge.
Michael Boots, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of integrative biology, who worked with his colleagues at Exeter University in the United Kingdom on the project, disclosed this on Monday in San Francisco, United States of America.