Researchers Max Auffhammer, Bill Collins, and Inez Fung on stage at the Cal Future Forum. (Photo credit: Anastasiia Sapon)
Last month, UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Lab partnered to present the Cal Future Forum, a day-long event highlighting the latest research findings of leading researchers who are developing solutions to the environmental challenges we face. Over a dozen prominent researchers provided a synopsis of the state of the planet, a better understanding of the challenges we face, and the solutions being developed at Berkeley—and being implemented globally.
Among the speakers were six faculty from the College of Natural Resources:
- Max Auffhamer, Agricultural & Resource Economics
- Justin Brashares, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
- Inez Fung, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
- Rosemary Gillespie, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
- Dan Kammen, Energy & Resources Group
- Claire Kremen, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
Videos of each of the day's talks are forthcoming. Read more in this article by the Berkeley Lab.
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Work performed in HHMI Investigator and MCB Professor of Neurobiology Yang Dan's lab, in collaboration with labs from UCSF, Stanford, and other institutions identifies the sleep-active and sleep-promoting neurons in the preoptic area of the hypothalmus using neural projection tracing tools.
Anastasios Melis can remember the exact moment he discovered his calling. As an undergraduate at Athens University, he sat in a lecture for a general botany class, enthralled as the professor described a photochemical process in photosynthesis. “I was so fascinated with the idea that a biological system can trap, contain, and then utilize sunlight” he reminisces.
At the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium, Dean Keith Gilless thanked Professor Anastasios Melis for over twenty years of service to the CNR Honors Research Program.
Melis approached the professor after class asking how to learn more, and was welcomed into the professor’s lab with a work assignment on an independent research project. His task was to replicate a recent study published in Nature by Robin Hill, the famous British plant biochemist who first proved that isolated membranes of photosynthesis can, upon illumination, evolve oxygen while transferring electrons to artificial “electron acceptor” compounds. This became known as the “Hill reaction.”
“There was hardly any documentation of the process in the paper, so I tried a lot of things. Along the way, I made every mistake in the book,” Melis says of his semester spent on the project. In the end, “it all fell together,” and he successfully replicated the experiment, wrote up the process in a detailed report, and presented his findings to the professor and the entire lab. He was rewarded with a handshake from the professor and the satisfaction of tackling the task and learning a lot along the way.
Professor Sofia Villas-Boas congratulates genetics & plant biology major Jackson Tonnies during the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium. Photo by Sofia Villas-Boas.
Fast forward through his doctoral study at Florida State University and postdoctoral training in the Netherlands and at Stanford all the way to 1994, when, as a professor in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, Melis recalled his seminal undergraduate experience. He wondered if CNR students who pursue similar undergraduate research opportunities could be formally recognized for their efforts. Melis proposed the idea of honors research and recognition to the CNR faculty committee on courses and curricula, and during the 1995-96 academic year the CNR Honors Research Program officially enrolled its first student.
To participate, undergraduates with a UC GPA of 3.6 or higher complete 8 units of a departmental honors research course, conduct a year-long independent research project overseen by a CNR faculty mentor, and write an honors thesis on their research. Finally, students formally present their work and answer audience questions during a 2-day Honors Research Symposium held at the end of each term.
Student Alison Ke was one of 42 CNR students who presented their research at the spring 2017 Honors Research Symposium. Photo by Sofia Villas-Boas.
Professor Melis has served as chair of the symposium and coordinator of the program since its inception, and to date, over 640 CNR students have successfully completed the program requirements. In his name, CNR awards the Melis Medal to the best student presentation delivered during each day of the culminating event.
Beyond the certificate they receive and the honors status awarded them upon graduation, Melis comments, the program enhances the undergraduate experience for students, who receive their degree better-prepared for careers in both academic and industrial research settings. He also stresses the importance of learning to present to a broadly-based audience and to be able to answer unanticipated questions on one’s own research. “This is something all of us have to do in our research careers, but it is not innate; it needs to be learned” he says. “We are proud to be able to give to our students the opportunity to learn and practice this at the start of their scientific career.”
Starting in fall 2017, professor Sofia Villas-Boas will take over as faculty coordinator of the CNR Honors Research Program.
The spring 2017 symposium held this month—during which 42 students presented their work—saw a “changing of the guard” as Melis passed the position of faculty coordinator and symposium chair to Sofia Villas-Boas, a professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics. Villas-Boas is especially well suited as his successor, Melis says, because she too has a track record of supporting undergraduate research through the honors program and other initiatives like CNR’s Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program and the campus-wide Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship program.
Graduates of the CNR Honors Research Program pose with student advisor and honors program coordinator Elizabeth Storer at the spring 2017 symposium. Photo by Sophia Villas-Boas.
“Professor Melis proposed a program that has become a key component of the academic enrichment activities available to CNR students,” commented CNR Dean Keith Gilless. “We are thankful for his remarkable dedication and service to the Honors Research Program over the past 22 years.”
