DNA

Meet Frances Arnold, Teenage Rebel Turned Nobel Laureate

At 15, she was a class-skipping, catch-me-if-you-can maverick hitchhiking to D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. Looking back on those years now, Frances Arnold says, “Fifteen is one of those terrifying ages, where you’re frustrated because you know something’s wrong, but you have no idea how to fix it. So I did what I could, which is protest.

“But as I’ve gone through my life,” she continues, “I know that it’s my responsibility to fix it. I’m much better at fixing things than protesting.”

She pauses.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

The Ethics of Hunting Down John Doe

Last month’s arrest of NorCal Rapist suspect, Roy Charles Waller, sent shockwaves across the Cal campus and the state. Waller, after all, was a longtime employee of UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety, and his capture resulted from a new forensic tool that promises to solve many cold cases: open-source genealogical databases.

Gird Your Genes: What DNA Matching Might Mean for Your Privacy

The recent capture of a suspect for the notorious Golden State Killer crimes was a vindication of both diligent detective work and modern technology. More than four decades after the first incident attributed to the GSK, which ultimately tallied at least 12 murders, 45 rapes, and more than 100 home burglaries, 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo was arrested in his California home.

The Secret of the Sea Nomads

The Bajau people, commonly known as “sea nomads,” live in coastal regions of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They spend some 60 percent of their working hours in the sea, foraging for food at depths of up to 230 feet below the surface. Bajau divers are known to hold their breath for several minutes at a time.

How do they do it? Researchers think they have found the key: larger spleens.

Findings like these are a reminder that humans, like all animals, are products of evolution.

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Eyes on the Octopus: In Trio of Studies, Berkeley Scientists Strive to Make Sense of the Cephalopods

It is a curious thing to consider that UC Berkeley, a school notably lacking a marine biology program, has produced not one, not two, but three published studies on the venerable octopus within the last year. But then octopuses, too, are curious to consider. They have three hearts; blue, copper-based blood; regenerating tentacles; and a level of sentience unique among invertebrates.

From the Fall 2016 The Greatest Show On Earth issue of California.

Do-It-Yourself Biology? Messing Around with DNA Increasingly a Garage-Band Venture

Silicon is so passé. Those who are truly au courant in the coding world are working with carbon—specifically DNA, that most ancient and elegant of codes. Such biohacking is central to the rapidly expanding field of synthetic biology, a term that somehow seems a little threatening to many of us who are the products of the old fashioned kind of biology that’s been around since the planet first managed to gin up a few primitive prokaryotes 3.5 billion years ago.

The Immortality Connundrum: Our Mortality May Be What Saves Us From Cancer

Want to live forever? Be a tumor. We may eventually download analogs of our brains into computers and thus achieve a certain kind of immortality, but dramatically extending the functionality of the human body is looking problematic. Cancer cells, on the other hand, can propagate endlessly.

Which once again shows that life is inherently unfair, even in death. Why should insensate and destructive carcinomas enjoy the boon of immortality while we sentient human beings are preordained to decline and ultimate oblivion?

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