College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

News & Events

January 30, 2003

Edward C. Stone, Influential Forest Ecologist and Professor Emeritus, Dies at 85

by Sarah Yang

Edward C. Stone, professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, and an influential voice in the management of California forests, has died at the age of 85.

Stone, who taught at UC Berkeley for 39 years and continued to conduct research up until last year, died Jan. 11 at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Walnut Creek following a short illness.

Early in his career, Stone stood out as a persuasive leader in the field of forest ecology. His meticulous studies of how seedlings regenerate roots throughout the year led to changes in planting practices in the Sierra Nevada. Up until the 1950s, foresters planted seedlings in the fall, but Stone's research revealed that survival rates for the seedlings significantly increased if they were stored under refrigeration and planted in the spring.

There was little initial support for his views. Undaunted, Stone convinced the industry to change its practices with a provocative paper, "Planting Dead Trees - A California Tradition," presented at a meeting of the Northern California chapter of the Society of American Foresters.

"That paper and Ed's strong arguments led to a major change in nursery practices, switching from fall planting to spring planting," said Janet Cavallaro, a research scientist in forest ecology at UC Berkeley and one of Stone's last graduate students.

To better understand the factors affecting tree growth, Stone built five state-of-the-art controlled environment rooms in the basement of the Oxford Tract greenhouse, where they remain today. Many of his colleagues still consider the rooms impressive by today's standards.

"Ed installed xenon lamps to mimic daylight intensity and color, and water baths to control root temperatures," said Cavallaro, who continued working with Stone for more than 10 years after she received her PhD in forest ecology. "His growth rooms also closely controlled air temperature and humidity. He was able to conduct very solid research and became one of the foremost experts on the environmental conditions affecting the growth of redwoods, Douglas fir and other tree species."

Stone was born in Cairo, Ill., on Nov. 28, 1917, the fifth of seven children. Two years later, the entire family moved to Berkeley, where Stone attended the city's public schools. In 1940, he received his bachelor of science degree with highest honors in agriculture at UC Berkeley.

He met his wife, Gwendolyn Anderson, at UC Berkeley, and they married in 1941 shortly after she received her bachelor's degree in child psychology.

Stone had already begun his graduate studies at UC Berkeley when World War II intervened. He started as a civilian teaching calculus to pilots and navigators before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. By 1946, when he was released from active duty, he had risen to the rank of captain and was provost marshall of the Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

In 1948, Stone returned to UC Berkeley and earned his PhD in plant physiology. He joined the faculty as an instructor in 1949 and continued teaching - with the exception of two years when he was recalled to service by the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War - until he retired as a professor in 1988.

"My father became interested in teaching from his experience in the military," said Brian Stone, whose wife, Sandra, is one of Edward Stone's former students. Brian and his brother, David, also received their bachelor's degrees at UC Berkeley and have gone on to become foresters with the USDA Forest Service.

Stone's two sons recalled their father investigating trees and evaluating soil conditions on the numerous camping trips they took with their parents. Edward Stone regularly took his family with him to Meadow Valley, Calif., where he taught at the summer camp program for UC Berkeley undergraduate forestry students. At the camp, he helped expand the curriculum to include studies in fields such as ecology, soils, entomology, fire behavior and genetics.

Stone was noted for his passion for teaching and the strong support he showed his students throughout their careers. He felt strongly that his teaching and research be relevant to foresters in the field. Barbara Allen-Diaz, executive associate dean of the College of Natural Resources, is one of Stone's former forest ecology students.

"Ed was a demanding teacher who challenged me to think for myself," she said. "He cared enormously about us as students, about forest ecology, and about science. He was truly an inspiration."

Even after he retired from teaching, Stone actively continued his research at UC Berkeley. Stone and Cavallaro carried out extensive research to model the productivity of white fir and ponderosa pine ecosystems in relation to the growing space of trees of varying heights. His final paper on root growth capacity of the white fir, co-authored by Cavallaro and UC Berkeley research associate Edward Norberg, is scheduled to be published later this year in the scientific journal New Forests.

