Professor of MCB & Chemistry and HHMI Investigator, Jennifer Doudna, is overseeing a collaboration among the Innovative Genomics Institute at Berkeley and Mars Chocolate to apply CRISPR to cacao crops. As climate change warms and dries the rainforests where cacao plants thrive, researchers are looking for ways to produce crops that will better withstand environmental changes.
MCB Professor of Neurobiology and of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering David Schaffer and colleagues "have for the first time used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to disable a defective gene that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in mice, extending their lifespan by 25 percent."
Robert Full wants to tap the diverse experiences of UC Berkeley undergraduates to teach them the fun of discovering biology’s secrets and the innovations that can spring from hacking them.
Maybe he’ll spark a few entrepreneurs in the process.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced today that 14 leading scientists have been named HHMI professors, an award that recognizes excellence in research and education and empowers recipients to explore new approaches to important challenges in science education. HHMI is awarding 10 individual grants of $1 million each and two grants for collaborative projects that will receive a total of $1.5 million each over five years.
Meet our new faculty recruits, learn about our MCB faculty visiting 4th and 5th graders, read how MCB graduate students raised over $7,000 for Puerto Rico Hurricane relief, and much more!
Research led by David Schaffer, Professor of MCB and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has shown that CRISPR-Cas9 has the potential to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.
The team used a modified adeno-associated virus to deliver the Cas9 gene to spinal cord motor neurons in mice that expressed an ALS-causing mutated human gene, which slowed the progression of the disease.
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.
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.
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.
- Dr. Matthew S. Luskin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Dr. Justin S. Brashares (email@example.com)
- Dr. Matthew D. Potts (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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: 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