College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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February 6, 2013

Air pollution linked to low birth weight

By Stephanie M. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

Mothers who breathe the kind of pollution emitted by vehicles, coal power plants and factories are significantly likelier to give birth to underweight children than mothers living in less polluted areas, according to international findings published Wednesday.

The study is believed to be the largest to examine how newborns' bodies are affected by air quality, an issue that has raised particular concern in China and other developing nations.

morell-frosch_Chron_link.jpgNearly 30 researchers, including three from the Bay Area, based their conclusions on more than 3 million births at 14 sites in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. [Pictured: Rachel Morello-Frosch, UC Berkeley]

Read the full story at the source.

February 5, 2013

Endowing cells with a magnetic personality

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations

Some bacteria make their own tiny magnets to navigate the oceans. But these tiny compasses also show up beautifully in 3-D magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, inspiring UC Berkeley scientists to use them to track the movement of cells in the body or molecules within cells.

Watch videos of magnetic bacteria.Magnetic_bacteria.png

Researchers today label genes or proteins with green fluorescent protein (GFP) – a development honored in 2008 with a Nobel Prize. But GFP is only useful for looking at cells on the body surface or inside transparent embryos.

With a $1 million high-risk, high-reward grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation, a UC Berkeley team plans to implant the relevant genes from magnetotactic bacteria into mammalian cells so they can make their own magnets. Mikhail Shapiro, one of the project’s leaders, says the technique will help scientists explore how tumors spread, immune cells find pathogens or brain cells degenerate.

“If we can transplant the genetic machinery that makes these strong and beautifully magnetic structures into mammalian cells, you would fulfill the dream of a magnetic, non-invasive version of GFP that allows really sensitive imaging of gene expression,” he said.

Arash Komeili, associate professor of plant and microbial biology, is also a project lead.

Biological Imaging in Animals with Genetically Encoded Magnetic Reporters

February 4, 2013

New AIDS research uses models to see through lies about sex, inform HIV policy

By Ann Brody Guy, College of Natural Resources

The increasingly couples-focused public-health policy for AIDS prevention in sub-Saharan Africa underestimates the role that cheating spouses play in transmitting the virus, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

AIDS-africa_art_crop.jpgWhile cheating spouses are a known avenue for HIV transmission, the proportion of new infections due to extra-couple sex (outside stable, cohabiting relationships) has been hotly debated. Previous research relying on survey data concluded that extra-couple transmission currently plays a small role in the HIV pandemic compared to transmission within couples where one partner is infected with HIV and the other is not — called sero-discordant couples. So far, countries across Africa have chosen to adopt the new World Health Organization-recommended strategy to target sero-discorcordant couples, treating infected partners before they are even sick to protect their uninfected partner.

However, a new study led by UC Berkeley researchers found that transmission rates through extra-couple relationships are in fact much higher than previous estimates indicated. The study was published in the February 4 early-online edition of The Lancet.

“Our results suggest that extra-couple transmission has been and continues to be a relatively common contributor to new HIV infections,” said Steve Bellan, who led the study while working on his Ph.D. in environmental science, policy and management at Berkeley and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. “We estimate that, of new HIV infections within stable, cohabiting couples, approximately half of the cases in men and one third of the cases in women are due to extra-couple transmission.” Results vary widely between individual countries, he adds.

Working around human foibles

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