Stone earned many professional accolades throughout his career and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1959, he received a Fulbright Research Scholarship for studies of Monterey pines in New Zealand, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for work in Australia and South Africa. In keeping with his love for trees and travel, Stone visited Tunisia to help in the country's forest development efforts in the early 1970s as part of a United Nations program.

In 1988, Stone received the Berkeley Citation, one of the campus's highest honors for extraordinary achievements in his field and outstanding service to the university.

Stone is survived by his sons, Brian of Benicia, Calif., and David of Blairsden, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

January 29, 2003

Closing the Book on the Novartis Deal? Internal Campus Study says Lucrative Agreement Didn’t Skew Research or Compromise Academic Freedom

by Robert Sanders

As Berkeley’s Department of Plant & Microbial Biology (PMB) enters the fifth and last year of its $25 million research agreement with agricultural-biotech giant Novartis, its successor company, Syngenta, has yet to announce whether it will want to continue the contract. The current agreement requires that Syngenta notify the campus at least a year before the contract expires if it intends to renew, but that that date passed uneventfully in November.

A recent phone conversation with Syngenta researchers, however, suggests that even if the company renews its agreement with the campus, PMB is unlikely to come away with as broad or as lucrative an agreement as it did in 1998.

According to Susan Jenkins, who administers the Syngenta grant for the College of Natural Resources, a Jan. 21 phone conversation between Berkeley administrators and Syngenta scientists left her and others with the impression that if the company decided to continue funding, it would probably target specific projects rather than offer money to all scientists within the department, as it did in the original agreeement.

Depending upon one’s perspective, an end to the Syngenta contract could be good or bad news.

A recent internal campus review of the agreement by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Research found an overwhelmingly positive attitude toward the agreement among faculty and graduate students in the department. The industry funding did not skew faculty research toward applied biotech research, as some had feared it might, the report said.

On the contrary, it found that industry funds allowed Berkeley biologists to explore areas of basic plant biology that would have been too speculative to gain support from peer-reviewed granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation.

The review also found that students, in particular graduate students, have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the agreement, in terms of more financial support for fellowships and access to both state-of-the-art equipment and proprietary genomics information held by Syngenta and not readily available to outside researchers.

"I think in retrospect that the program worked out pretty much as planned, at least from the department’s point of view," said the author of the internal review, Robert Price, Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor for research and a professor of political science.

On the other hand, Donald Kaplan, one of only three researchers in the department to turn down Syngenta funding, has changed neither his opinion that "it is a contract with the devil" or his overall negative view of industry-sponsored research in academia.

Still others, like Robert Spear, professor of environmental health sciences, prefer to reserve judgment on the agreement’s impact until an outside review is completed, probably by late summer.

"While I find no reason to doubt the facts presented in the [internal] report, it is important to keep in mind that it emanates from the administrative office that was centrally involved in negotiating the agreement in the first place," Spear noted in an e-mail response to questions from Science magazine. "Its very positive tone underscores the need for the ongoing external study of the Novartis experience at Berkeley."

At the time the controversial research-support contract was signed, Chancellor Robert Berdahl said the agreement itself would be viewed as an experiment that would be carefully reviewed and scrutinized to guide future decisions on industry funding at Berkeley and at research universities elsewhere. In addition to authorizing the internal review, undertaken to answer questions raised by the Academic Senate and others, the administration also provided funds to engage a sociologist from Michigan State University to complete an external study of the contract’s effect on graduate students and on academic freedom.

Outside funding flowing in

Researchers who received money from Novartis said they will be sorry to see the funding end.

"It’s helped our research immensely," said Professor Brian Staskowicz, who manages the grant for PMB. "Work with [Syngenta subsidiary] Torrey Mesa Research Institute has allowed us to do basic research that faculty have leveraged to make grant proposals to federal agencies and get funding."

The Syngenta money comprises about 27 percent of the department’s research funds. Staskawicz believes that funding will be made up for by increased federal research support — much of it won because of "blue sky" research funded by Syngenta. Since the agreement was executed in 1998, outside funding to the department has nearly doubled, excluding the money from Syngenta.

Research AVC Price thinks that the agreement’s negative reception by some sprang from a number of issues, including secrecy surrounding the negotiations, a poor public understanding of the provisions in the agreement, and a public distrust of the agricultural biotechnology industry.

