Uncovering the complex relationship between the forest and the atmosphere
This month, Nature profiles atmospheric chemist Allen Goldstein, (link - Nature subscription required | PDF - open access) who specializes in interpreting the scents of the forest. Goldstein has built his career on finding and characterizing some of the more elusive airborne chemicals in nature. For 10 years at the Blodgett Forest Research Station his team has described more than a dozen plant-released compounds that no one had previously measured or, in some cases, even known existed in the atmosphere.
Over the past decade, scientists have been battling an epidemic that has killed more than one million oak trees in the state. If it remains unchecked, the disease could change the face of California's landscape. The good news is that researchers have found a way to inoculate individual trees against it. But time is running out before Sudden Oak Death decimates California's forests.
Sierra Pacific Foundation helps make Zivnuska building a reality
The Sierra Pacific Foundation has generously donated $10,000 toward the completion of John A. Zivnuska Computer Laboratory at CNR's forestry camp in the Plumas National Forest. The 1,400 square foot cedar structure, built with open-beam log house construction, provides students in the field with access to computers, geographic information systems, and other technologies.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Talley Vineyards, a family-run winemaker where growing is overseen by CNR alum Brian Talley (Political Economy of Natural Resources '88), seems to have captured the essence of wine country and brought it to San Luis Obispo County.
CNR Advisory Board member and Cal alum John Scharffenberger, says a profile article in Inc. magazine, has played a crucial part of the gourmeting of America. He got his start making fine chocolate and now he plans to create an American version of Iberian ham.
Pest destroys forest canopy, promotes invasive plants amid hemlocks
Deep in the hemlock forests of the Eastern United States, a tiny, aphid-like insect may be playing a giant role in transforming an ecosystem, according to new research by ecologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
It's been well-documented that the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic pest native to Asia and introduced to the Eastern United States in the 1950s, has led to a decline of the shade-providing canopy in forests of eastern hemlock trees. The insect (Adelges tsugae) sucks fluid from the base of hemlock needles, causing the needles to drop and the branches to die.
The new study has found that this loss of canopy is also setting the stage for the successful invasion of non-native plants. The canopy decline leads to even greater invasion of non-native plants when combined with a high concentration of the plants' seeds and white-tailed deer in the affected area.
"This study provides important information for the management of natural resources," said study co-author John Battles, associate professor of ecosystem sciences. "Knowing which factors to target in reducing the populations of invasive plants helps ensure that limited resources are being used effectively and efficiently."
Changing the amount of light filtering through the forest canopy has a particularly large impact on the unusually dark ecosystems of eastern hemlock forests, the researchers said.
Global warming may include some periods of local cooling, according to a new study by researchers at the College of Natural Resources. Results from satellite and ground-based sensor data show that sweltering summers can, paradoxically, lead to the temporary formation of a cooling haze in the southeastern United States.
The study, published the week of May 18 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that when manmade pollutants mix with the natural compounds emitted from forests and vegetation during the hot summer months, they form secondary aerosols that reflect light from the sun. Such aerosols may also contribute to the formation of clouds, which also reflect sunlight.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently highlighted plant biologist Chris Somerville, director of the Energy Biosciences Institute, among 10 Bay Area entrepreneurs, scientists and policymakers at the vanguard of a revolution that aims to reinvent the way people use water, power their cars, build their houses and live their lives.
"They might not become household names," wrote the Chronicle, "but their research, policy papers and startups could shape the way many households run in the years to come." The story continues:
As a plant biochemist, Chris Somerville has pioneered the search for clean liquid-fuel sources harnessed from the solar energy stored in nonfood plants. Somerville is director of the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley, an ambitious project financed by a $500 million grant from BP, the British oil company. It is the world's largest alliance between industry and academia.
Somerville has made the study of biofuels for transportation, along with the social, economic and environmental impact of such fuels, the institute's top priority.
His research teams are using global satellite imagery, geologic surveys and market databases to identify abandoned farmlands and nonagricultural soils that could support energy crops; trying to identify the plant species most suitable for biofuels; and using biotechnology laboratories to explore nature's methods of releasing plant sugars and to create synthetic catalysts.
"We're not in commercial development; we're trying to understand it first," said Somerville. "I feel optimistic. We're trying to push the frontier forward."
Scientists from opposite sides of the world have created an improved variety of wheat by discovering how to prevent the phenomenon of premature sprouting, which can wipe out an entire crop.
The researchers, based at UC Berkeley and in Zhengzhou, China, have found a way to control “pre-harvest sprouting”—a situation in which wheat seeds sprout before they are harvested. This international problem destroys about 20 percent of all wheat in China annually. By overcoming this problem, the researchers expect to dramatically increase wheat yields and reduce the cost of products such as wheat noodles, a staple of the Chinese diet. The same procedure could be applied to barley, increasing yields for grain used in malting for beer.
With passion for research, graduating microbial biology senior Jordan Anaya named University Medal finalist
Microbial Biology major Jordan Anaya has been honored as a 2009 University Medal finalist -- one of just six top UC Berkeley undergraduates representing the class of 2009 at the University Commencement Convocation on May 22. (IDS major Emma Shaw Crane will receive the University Medal.)
Anaya grew up in Fremont, Calif, and entered Berkeley as an eager premed. His interest in his science classes made him wonder what it would be like to be a scientist and resulted in him joining the lab of MCB and Chemistry Professor John Kuriyan, which he says cemented his desire to pursue a career as a scientist.
Anaya says he is incredibly proud to have been named a finalist for the University medal. "I just find it all so unbelievable when I stop to think about where I am and where I started. I wasn’t a very gifted student when I was younger, and even in junior high or high school if someone told me I would be given this award at a university such as Berkeley, with so many amazing students from all over the world, I would have thought they were crazy. I guess I’m a good example that anything can happen."
We asked Jordan a few other questions to learn about his experience, motivation, and future.
Assistant Professor Danica Chen of Nutritional Science and Toxicology has won a 2009 Searle Scholars Award, one of 15 young professors nationwide.
The Searle research grant provides $100,000 per year for three years to promising assistant professors early in their careers.
Dr. Chen's research aims to understand the aging process and to explore therapeutic targets to slow aging. In particular, she is focusing on sirtuins in mammalian aging. Sirtuins are genetic regulators of aging. They are believed to be mediators of calorie restriction responses, such as lifespan extension and amelioration of diverse diseases of aging, including cancer.
UC Berkeley Forum: “Swine Flu 2009: Are we Facing a Pandemic?”
Monday evening panel of UC Berkeley professors led a forum discussing the H1N1 virus, more commonly referred to as swine flu. The panelists included professors Arthur Reingold, an expert on infectious disease transmission, surveillance and prevention; Russell Vance, an expert on pathogenesis and immunology; Wayne Getz, an expert on the ecology and epidemiology of wildlife and human diseases; and Amy Herr, an expert on the potential role in a pandemic of “lab-on-a-chip” diagnostic tools.
The forum, titled “Swine Flu 2009: Are We Facing a Pandemic?” was hosted by the Alliance for Global Health, a campus-wide initiative that aims to merge global health research from across various departments and disciplines. Discussion focuses on the impacts of the virus as well as the epidemiology and biology of the H1N1 virus, the response of the human immune system to infection, and the development of new diagnostic tools used to detect pathogens in the field.