College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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February 27, 2009

UC Berkeley researchers explain key mechanism of inheritance that defies Mendel’s first law of genetics


Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered a key mechanism responsible for a curious type of genetic inheritance that has been one of the great, unsolved mysteries in biology. The new findings, to be published today (Friday, Feb. 27) in Science, help explain the phenomenon of paramutation, in which certain alleles are heritably altered while their DNA sequences remain unchanged.

Paramutation violates the first law of genetics: that alleles are always inherited unchanged from the previous generation. The phenomenon was first described in 1956 for one of the factors responsible for corn-seed coloration. Since then, it has been observed in several plant species, and in 2006 an international group of researchers described an example of paramutation in mice, reinvigorating the idea that the phenomenon might represent a more fundamental aspect of biology.

The Berkeley researchers, led by Jay Hollick, associate adjunct professor of plant biology, returned to the corn plant to examine how paramutation works. They discovered that a plant-specific RNA polymerase Pol IV is responsible for the multi-generational memory of paramutation as well as normal plant development. This unusual RNA polymerase is responsible for the production of small RNA molecules from repetitive non-coding DNA.

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February 26, 2009

Why California should consider Australia's "Prepare, stay and defend" wildfire policy

Prepare, stay, defend??

Even as debate rages over the safety of Australia's "Prepare, stay and defend, or leave early" policy of wildfire defense, fire researchers at the College of Natural Resources and in Australia say that the strategy is worth consideration in California and other regions in the United States.

Questions about the policy, which encourages able residents to stay home and actively defend their property from wildfires, are being renewed in the wake of Australia's devastating fires, which began on Feb. 7 and killed 210 people, burned down 1,800 homes and scorched 1,500 square miles of land.

"The key element of Australia's policy is to train willing homeowners to protect their homes in an active wildfire," said Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science and co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation. However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a 'prepare and leave early' strategy may be the only option."

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February 20, 2009

Report Details Increasing Overweight and Obesity in California

Health and medical professionals have cited sobering statistics in recent years about the ever-increasing waistline of adults and children in the United States and the long-term impact carrying that extra weight will have on our collective health and economy.

The facts are staggering: nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese; 34 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese. The increase in obesity - fueled by unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity - has led to a surge in diabetes during the last 20 years. Moreover, in California, some ethnic groups - Latinos, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans - are affected disproportionately. And if nothing is done to curtail the increasing rates of obesity in children, they will be the first generation of offspring who will not outlive their parents.

Those are some of the findings included in a report being distributed today to California law makers. The 42-page Legislative Task Force on Diabetes & Obesity Report to the California Legislature covers the impact obesity and diabetes has on a number of different levels, from personal health to economics. It also includes recommendations on how policies can be implemented to address obesity at home, in the workplace, schools and community.

The report was co-written by Cooperative Extension Specialist Patricia B. Crawford, co-director of the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health and UC Davis professors Rudy Ortiz and M.R.C Greenwood. The authors are members of the Legislative Task Force on Diabetes and Obesity.

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February 9, 2009

Freshman & Sophmore Seminar Awards

Started in fall 1992, the Freshman Seminar Program establishes early intellectual contact with faculty members to enhance the freshman experience at Cal. Seminars give faculty a chance to cover topics such as their emerging research or outside interests that they would not normally have a chance to teach. The seminars also allow students to explore a scholarly topic that is intriguing or even unfamiliar to them, broadening their intellectual explorations while allowing them to interact directly with faculty. At the Freshman & Sophomore Seminars Reception, awards were given to faculty members who have displayed a high level of participation in the seminar program.

Gold Awards were given to faculty members who have been integral to the program. In recognition of having taught over twenty seminars, CNR Professors George W. Chang of Nutritional Science and Toxicology and David L. Wood of Environmental Science, Policy and Management have received the Gold Award.

The Blue Award, in recognition of having taught ten or more seminars, was given to J. Keith Gilless, CNR Dean and Professor of ESPM, Richard Malkin, Professor Emeritus of Plant and Microbial Biology, Loy E. Volkman, Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology, and David Zilberman, Professor of Agriculture and Resource Economics.

February 5, 2009

Jim Bundschu on the dawn of California's wine revolution

Wine from the Sonoma Valley wasn't always so glamorous. Jim Bundschu recalls his dad hanging out at the kitchen table with California Burgundy jug pioneer August Sebastiani, playing the card game Pedro in the early 1960s. "They'd be drinking wine out of peanut butter jars while my mom made slumgulleon," says Bundschu, who oversees the vineyards of the Gundlach Bundschu estate in the hilly Carneros region of Sonoma. But in 1966, with a stiff new diploma in agricultural economics, Bundschu recognized the potential, maybe not for glamour, but certainly to create something extraordinary.

Read the story in Breakthroughs...


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UC Berkeley researchers explain key mechanism of inheritance that defies Mendel’s first law of genetics
Why California should consider Australia's "Prepare, stay and defend" wildfire policy
Report Details Increasing Overweight and Obesity in California
Freshman & Sophmore Seminar Awards
Jim Bundschu on the dawn of California's wine revolution


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