When the then-dean of the College of Natural Resources, Gordon Rausser, announced the agreement at a press conference on Nov. 23, 1998, he was greeted by several vegan pie throwers. Though Rausser dodged a pumpkin pie thrown at him, he was not able to dodge criticism from faculty colleagues in the Academic Senate, nor numerous public brickbats, including a Nature editorial that billed the agreement as an example of the growing industrial influence on academic research, and a lengthy critical article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine.

The major criticisms expressed concerns that Novartis’s influence would steer research into areas the company was interested in commercially. That hasn’t happened, Price says. Nor have other concerns materialized, such as delaying publication of research findings, monopolizing the department’s research inventions, or compromising the freedom of faculty to discuss results at scientific meetings.

"When I began looking into the effects of the Novartis agreement, I expected to find some influence on the department," Price says. "But I was blown away. I did not expect to find that every single project proposed by a faculty member in the department had been funded as is. Plus, proposals for substantial funding — sometimes nearly $1 million over five years — had only to be three to four pages long."

The review concludes that "The Novartis Corp. and its successor, Syngenta, have assumed a ‘hands-off’ posture with respect to the research conducted by PMB faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students."

One question left unanswered by Price’s report is whether Syngenta was satisfied with the results of the five-year agreement.

Carol Mimura, acting director of the campus Office of Technology Licensing, was one of two university negotiators of the Novartis agreement. She believes the company has benefited well from the agreement.

"They received valuable, early access to cutting-edge research results, and collaborated with and hired some of Berkeley’s high-caliber researchers," she says "These are intangibles, but information and employees are vital to industry. In addition, under state law companies also receive significant R&D tax benefits and credits when they sponsor research at UC."

Nevertheless, though the company could have optioned 20 patents during the past four years, it optioned to negotiate exclusive licenses on only four inventions, and currently retains only one of these options. Among the options it elected not to exercise were ones that covered rice and corn gene sequences.

Mimura points out that the agreement benefited the campus and the College of Natural Resources as well as the department. One-third, or $1.7 million, of the yearly funding from Syngenta was overhead split among the UC system, the department, and the college. To date, about $750,000 has gone toward purchase of equipment shared by everyone in the college. In addition, Syngenta paid the campus another $150,000 to support filing for 10 patents, and paid another $50,000 in licensing fees.

Lingering questions

Despite apparent positive benefits from the Novartis agreement, many remain concerned about the potentially corrupting influence of large chunks of money from corporations flowing into university laboratories. Top universities like UC Berkeley, where industry funding amounts to only about seven percent of total research monies, can afford to negotiate on their own terms, but smaller places might not be able to do so.

"The agreement catalyzed a broad philosophical debate over whether a university’s research and its faculty can be tarnished by ties with industry. If the university is not a bastion of unbiased research, who is?" Mimura asks rhetorically. "It seems to have spawned a whole new chapter in the field of sociology, the subject of intellectual property and the knowledge economy at the private/public interface.

"Believe me, Berkeley professors are too intractable to become corporate lackeys," she adds. "But what about elsewhere?"

January 2, 2003

San Diego Conference Tackles Child Obesity Epidemic

by Sarah Yang

Berkeley - The start of the new year is traditionally when many of us begin working off holiday meals and resolving to eat healthier and exercise more.

But for an unprecedented number of children in the United States, being overweight is a struggle the whole year through. And experts say California is the state with the highest number of children who are overweight or obese.

Next week, this growing crisis will bring together nearly 1,000 educators, public health professionals and nutrition experts for the 2003 California Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego. Speakers will include U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona; Dr. Francine Kaufman, president of the American Diabetes Association; and Eric Bost, under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The three-day conference, held Jan. 6-8, is being convened in response to the serious consequences of childhood obesity. The Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Department of Health Services' Primary Care and Family Health Division are co-hosting the event.

"We'll be exploring how environmental, family and clinical approaches can address the childhood obesity epidemic in our California communities," said Pat Crawford, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health and cooperative extension specialist at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "All three approaches need to work in concert if we are going to effectively stem the increase of overweight children."

Since the first California Childhood Obesity Conference was held in March 2001, new studies and media reports have shined the spotlight on a topic that health professionals have been noticing over the past few decades.

