2012 was a big year for the science of snipping DNA to introduce genetic changes into a cell, also known as genome editing. Though Science magazine hailed two new techniques for selectively cutting and pasting DNA in the field of genome engineering as together constituting one of the Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year, those methods may already have been surpassed by researchers at the University of California Berkeley using RNA and a single protein. Faster, simpler, and cheaper, the UCB team led by Dr. Jennifer Doudna published initial results of their work genetically modifying bacteria using the RNA-based DNA cleavage technique last summer. The response from the the life science community was extremely positive, with reviews calling it a "tour de force" and a "a real hit," according to the latest press release. Now three more papers are coming out based on the work of the Doudna Lab showing that the RNA programming technique using a bacterial enzyme known as Cas9 is equally effective in making alterations to human genes.
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It used to be, once upon a time, that the northwest corner of the UC Berkeley campus was a bit sleepy, bordering as it did an older downtown that hadn't yet been revitalized. The important buildings on campus were located more centrally, or along the busy southside, or up in the hills. In the year 2012 all that has changed, and not one but two important life science lab buildings have been completed and opened their doors in the past year along Oxford Street, built to mesh comfortably with the now-fashionable and vibrant Downtown Berkeley scene at their doorsteps and to contribute to a growing life science research hub in that campus corner.
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The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the largest, most successful established biotech hubs in the US, thanks in part to the presence of 3 of the world's top universities: UCSF, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. Strong on intellectual capital, the area has been notoriously short of real estate since developers were ordered to stop filling in the Bay back in the 60's. Fortunately, as manufacturing waned, industrial land became available for redevelopment as high-tech R&D lab space, which is how UCSF's Mission Bay campus eventually came to be. Across the Bay to the East, bayfront industrial property is seeing a similar repurposing, with particularly mushroom-like life science growth in the little city of Emeryville, though also in neighboring Berkeley and Richmond.
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Dr. Carlos Bustamante came to the United States from Peru on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1975. He studied and received his degree at the University of California Berkeley, where he worked with his mentor, Ignacio Tinoco, in Biophysics. He returned to UC Berkeley as a professor of Molecular and Cell Biology in 1998 and has continued his groundbreaking work on single-molecule manipulation studies as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator leading a vibrant lab group with branches in the QB3 Institute, Berkeley Lab (LBNL), and the Physics Department at UC Berkeley. Now Dr. Bustamante is being honored with the 2012 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science, which is awarded each year to an outstanding foreign-born scientist working in the US. The honor is accompanied by $100,000 and a unique trophy (see right, courtesy of the Vilcek Foundation).
When the University of California Berkeley (UCB) decided to actively recruit acclaimed neurologist Dr. Zhigang He away from his research position at Harvard Medical School's Children's Hospital, they knew a critical component of the package they could offer him would be a promise of substantial funding for his stem cell research on the human nervous system in his new lab. To secure this funding, UCB applied to and received a promise of $5.6M in research funding for He from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a statewide initiative supported by taxpayer-approved bonds.
On March 24, UC Berkeley's Center for Green Chemistry held its first interdisciplinary national conference, sponsored by the Canadian non-profit Philomathia Foundation. The event sold out. Speakers included faculty from across the UC Berkeley campus (including the Chancellor), as well as: