Science + Health

Lab Notes: A New Class Brings CRISPR to the People

The announcement came in June. Berkeley Extension, the continuing education arm of UC Berkeley, was offering its first-ever introductory courseCRISPR 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.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Meet CRISPR: Humanity’s Shiny New Tool

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.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Kiss Me, I’m 61.5% Irish

THE YEAR HAS BEEN A JUMBLE FOR ME. Long story short: I was Portuguese, then I wasn’t, then I was again.

It all started after my wife and I spat in vials and mailed the samples off to a laboratory, where our DNA was extracted from the skin cells that had sloughed off into our saliva. Many thousands of DNA segments were read and analyzed, and the results returned via email.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Intolerable Genius: Berkeley’s Most Controversial Nobel Laureate

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.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Blood Work: The Citizen Sleuth Using Genealogy to ID the Dead

ON APRIL 24, 1981, THE BODY OF A YOUNG WOMAN with auburn braids and a fringed jacket was discovered off the side of a road in Troy, Ohio.

She had been strangled to death only hours before. Authorities took DNA samples but couldn’t find a match for the woman. For decades, she was described only by the clothes on her back: “Buckskin Girl.”

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

There’s an App for That! Earthquake Early Warning Is Here.

On the 30-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, Governor Gavin Newsom stood near the Oakland entrance of the Bay Bridge, a portion of which collapsed during the quake, and announced the launch of MyShake, the United States’ first earthquake early warning system.

“The price of admission for living here is preparation,” Newsom said. “Today we are making a big leap forward.”

Through the Smoke: Truth & Misconceptions about the Amazon Fires

In late August, the Amazon was aflame, and so was social media. Everyone from regular citizens to celebrities and politicians wanted to express their outrage. But in the rush to retweet and regram, some people forgot to fact-check.

The longstanding and oft-tweeted claim that the Amazon acts as the “lungs of the Earth,” producing 20 percent of our oxygen? It’s simply incorrect, says Jeffrey
Chambers.

“We Are One”: Hundreds Rally to Demand Action on Climate Change

On September 20, 2019, people around the world banded together to demand action against climate change. Protestors in over 180 countries and all seven continents participated in the strike, which may have been the biggest climate demonstration to date. From the small island nation of Tonga all the way to Antarctica, students and community members walked out of their schools and places of work to send a message to world leaders: do more and do it now.

Whose Fault?

When a series of earthquakes rolled through the Mojave Desert over Independence Day weekend, the 500,000 Angelenos who’d downloaded the mobile app ShakeAlertLA thought they’d receive advance warning. Notification never came. Left to their own (silent) devices, many expressed frustration: Had the United States’ new earthquake early warning system, co-piloted by UC Berkeley researchers, failed its first major trial?

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

The Periodic Table Is Turning 150. Please Clap.

In 1669, Hennig Brand, a German merchant and alchemist, tried a novel experiment he hoped would yield the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” a way to spin base metals into gold. His exact formula is lost to history, but we know he heated urine in a retort, or glass chamber, until the vessel glowed and the dripping liquid burst into flames. Urine, it turned out, wasn’t a source of gold. It was a source of phosphorus, a previously unknown element and the first one isolated in the laboratory.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

The Element Named After Berkeley

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.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

Warning! AI Is Heading for a Cliff

Asked if the race to achieve superhuman artificial intelligence (AI) was inevitable, Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor of computer science and leading expert on AI, says yes.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

From Ashes to Ashes: Can California Safely Rebuild?

Edna Colridge was irritated when her dog jumped on her chest, rousing her from a deep sleep. Then she looked out the window and noticed that the sky was red. A few seconds later, she saw that her neighbor’s house was engulfed by flames. And the house behind that. The entire neighborhood, she realized, was burning.

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