In October 2002, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued results from a 1999-2000 survey, which found that nationwide, more than 15 percent of children ages 6 to 19 were overweight. That figure shows a 200 percent increase over the past three decades.

"Through the nutrition assistance programs - including the food stamp, WIC (Women, Infant and Children), school breakfast and lunch programs - we have an extraordinary opportunity to reach millions of children with nutrition and lifestyle messages that will help them enjoy longer, healthier lives," said Bost of the USDA. "In 2001 alone, the USDA provided over $6 billion in fruits and vegetables through food benefits and commodities."

In California, nearly 40 percent of children are physically unfit and more than 25 percent are overweight, according to a recent report by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. UC Berkeley's Crawford served on the scientific panel for the report, which used data from the 2001 California Physical Fitness Test to highlight the problem of child obesity in the state.

"Forget the image of granola-loving Californians who love to surf, bike or play beach volleyball," said Joanne Ikeda, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health and cooperative extension specialist at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "When it comes to the prevalence of child obesity, California outpaces the national average."

In 2001, Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 19, which establishes nutritional standards for food at elementary schools and bans the sale of carbonated beverages in elementary and middle schools. The goal of the bill is to improve the nutrition and eating habits of California school children, but concern exists that current economic troubles will jeopardize its implementation.

In the meantime, Crawford will soon start a study funded by the National Institutes of Health looking at the health effects of removing highly sweetened beverages from high school snack bars and vending machines.

"Because more and more children are becoming overweight or obese, we are increasingly finding children with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and joint damage, all health problems that were once seen only in adults," said State Health Director Diana M. Bontá. "These children are also at greater risk for chronic health problems later in life. It is vitally important that we find appropriate solutions now."

Studies have shown that children from families that are low-income, African-American or Latino are at greatest risk for being overweight. While it is well established that poor nutrition is linked to lower academic performance, a recent study by the National Association for Sport & Physical Education showed that physically fit children performed better academically.

The emphasis at the conference will be on establishing patterns of good nutrition and physical activity early in a child's life. Conference topics will include information about increasing availability to healthy foods, promoting positive body image, reducing TV viewing time, countering influences from the media, the importance of role models and reinventing food assistance programs to improve diets of low-income families.

Nature's Filter: Wetlands Clean Selenium From Agricultural Runoff

by Sarah Yang

Berkeley - Researchers from the University of California have found a natural detox program for selenium-contaminated farm runoff in the form of wetland vegetation and microbes.

Results from a two-year study by UC Berkeley researchers show that man-made wetlands in the state's San Joaquin Valley were able to remove an average of 69.2 percent of the selenium in agricultural drainage water. More significantly, some plant populations showed remarkable promise at converting selenium into a harmless gas consisting primarily of dimethyl selenide. That means less of the selenium would end up in sediment or plant tissue.

The new study, published online Wednesday, Jan. 1, in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, follows previous research at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. The researchers found that wetland ponds built in Richmond could take out as much as 89 percent of the selenium from millions of gallons a day of refinery discharge, preventing it from reaching San Francisco Bay.

"We thought that if wetlands could filter selenium from oil refinery wastewater, then they could probably be used for agricultural runoff," said Norman Terry, professor of plant biology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and principal investigator of the study. "We're basically learning that some of the best, most efficient filters for pollutants can be found in nature."

Terry said the entire wetland ecosystem is acting as a bio-geo-chemical filter. "Everything is working in concert to take the selenium out of the drainage water," said Terry. "The extensive root system of the plants slows down the water flow so the selenium gets trapped in the sediment. The plants also provide a source of fixed carbon to fuel microbes, which metabolize the selenium into non-toxic gas. It is truly an amazing process."

The UC Berkeley research is part of a larger project funded by the UC Salinity/Drainage Program. The program involves researchers from the UC campuses at Berkeley, Davis and Riverside, and from the Tulare Lake Drainage District in Corcoran, Calif., who have been studying ways to provide irrigation for Central Valley farmers while mitigating ecological risks.

The toxic effects of selenium made headlines in 1983 when high levels from polluted farm water were found at the Kesterson national wildlife refuge in the San Joaquin Valley, part of the Central Valley. The soil on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is naturally rich in selenium, which leaches into the shallow groundwater of the region. Excessive agricultural irrigation accelerates this leaching process.

