College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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January 31, 2011

Argentine ant genome: Revealing peek at a pervasive pest

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Photography by: Alex Wild

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The genome of the highly invasive Argentine ant, well on its way to wiping out many native ant species in California, has been sequenced. The effort is part of a consortium of researchers who sequenced the genomes of a total of four ant species.

The researchers found that all the ants, but the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) in particular, have a tremendous number of genes devoted to taste and smell. The ant lives in a chemical world and their genome shows it. "They're just bristling with these sensors," says Neil Tsutsui, professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, and an author on three of the papers.

Argentine ants have 367 genes for sensory receptors for odor and 116 for taste, they found. By comparison, the honeybee has 174 genes for odor and 10 for taste, and the mosquito has 79 genes for odor and 76 for taste.

The Argentine ants also have lots of genes that help detoxify harmful substances, 111 such genes, while European honeybees, in comparison, have 46. Tsutsui says knowing where these genes are could help researchers look at pesticide resistance.

Two other ant genomes, the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), as well as the Argentine ant are being published in the Jan. 31 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The fourth, the leaf-cutter ant (Atta cephalotes), is scheduled for publication in the Feb. 24 issue of the journal PLoS Genetics.

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Professor Wins Miller Award

By Karyn Houston

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An expert scientist in cell specialization at UC Berkeley has been awarded a prestigious Miller Fellowship to further her research in the cost-effective production of biofuels.

N. Louise Glass, of the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, will use the award to initiate a new focus for the Glass lab that utilizes the lab’s experimental data and knowledge base to make further discoveries about plant cells and biofuel production.

In collaboration with a colleague at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Nathan Price, Glass will focus on developing tools to accelerate the use of plant biomass for biofuel production using a model organism for this process (the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa). Currently, the cost of producing enzymes from fungi that degrade plant cell biomass is a limiting factor in the development of marketable lignocellulosic biofuels.

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January 28, 2011

Many climate models lack the resolution to see the full range of impacts from a warmer world.

By Douglas Fischer and Nicole Heller, Daily Climate

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Global climate models are enormously complex mathematical endeavors. To keep them manageable, scientists chop the Earth into large grids to track impacts. Some models use grids the size of continents; others can be as small as 150 square kilometers.

Either way, however, the large-scale resolution means that many important regional and local impacts effectively disappear.

Continue reading "Many climate models lack the resolution to see the full range of impacts from a warmer world." »

January 20, 2011

Professor gives DOE webinar on Photosynthesis and Fuels

By: Sunita Satyapal, Energy.gov

View the Webinar page at DOE.
View the Presentation Slides
View the Webinar Q&A

Recently, the Department of Energy hosted Dr. Tasios Melis, the UC Berkeley scientist behind a Department of Energy funded innovation that promises to triple the productivity of photosynthesis in plants and algae.

If you remember from high school biology class, photosynthesis is the process used by plants and many other organisms to convert sunlight into chemical energy. A molecule called chlorophyll serves to absorb sunlight for use in photosynthesis. Chlorophyll molecules can be stacked in arrays to help plants or algae absorb as much sunlight as possible. By tripling the productivity of photosynthesis, Dr. Melis’ breakthrough will dramatically improve light absorption and utilization, which could yield a 300 percent improvement in the conversion of sunlight to chemical energy. That chemical energy – read “fuel” – which can be harvested from algae, can come in different forms: bulk biomass (plant matter), hydrocarbons (the stuff of fuels like natural gas and petroleum products) or pure hydrogen gas, which fuel cells employ as an efficient way to store and deliver energy.

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Guidelines for Managing Oak Rangelands – A Webinar Series

Dates: March 15, 22. 29 and April 5, 2011 (10 am to 12 noon); Field Trips on April 16 (Sierra REC) and April 30 (Hopland REC)

Background: California’s oak woodlands cover 10 percent of the state and are its most biologically diverse broad habitat. It also is as an important location for agricultural and other economic enterprises. With 80 percent in private ownership, continued resource sustainability is in the hands of private landowners. This webinar series is designed to create an awareness of the importance of managing oak woodlands and to present alternative management strategies for landowners to consider. It will be presented around the concepts in the University of California’s publication, “Guidelines for Managing California’s Hardwood Rangelands.”