Recalling all the students he got to know through the program, Melis says the best moment was always placing the Honors Research Cord around the neck of each graduate after the symposium presentations. “Their beaming faces and the pride in their eyes, it is absolutely incredible. That alone—how happy and excited they are to accomplish this—that alone is reward enough for me.”Image: Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 11:45 byline: by Julie Gipple, College of Natural Resources Legacy: section header item: Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 11:45 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left
Assistant Professor Polina Lishko has been named one of the three Rose Hill Innovators on the UC Berkeley campus for her work on "Molecular basis of the age-related reproductive decline in females."
Longtime MCB visiting scholar, Dr. Ian Gibbons, has received the prestigious Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, awarded each year by the Shaw Prize Foundation of Hong Kong.
Plant biologists have sequenced the genome of a particularly promising species of green alga, providing a blueprint for new discoveries in producing sustainable biofuels, antioxidants, and other valuable bioproducts.
The researchers targeted Chromochloris zofingiensis, a single-celled green alga that has drawn commercial interest as one of the highest producers of the best lipids for biofuel production.
Rotating view of a cryo-soft X-ray tomography reconstructed cell of the green alga Chromochloris zofingiensis dividing into 16 daughter cells with segmented nucleus (purple), chloroplast (green), mitochondria (red), and lipids (yellow). (Credit: Melissa Roth/HHMI and Andreas Walters/Berkeley Lab)
The team of scientists, led by researchers in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology (PMB) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles, recently published their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The work was conceived of and developed at Berkeley Lab by Krishna Niyogi, chair of PMB and faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab.
“This genome will be an important resource to develop renewable and sustainable microalgal biofuels to facilitate clean energy and a cleaner environment,” said study lead author Melissa Roth, a postdoctoral researcher in Niyogi’s lab. “Algae absorb carbon dioxide and are intrinsically solar-powered by photosynthesis, but C. zofingiensis has an added benefit in that it can be cultivated on non-arable land and in wastewater.”
Niyogi also pointed out that C. zofingiensis is a natural source for astaxanthin, an antioxidant derived from dietary algae that gives salmon its pinkish hue. In algae, astaxanthin is thought to provide protection from oxidative stress.
“This alga has potential as a nutraceutical,” said Niyogi, who is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Studies are already underway to determine whether astaxanthin’s anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial in treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, and other human health problems.”
To get an inside look at the cells, the researchers relied upon the National Center for X-ray Tomography (NCXT), a joint Berkeley Lab-UCSF program located at the Lab’s Advanced Light Source. Using soft X-ray tomography, a technique comparable to a computerized tomography scan, scientists imaged and then reconstructed sections of the algal genome to generate a 3-D view. Cells were captured dividing into two, four, and even sixteen daughter cells.
“Combining multiple sequencing techniques, we were able to generate a chromosome-level assembly of the genome, which is an uncommonly high level of architecture for an alga and similar to that of a model organism. In fact, the quality of the C. zofingiensis genome rivals the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which was first sequenced about a decade ago,” said Roth.
The alga contains approximately 15,000 genes.
Other senior authors on the paper include Sabeeha Merchant, UCLA professor of biochemistry; Matteo Pellegrini, UCLA professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology; and Carolyn Larabell, NCXT director and professor of anatomy at UCSF.
This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Science, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Advanced Light Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. NCXT is jointly funded by DOE and the National Institutes of Health.Friday, May 19, 2017 - 14:45 byline: By Sarah Yang, Lawrence Berkeley Lab Legacy: section header item: Date: Friday, May 19, 2017 - 14:45 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left
Climate Lab is a six-part series produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox, exploring global climate change and UC’s groundbreaking work to mitigate its effects. The fifth episode of the series—an investigation of how and whether we can rethink and reinvent nuclear power—features comments from professor Dan Kammen of the Energy & Resources Group on developing technologies in the field.
Kammen describes new small, modular reactors that can be applied at different scales than traditional power plants. “The whole nuclear power plant comes on the back of a flatbed truck or arrives on a barge, gets parked, plugged in—and when the fuel is used up, it simply gets taken away as a unit to be reprocessed,” he says.
The episode also highlights Per Peterson, a UC Berkley professor of nuclear engineering who is working on a next-generation reactor design that uses a new form of fuel that can withstand higher temperatures than conventional fuel rods and is much safer to use.
In a related article published on the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative website, Kammen cites issues of time and cost as reasons why, even though new technologies are promising, nuclear energy may not be the most immediately important source of energy in the fight against climate change. “We're seeing solar plants installed for under three cents a kilowatt hour, while the comparative price for nuclear in the best situation is well over ten cents a kilowatt hour—more than three times as expensive as a no-risk alternative,” he explained.
About Climate Lab
Featuring conversations with experts, scientists, thought leaders and activists, the Climate Lab series takes what can seem like an overwhelming problem and breaks it down into manageable parts: from clean energy to food waste, religion to smartphones. Each video is hosted by Emmy-nominated conservation scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan, an alum of UC Santa Cruz and a visiting researcher at UCLA. Visit the Climate Lab website for more information and other videos in the series.Image: Date: Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 10:30 Legacy: section header item: Date: Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 10:30 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left
MCB Assistant Professor Polina Lishko is in the news again for her work involving contraceptives research. "Two chemicals found in anti-fertility folk medicines block a key step in fertilization – the meeting of egg and sperm – and may make effective alternatives to today’s hormone-based contraceptives, which sometimes cause side effects."