Berkeley in the News Archive

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Tuesday, 11 February 2020

1. European Patent Office Upholds UC Berkeley CRISPR Patent
Genome Web

The European Patent Office has upheld one of the CRISPR patents shared by molecular cell and biology professor Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the University of Vienna. The decision reflected their rejection of arguments made by anonymous parties. "It is gratifying to have the European patent office confirm the novelty and inventiveness of this discovery," Charpentier said in a statement. "I am pleased to see to what extent CRISPR-Cas9 has become such an important tool in many important areas of research, not to speak of its potential as a curative therapeutic for serious and life-threatening diseases." In January, the EPO upheld the revocation of a patent initially awarded to the Broad Institute, and apparently that could affect as many as nine of its 21 CRISPR-Cas9 European patents. Other stories on this topic appeared in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News and Life Sciences Intellectual Property Review. Full Story

2. Keep an eye on these potentially disruptive UC Berkeley SkyDeck startups
San Francisco Business Times (*requires registration)

Berkeley's startup accelerator SkyDeck showcased the work of its latest alumni startups at its biannual demo day last week. Described here as "potentially disruptive," the demos included drill-less tooth implants, new drugs for the treatment of bacterial colon infections, and battery charging stations for the "micro-mobility industry." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Full Story

3. Rising seas already overwhelm the Bay Area. Here is the desperate bid to avert disaster
Los Angeles Times (*requires registration)

As if the threat of rising seas weren't enough for the Bay Area and California, with more than $150 billion worth of property at risk of flooding by 2100, the problem is compounded by the attendant risk of groundwater flooding as the ocean moves inland. It's the "sea beneath us," some researchers say, and it won't be held back by levees. Associate landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design professor Kristina Hill has focused her research on this lesser-known aspect of rising sea levels, and she explains that pressure from the rising ocean pushes freshwater up from underground. It will make basements and foundations heave, corrode sewer pipes, and bring up and spread buried contaminants. "We could spend hundreds of billions of dollars and still have flooding on the inland side of all those levees," she told the state Assembly's Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy last week. She showed a map of areas where water is already surfacing. "We're very concerned about human health and the health of the bay," she said. Full Story

4. Largest school bond in California history would throw $15 billion at fixing schools
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

At $15 million, Proposition 13 on the March ballot (no relation to the 1978 tax measure) is the largest school bond in state history, and it aims to make inroads on the $100 billion backlog of maintenance and new construction needs at California's K-12 schools and universities. While higher education officials haven't specified which projects they would address with the money, two issues are well known -- seismic risks and overcrowding. At Berkeley, six buildings are in need of retrofitting. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times endorses the proposition. Full Story

5. California stopped charging parents for kids' incarceration. So why are some still stuck owing thousands of dollars?
Mercury News (*requires registration)

California banned counties from charging parents for the costs of their children's involvement in the juvenile justice system in 2018. Although most counties voluntarily erased families' old debts, an October report by Berkeley Law's Policy Advocacy Clinic indicates that 22 counties are still holding families accountable for a total of nearly $137 million of debt incurred before Jan 1, 2018. Sometimes families have multiple accounts, so it's hard to estimate the number of families affected or their average debt, but according to report co-author Stephanie Campos-Bui, a supervising attorney at the clinic, the $14,000 or so owed by one parent for his son's time is fairly typical. "There was this myth that parents were dropping off their kids at juvenile detention facilities because they just couldn't deal with them anymore, (that) they were using them essentially as a babysitting service," Campos-Bui says. And, she says, the decentralized juvenile justice system, with its lack of state oversight, led to some counties in California charging some of the country's highest fees. Full Story

6. Worsening immigration climate pushes health workers into politics
West Central Tribune (Minnesota)

Two Berkeley experts participated in a town hall event in Rochester, Minnesota, last week to discuss the theme, "Hidden Crisis: Confronting Health Care Injustice in Our Local Immigrant Community." The first, Dr. Seth Holmes, an associate public health and medical anthropology professor, said: "The populations I work with who are undocumented or of mixed immigration status ... are generally given the opportunity for two kinds of work: food work on farms or in restaurants, and in construction," and both have high rates of sickness. "So there's this exchange going on in which the very people who provide our society with food and housing are the people whose health is being deteriorated by the fact that our society has a labor system segregated based on language and color of skin." The second, Miriam Magaña Lopez, a research and policy analyst at Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, and a board member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, talked about the importance of letting undocumented people drive, among other things. "A lot of times the conversation around health is framed around the clinical encounter," she said in an interview afterwards. "It's framed around getting your numbers checked, going to the doctor, or seeing a nurse. I think that conversation doesn't recognize how structural forces that don't allow people to fully participate in society negatively affect the health of communities. ... If your life is super stressful because you can't drive, because you can't leave your home without fear of deportation, all those things affect the body, and you have people getting sick. ... Allowing people the freedom to drive may not seem like it is directly improving health, but it is. ... Like it or not, these individuals are part of society, our society depends on them to function, and we owe it to everyone who is part of this community to help them be healthy." Full Story