A large quantity of selenium-polluted agricultural drainage water was being discharged into the reservoir in the early 1980s. The selenium was linked to severe deformities suffered by birds and other wildlife at the Kesterson refuge.

"Kesterson lacked proper environmental monitoring and management, so the selenium continued to build up, becoming concentrated over time through the food chain," said Zhi-Qing Lin, lead author of the study and former post-graduate researcher with Terry at UC Berkeley.

The discovery of selenium in the reservoir put the brakes on the construction of a drain that would have carried irrigation water from the Central Valley to the Delta. Farmers say the disruption of the irrigation drain, however, allowed salt to build up in the soil, leaving their land fallow.

The situation was bad enough that, last month, the federal government agreed to pay $107 million to San Joaquin Valley farmers for 34,000 acres of salt-poisoned farmland.

To test the effectiveness of wetlands in cleaning selenium out of agricultural drainage water, researchers from the UC Salinity/Drainage Program built 10 separate wetland ponds in the Central Valley at a site in Corcoran. The ponds, or "cells," contain a single plant species - such as cordgrass, saltmarsh bulrush and rabbitfoot grass - or a combination of plants. One pond was left unplanted as a control. Separate pipes brought water in and out of the ponds, which are roughly the size of two basketball courts.

In measurements taken from 1997 to 1999, they found that most of the selenium was retained in the sediment, and less than 5 percent accumulated in plant tissue.

"Selenium is not considered an essential nutrient in plants," said Lin, who is now assistant professor of environmental ecology at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. "However, selenium is a chemical analogue to sulfur, which is essential to plants. One theory holds that plants metabolize selenium through similar bio-chemical pathways as sulfur."

The researchers say constructed wetlands can be retired and drained when the concentration of selenium in the sediment and plant tissue gets too high. This would allow another process of selenium removal to kick into gear.

"Once the water and wetland plants are removed, we can plant pickleweed or other vegetation into the soil," said Lin. "In lab tests, these plants and various strains of bacteria associated with them take over the remediation process and volatilize the selenium in the soil."

The researchers were particularly excited by the amount of selenium volatilized by the wetland ponds. In one summer month, nearly half of the selenium entering the pond containing rabbitfoot grass was volatilized into a gas mostly consisting of dimethyl selenide.

"Grasses that have extensive root systems, such as rabbitfoot grass and cordgrass, do a better job of providing surface area for microbes that help volatilize selenium into dimethyl selenide," said Terry.

Prior studies have found dimethyl selenide to be about 500 times less toxic than the inorganic forms of selenium.

"Converting the selenium into gas helps get the chemical out of the area entirely rather than having it build up in sediment or plant tissue," said Terry. "Air currents carry away the dimethyl selenide to the eastern part of the state where the soil is so deficient in selenium that farmers there actually feed their livestock selenium supplements to keep them healthy."

Terry noted that the air in the northern hemisphere already contains about 10,000 metric tons of volatile selenium from volcanoes, soil and plants. "The amount of dimethyl selenide released by wetlands would be negligible in comparison," he said.

The researchers are studying ways - including using genetically engineered plants - to improve volatilization rates throughout the year. Currently, volatilization is greatest during warmer months. When winter and fall periods were taken into account, an average of 9.4 percent of the total selenium entering the rabbitfoot grass pond was volatilized.

Terry said wetland plants could become a major wastewater remediation tool for both agriculture and industry.

"The upshot is that wetlands are a very efficient and affordable solution to ridding polluted water of a toxic chemical," said Terry. "Plants grow year after year, and while a constructed wetland system would need to be monitored, it would be relatively easy to maintain."

The Electric Power Research Institute helped support the UC Berkeley study.


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Edward C. Stone, Influential Forest Ecologist and Professor Emeritus, Dies at 85
Closing the Book on the Novartis Deal? Internal Campus Study says Lucrative Agreement Didn’t Skew Research or Compromise Academic Freedom
San Diego Conference Tackles Child Obesity Epidemic
Nature's Filter: Wetlands Clean Selenium From Agricultural Runoff


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