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.
Newcomers to the Golden State (of which Berkeley has many, the student body now representing 74 countries and all 50 states) are quickly disabused of the beachy, bikini-clad stereotype of California sold to them in song lyrics. Instead, they find themselves immersed in Berkeley’s funky, foggy, nonlinear climate. In fall, while much of the nation is snuggling into sweaters and snarfing down pumpkin spice what-have-you, Bay Area folks are pulling the popsicles from the freezer for the first time, September usually being the hottest month of the year.
Glenn Seaborg was born too late to have spawned Cal’s spirit cry. It’s coincidence, surely, that his name is an anagram for “Go Bears!” And, although he was definitely a Bears fan and was Chancellor when Cal last made it to the Rose Bowl in 1959, he was never in Oski’s league as a campus celebrity. While others led rallies, he had to settle for spearheading decades of trailblazing nuclear science, endowing UC Berkeley with bragging rights to the discovery of a record 16 new elements.
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.”
Eureka! The Diving Bell and the Bullet Wound
On August 4, 1919, Berkeley chemist Joel H. Hildebrand (above, right) was shot and wounded by a lab assistant who accused the professor of opposing his application for appointment. Hildebrand survived—fortunately for the Navy. Twenty years later, in 1939, his work on the properties of gasses being dissolved into liquids saved the lives of 33 members of the USS Squalus when their submarine sank.
It’s Nobel Prize announcement week, and today was supposed to be Literature’s turn. That got poleaxed, however, by yet another scandal in the #MeToo chronicles. This one involved a member of the Swedish Academy who, just last Monday, was sentenced to two years in prison for rape. So, sorry booklovers, no Lit prize this time around.
Posted on October 4, 2018 - 2:49pm
Picture this: It’s past 2 a.m. on October 1, and Berkeley is finally asleep. The night owls have started to nod off at their desks, and the early risers won’t be up for a few more hours. At first glance, not a creature seems to be stirring—not even a Kiwibot.
Posted on October 2, 2018 - 11:22am
Metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) are a revolutionary new class of crystalline solids that can be designed to trap myriad kinds of matter, including greenhouse gases, or to be used as nanosized drug carriers. They can also pull water from desert air.
1. The Turing Award is often called the Nobel Prize of Computing. Counting faculty and alumni, Berkeley claims more Turing laureates than almost any other university in the world. That surprises a lot of people. Should it?
Let’s just say our competitors aren’t burdened with an overdeveloped case of humility.
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.
Posted on June 7, 2018 - 3:40pm
If Barry Barish ’57, Ph.D. ’63, looks familiar, perhaps it’s because we profiled him in this very same space last issue.
In that article, we took pains to explain the nature of Barish’s work as director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, for which he shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Little did we know we’d be featuring him again, this time as CAA Alumnus of the Year.
But, hey, fine with us. When the company’s good, who doesn’t like a second helping?
On April 13, 1888, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who made millions turning his invention into munitions and selling them to the armies of the world, was aghast to read a story in a Paris newspaper that mistakenly reported his death.
It was actually his older brother, Ludvig, who had died, but Alfred was horrified by the headline: “The merchant of death is dead.”
The story went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever, died yesterday.”
Posted on October 16, 2017 - 2:08pm