7. Bay Briefing
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

The new coronavirus is spreading faster than SARS did, but global health officials today have the advantage of using what they learned nearly 20 years ago with SARS, as well as with the intervening Ebola and H1N1 epidemics, to combat it. Dr. Tomás Aragón, an assistant adjunct public health and epidemiology professor, led Berkeley's Center for Infectious Diseases and Emergency Readiness during the SARS epidemic. He says: "It was a scramble back then. ... Now there's a whole generation of people like myself with really deep experience in these things." Full Story

8. China's Leader Wages a War on Two Fronts -- Viral and Political
Wall Street Journal (*requires registration)

China's President Xi Jingping is under intense pressure, with not just the coronavirus outbreak but also, as this reporter puts it, with "the most intense volleys of public rage since he took power in 2012." Research scientist Xiao Qiang, of Berkeley's School of Information, is the founder of China Digital Times, a website that monitors Chinese internet controls. He says: "This is not just a public health crisis. [Xi] seems to be dealing with an internal political crisis." Full Story

9. The Wall Street Journal criticized for op-ed with derogatory reference to China in title
NBC News Online

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, titled "China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia," raising alarms about the country's financial markets and the coronavirus outbreak, has been receiving considerable backlash on social media. Says ethnic studies professor Catherine Ceniza Choy: "The consequences of publishing an opinion like this by mainstream media include stoking more fear and anxiety, and increasing hostility against Chinese and other Asians throughout the world. ... This is extremely harmful and wrong." She says that the "racist association of Chinese bodies as disease carriers" has roots in white supremacist and nativist fears of Asian migration in the late 19th century. Full Story

10. Why Some Black Puerto Ricans Choose 'White' on the Census
New York Times (*requires registration)

Most Puerto Ricans identified themselves as white on their last census, although many are of African descent, and activists and demographers are trying to correct the data in order to highlight the island's racial disparities. The errors began before the 1960s, when census takers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico decided people's race for them. "The Puerto Rican elite was very much working together with the United States and privileging whiteness among the population," says sociology professor Mara Loveman. "The unspoken rules of who counts as white were increasingly more generous as part of a broader societal project to appear whiter to the United States. ... The way we measure and identify as black or white will affect how much inequality we see in society along racial lines," she adds. "I think it's a really important symbolic politics to embrace blackness on the census, which is a highly political and politicized space. ... We will get a clearer picture of the state of racial disparities in life outcomes in Puerto Rico." Full Story

11. What the Democrats Need to Do to Get Back on Track
KCBS Radio

In an interview, Dean Henry Brady of the Goldman School of Public Policy talks about infighting in the Democratic Party and fears that it could ruin the party's chance of prevailing in the election. Speaking of the attacks the Democratic candidates are making against each other, he says: "I think in the short run it will, of course, affect candidates, because people will look at that and see there's a lot of truth to some of these complaints, and therefore folks may be voting based upon them. But I think in the longer run, it's not clear to me that they're really going to hurt the Democratic Party unless they get much more vile and personal than they are right now. Link to audio. Full Story

12. Candidates Get Debate Messages Across With More Than Words
Wall Street Journal (*requires registration)

"This is a perception game," says associate business professor Dana Carney, director of Berkeley's Institute for Personality and Social Research, in an article about the nonverbal gesturing of this year's presidential candidates. Comparing the styles of President Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, she says that Trump's gestures are fairly controlled and consistently emphasize his words, and his frequent use of the OK symbol may be his way of emphasizing precision or literally conveying that what he is saying is "OK." On the other hand, Sanders' gestures aren't always controlled, with his hands waving around and pointing in different directions. She says that could be one of the reasons people see him as "very passionate" and "outside of the system in some ways." The nonverbal cues can influence how the public views the candidates' competence, she adds. Full Story

13. Capitol Alert
Sacramento Bee (*requires registration)

Berkeley students are participating in a new Civic Action Fellowship program in Sacramento with the public-service-oriented division of the governor's office. The program was "designed to help students pay for college through public service," according to a press release. The program will be funded by more than $3 million from state and federal sources, with nearly $700,000 more financing scholarships. According to the release: "Fellows will participate in service activities and projects aligned with pressing local community challenges. The service will be embedded into the academic curriculum in order to allow students to stay on a four-year path to graduation while better positioning them for employment, graduate school, and a life of civic engagement." Full Story

14. Top Producers of Fulbright U.S. Scholars and Students, 2019-20
Chronicle of Higher Education (*requires registration)

A ranking of U.S. doctoral institutions producing the most Fulbright students includes Berkeley, tied for 5th place with 7 awards received in 2019-20. In the past 10 years, the Berkeley campus has made the list every year. Full Story

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