MCB Professor Jeffery Cox has collaborated with researchers at UCSF and UCSD to study and map the convoluted networks among proteins and genes in the body. The new research on how these networks facilitate interaction on the cellular level could lead to more precise treatments for a variety of diseases, from psychiatric disorders to cancer.
MCB Professor Marla Feller has been elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for “advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.” She is one of six UC Berkeley faculty to be honored with this fellowship this year.
MCB graduate student Nicole Haloupek, and MCB alumna Jeannette Tenthorey, are co-lead authors on a groundbreaking new study published in Science last week. The new research sheds light on the mechanism in which the immune system detects and attacks invading bacteria, and builds upon our fundamental understanding of how the immune system functions.
MCB graduate student Armbien Sabillo received a Student Presentation Award for his excellent work, titled “A Novel Role for the Neural Plate during X. Laevis Muscle Formation,” at the 2017 SACNAS Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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.
“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: 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
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).
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 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.
- Phenological shifts conserve thermal niches in North American birds and reshape expectations for climate-driven range shifts (PNAS)
- Steve Beissinger lab website
- Morgan Tingley lab website
Professors Abby Dernburg, Rebecca Heald, Eva Nogales and Jeremy Thorner were named ASCB Fellows by the American Society for Cell Biology. They are recognized for their lifetime achievements in advancing cell biology. They join many other prestigious faculty, both here at UC Berkeley (Professors David Drubin, Doug Koshland, and Randy Schekman) and elsewhere.
Assistant Professor Stephen Brohawn was named one of three 2017 New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Robertson Neuroscience Investigators from around the world, enabling him to pursue high-risk/high-reward research focusing on how the nervous system senses and responds to physical forces.
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.
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 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.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: 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