Audience: Oak woodland landowners, certified range managers and registered professional foresters.

Format: A four part series of 2-hour lectures will be offered on-line through a link to Adobe Connect. In addition to web-based audio and visual educational material, participants can choose to attend a Saturday field trip to ANR's Sierra (4/16/11) or Hopland (4/30/11) Research and Extension Center at the end of the series for field demonstrations of concepts presented in the webinar. All registered participants will receive a copy of the ANR publication, "Guidelines for Managing California’s Hardwood Rangelands." A complete list of topics and speakers is provided on the website (see: http://ucanr.org/oakwebinar).

Registration: There is a $25 fee to register for the webinar, and people interested in registering can do so at http://ucanr.org/oakwebinar. People need to register on-line to get the weblink for the session and publication material. Registered participants will receive follow-up log-in instructions.

Flyer: You can download a flyer about the webinar here.

Questions:

Richard B. Standiford, PhD, RPF #2015
Cooperative Extension Forest Management Specialist
137 Mulford Hall, #3114
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
510-643-5428
standifo@berkeley.edu

January 19, 2011

Northwest's unusually foggy summer mystifies experts

By Les Blumenthal | McClatchy Newspapers
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The summer of 2010 was the foggiest on record in the Pacific Northwest, according to a researcher dubbed "Dr. Fog" by his colleagues.

Record levels of fog were reported in Seattle, Portland, Ore., Olympia, Wash., and from North Bend, Ore., to Quillayute, Wash., along the coast, said James Johnstone, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans who's focused on West Coast fog.

Though the increase in fog is consistent with global warming computer models for the West Coast, Johnstone said there were other factors in play, with California actually becoming less foggy as the Northwest grew foggier.

Continue reading "Northwest's unusually foggy summer mystifies experts" »

January 18, 2011

Scientists sequence gut microbes of premature infant

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations, UC Berkeley

Scientists have for the first time sequenced and reconstructed the genomes of most of the microbes in the gut of a premature newborn and documented how the microbe populations changed over time.

Further studies involving more infants could eventually help researchers understand the causes of various intestinal problems that afflict preemies, in particular the sometimes fatal necrotizing enterocolitis, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Stanford University. One unresolved question is whether these illnesses are caused by pathogenic strains of bacteria or just an imbalance in the microbe populations in the gut.

The study was posted online Dec. 29 in advance of print publication in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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January 12, 2011

Drought-tolerant maize gets US debut

By: Jeff Tollefson, NatureNews

When the planting season arrives later this year, farmers in the United States will have a new way to safeguard their crops from drought. Last week, DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, headquartered in Johnston, Iowa, announced plans to release a series of hybrid maize (corn) strains that can flourish with less water. The seeds will compete with another maize strain unveiled last July by Swiss agribusiness Syngenta. Both companies used conventional breeding rather than genetic engineering to produce their seeds.

Pioneer says that field studies show its new hybrids will increase maize yields by 5% in water-limited environments, such as the western states of the intensively agricultural Corn Belt region. That compares with the 15% yield gain promised by Syngenta for its maize. Both companies, as well as seed firm Monsanto, based in St Louis, Missouri, are also working on transgenic maize varieties, hoping to tap into a multibillion-dollar market (see Nature 466, 548–551; 2010).

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Four UC Berkeley faculty named AAAS fellows

By Sarah Yang, Media Relations

Four faculty members at the University of California, Berkeley, have been named 2010 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.

The UC Berkeley researchers are among 503 new AAAS fellows named today (Tuesday, Jan. 11). The honor, bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers, recognizes distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

With this announcement, UC Berkeley now boasts 216 AAAS fellows among its faculty.

