It’s a warm, spring day. You’re sitting under a tree snacking on a bag of potato chips, when a breeze tickles your nose. You sneeze, sending a soggy crumb into the grass where it bonks an unsuspecting ant on the head. Unfazed, she nibbles the chip, then heaves it over her shoulder and carries it back to the colony. Little does she know that, during its brief flight from your mouth, this sticky glob picked up a fungal spore that is deadly to ants. Within a day she’ll be sick, within two she’ll be dead.
Look up! While you were stirring up a tweetstorm on your phone, real (non)human drama was unfolding among the original tweeters—that’s right, the birds. Cooper’s hawks are in hot pursuit of pigeons through the Berkeley canopy. A consortium of bushtits gather on the sidewalk, and a black phoebe lands pensively on your fence post.
Posted on July 16, 2020 - 9:48am
There aren’t enough tests. That’s the problem now on many of our minds.
The idea for the testing facility was born just two weeks ago, when a virologist in Jennifer Doudna’s lab saw her own projects put on hold.
Posted on April 3, 2020 - 5:14pm
Listen to the news and you may fear a plague or a zombie outbreak. A cruise ship off Japan’s coast has been quarantined with nearly 3,700 passengers. Its American passengers were just evacuated, including 14 infected with the virus. In Wuhan, China, the very doctor who tried, unsuccessfully, to warn people about the disease, is now dead.
Posted on February 20, 2020 - 11:12am
The announcement came in June. Berkeley Extension, the continuing education arm of UC Berkeley, was offering its first-ever introductory course—CRISPR Genome Editing: From Biology to Technology—on the revolutionary new tool that allows scientists to make precise edits in the genome. A lab and lecture course on CRISPR for anyone who has the interest (and money) to enroll? What a crazy idea. It seemed a bit like offering a workshop on how to enrich plutonium.
One of biology’s wilder facts is that we’re all family. You and me, sure, but also me and a mushroom. Triceratops shared genes with you. So does the virus that makes you cough, and a rosebush. Bacteria left us on the tree of life around 2.7 billion years ago, but the wet world they came from is still ours: One code runs all of life. The same proteins that imprint memories in your neurons, for example, do so in octopi, ravens, and sea slugs. This genetic conservation means tricks from one species can be hijacked. If you stick a jellyfish gene in a monkey, it’ll glow green.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1984 the senior scientists of Cetus Corp., a Berkeley biotech company, found themselves in a bind. One of their employees, a promising young scientist named Kary Mullis, had dreamed up a technique to exponentially replicate tiny scraps of DNA. He called it polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and if it worked it would change the world and likely earn Cetus a mountain of money. The only problem was Mullis was an interpersonal wrecking ball.
Sherry D. Martinez thought she had the flu. The then-45-year-old had all the usual symptoms—fever, fatigue, sore joints—and then some. When it became difficult to breathe, a doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia and sent her home with antibiotics. A few days later, bumps appeared on Martinez’s skin. When she scratched at them, they oozed. Her doctor put her on stronger antibiotics, but still her condition worsened. She developed a rash and severe eye pain.
On Monday, March 18, HBO will air the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley about the stunning rise and dramatic fall of the Silicon Valley healthcare company Theranos.
Posted on March 16, 2019 - 2:56pm
Researchers at Berkeley have produced the first detailed picture of the molecular structure of human telomerase, an enzyme that plays key roles in both the repair of aging cells and the endless cellular rejuvenation typical of cancers. Berkeley biology professors Kathleen Collins and Eva Nogales published their discovery, complete with 3D images, in the journal Nature in April.
When Randy Schekman looks up from his computer screen, which he now spends more time staring at than petri dishes, his eyes sometimes fall on a faded copy of Cell displayed nearby. The issue is dated June 17, 1994, and the cover depicts a swarm of magnified vesicles—tiny sacs that transport molecules inside cells—resembling a crowd of miniature suns.
When we say “internal compass,” we’re usually referring to something metaphorical, a person’s innate sense of right and wrong. But for UC Berkeley microbiologists Arash Komeili and David Hershey, the term is literal: The two study magnetotactic bacteria, which navigate using tiny magnetic iron crystals called magnetosomes.
Why does North America have so many trees and so few elephants?
One of the many mysteries in the fossil record is the late-Quaternary extinction, that wholesale shift of plant and animal life as the Ice Age ended at the close of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene, a die-off that included about half of the world’s large-bodied animals. Forests grew up, and into the tar pit went the saber-tooth tiger, giant horses, five-ton sloths, and honking big mammoths and mastodons.
An archaeological mystery that called into question the racial history of the Americas has finally been solved. After consecutively assigning him Caucasian, Japanese, and Native American ancestry, a team of scientists including some at UC Berkeley say they have finally determined the geographic origins of the Kennewick Man.