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January 11, 2011

By Sarah Yang, Media Relations

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It will come as no surprise to dog owners that their four-legged friends have a flair for sniffing out the excrement of other animals. Now, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, have trained dogs to detect the scat of other critters for the greater good – to conduct more accurate surveys of wildlife.

"Wildlife detection dogs have been mostly used in airports to detect contraband, including endangered species and wildlife products, but in recent years, interest has grown in using the dogs to help scientists track biological targets in natural settings," said Sarah Reed, lead author of a paper documenting the dogs' performance that is published in the January issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management. "Working with dogs can greatly improve our ability to detect rare species and help us to understand how these species are responding to large-scale environmental changes, such as habitat loss and fragmentation.”

Reed conducted the research while she was a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. She worked with study co-author Aimee Hurt, co-founder and associate director of Working Dogs for Conservation, a Montana-based nonprofit organization that promotes the training and use of dogs as a non-invasive tool for wildlife studies and management.

"Once the ability to extract and analyze DNA improved, researchers recognized the value of scat as a way to non-invasively monitor the location and population size of key species," said Hurt. "With scat, you can confirm the ID of species and even individuals, as well as analyze hormone levels and diet. It's a very valuable data deposit. So then it became a matter of finding ways to better track the scat, and dogs naturally came to mind."

Continue reading "" »

Professor Wins Award

By: Angela Hopp, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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Cheryl A. Kerfeld, an Adjunct Professor at Plant & Microbial Biology, has won the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education. Kerfeld is a structural biologist and the head of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute’s Education and Structural Genomics programs.

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January 7, 2011

2011 ASPRS Fellow Award Winners

Paul D. Brooks and Kass Green have been named the 2011 ASPRS Fellow Award winners. The ASPRS designation of Fellow is conferred on active Society members who have performed excep­tional service in advancing the science and use of the mapping sciences (photogrammetry, remote sensing, surveying, geographic information systems, and related disciplines).

The designation of Fellow is awarded for pro­fessional excellence and for service to the Society. Candidates are nominated by other active members, recommended to the Fellows Committee, and elected by the ASPRS Board of Directors. Up to 0.3 percent of the Society’s active members may be elected as Fellows in any one year. The nominees must have made outstanding contributions in a recognized Society specialization whether in practice, research, development, administration, or education in the mapping sciences. Members of the Fellows Committee and the Executive Committee are ineligible for nomination.

This year’s awards will be given in May at the ASPRS 2011 Annual Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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Berkeley Economic Consulting Experts Join The Brattle Group

By: PR NewsWire

The Brattle Group, a global provider of consulting and expert testimony in economics, finance, and regulation, announced today that Berkeley Economic Consulting (BEC) experts David Sunding and Mark Berkman have joined the firm as principals in the San Francisco office. In addition, they bring with them four research analysts and a network of academic affiliates from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles, among others.

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January 3, 2011

Sudden oak death, other pests can lurk in firewood

By: Matthew Gomez, San Francisco Chronicle

While many people cozy up next to warm fires in the winter, experts warn that owners of wood-burning fireplaces should take care when choosing wood and buy local.

Firewood transported to different areas has been a key factor in the introduction of nonnative pathogens and insects that can harm ecosystems, said David Wood, professor emeritus of entomology at UC Berkeley.

Among the biggest concerns is that firewood could help spread diseases such as sudden oak death. That disease, which is caused by a pathogen that kills some oak species by attacking the trunks, was first found in Marin County in 1995. It is now found in 14 California counties between Humboldt and Monterey, as well as Curry County, Ore.

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Recent Posts

Argentine ant genome: Revealing peek at a pervasive pest
Professor Wins Miller Award
Many climate models lack the resolution to see the full range of impacts from a warmer world.
Professor gives DOE webinar on Photosynthesis and Fuels
Guidelines for Managing Oak Rangelands – A Webinar Series
Northwest's unusually foggy summer mystifies experts
Scientists sequence gut microbes of premature infant
Drought-tolerant maize gets US debut
Four UC Berkeley faculty named AAAS fellows

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