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A Newsletter for Faculty, Students, Staff and Friends of the Department

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Issue No. 43
March 10, 2016
Research. Academics. Discoveries.
In This Issue ...

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New PMB Faculty -- Benjamin Blackman

Benjamin Blackman
Benjamin Blackman joined the faculty of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology as assistant professor in January, 2016.

Blackman received his Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences at Stanford, and he worked there for two more years as a technician investigating the genetics of skeletal evolution in threespine stickleback. 
Blackman studies Evolutionary Process and works predominately in two systems: sunflowers and monkeyflowers (above)

He then completed his doctorate in evolutionary biology and ecology at Indiana University, Bloomington. His PhD studies examined the evolution of developmental timing during sunflower domestication and adaptation.


Understanding Evolutionary Genetics

Yeast. (Photo by Kathryn Cross)
Think about the living things you see on a walk through the forest, the zoo, or even a research laboratory. Since Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been fascinated by how different organisms are from one another.

The ultimate goal is to understand how mutations in the DNA, deep inside cells, shape the behavior of the animals, plants, and microbes around us. Standard research tools in the field are now available to study the genetics of closely related individuals, like the variation in lactose intolerance among humans. But understanding differences between long-separated species has remained a challenge.


Bacterial Organelle Discovery
Arash Komeili. The Komeili Lab uses bacterial magnetosomes as a model system to study the molecular mechanisms governing the biogenesis and maintenance of bacterial organelles.
PMB Associate Professor Arash Komeili and grad student Elias Cornejo recently published a research paper to mBio, an open access journal published by The American Society for Microbiology.

Their discovery that the size of a bacterial organelle impacts its biochemical function is a fundamental advance that impacts and informs future attempts at creating magnetic particles.

The research paper is titled: "Dynamic Remodeling of the Magnetosome Membrane is Triggered by Initiation of Biomineralization." To see the full paper, please visit

For more information about the Komeili Lab please visit


Climate Change Is Leaving Native Plants Behind

A manzanita specimen from 1936 housed at the University and Jepson Herbaria at the University of California, Berkeley.
(Photo by John Upton/Climate Central)
Willis Linn Jepson encountered a squat shrub while he was collecting botanical specimens on California's Mount Tamalpais in the fall of 1936. He trimmed off a few branches and jotted down the location along the ridge trail where the manzanita grew, 2,255 feet above sea level.

The desiccated specimen is now part of an herbarium here that's named for the famed botanist. It was among hundreds of thousands of specimens of thousands of different species that were used recently to track the movement of plant species up the state's many hills.


Somerville, Sorek Publication

PMB Professor Chris Somerville and Postdoc Nadav Sorek recently published a paper "Identification of MEDIATOR16 as the Arabidopsis COBRA suppressor MONGOOSE1."

The MONGOOS mutants suppress COBRA phenotype.
A genetic screen was preformed to identify novel genes that are involved in cell wall biosynthesis. The basis of the screen was aimed to look for COBRA suppressor, and therefore the novel mutants were named MONGOOSE. One of the MONGOOSE mutants was mapped to MEDIATOR16 gene. Through gene expression analysis, two genes that control the esterification of the cell wall pectins were identified to be regulated by MEDIATOR16, and over-expression of these genes separately did suppress COBRA phenotype. This suggests that cellulose biosynthesis can be affected by the esterification levels of pectin, possibly through modifying cell wall integrity or the interaction of pectin and cellulose.

Professor Ian Graham, left, presents Somerville with honorary degree.

Somerville also recently received an honorary degree from York University.



Upcoming Symposia, Events and Dates to Remember


Plant Breeding Symposium at UC Davis

The Plant Breeding Symposium provides graduate students and postdocs in plant science related fields an opportunity to to showcase their work in form of posters. Additionally, two graduate students will be competitively chosen to present their work in the form of 20-minute oral presentations; post-docs are ineligible for oral presentations.

This year's theme is "Breeding for Stress Resilience" and we have invited speakers from around the world to present on this highly relevant and important topic. This event is free and open to the public. For registration and more information, visit:


Microbial and Plant Systems Meeting

Microbial and Plant Systems Modulated by Secondary Metabolites
The Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has recently developed an integrated pipeline where biosynthetic pathways present in these genomes are computationally mined, refactored and synthesized de novo to facilitate expression in heterologous hosts. The aim of this meeting is to bring together a diverse group of investigators interested in the role of secondary metabolites in plant-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions.

The meeting's central goals include mediating an exchange of ideas and approaches for studying and manipulating the impact of secondary metabolites on environmental systems and to serve as an opportunity for the meeting participants to learn about JGI capabilities (large-scale DNA sequencing, data mining and synthesis capabilities) available to them.

The meeting will take place May 2-4, 2016 at Walnut Creek, CA. For registration and more information, visit:


Annual Microbiology Student Symposium
Poster session at previous Microbiology Student Symposium

How do microscopic life forms affect our bodies, our economies, our planet and our understanding of biological processes? 

The annual Microbiology Student Symposium, organized by the Microbial Biology Graduate Student Group at UC Berkeley, has touched on all of these issues in past years.  This year, in addition to addressing deeply stimulating intellectual issues, we're also asking how microbiological techniques and realizations have influenced creative pursuits like art, design and architecture.

The symposium will take place on Friday, May 6th, 2016 at the David Brower Center.

For more information, visit:


May 27th 2016 BayViro Symposium

The 6th Annual Bay Area Symposium on Viruses is set for Friday, May 27th 2016 at the Li Ka Shing Center. Please save the date now; speaker line-up and registration information coming soon.

Updates available at


Spring 2016 Seminars

Seminars below are at noon, Wednesdays, 101 Barker Hall. 


Save the Date
Event Calendar Image
Spring 2016

3/21 to 3/25 - Spring Break

4/16 - Cal Day

5/6 - Last day of instruction 

5/12 - PMB Social, Genetics & Plant Biology Lawn

5/15 - College of Natural Resources Commencement 

5/24 - Instruction Begins

5/30 - Memorial Day

8/26 - 8/28 - PMB Retreat, Marconi Conference Center

111 Koshland Hall    I    Berkeley, California 94720    I    510.642.9999      I


The PMB newsletter is produced by the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, UC Berkeley.


Professor Kris Niyogi, Chair

Professor Pat Zambryski, Associate Chair


Dana Jantz, Chief Operating Officer 

Karyn Houston, Communications / Webmaster / Newsletter Editor 

Rocio Sanchez, Graduate Program

Jennifer Halpert and Ricky Vides, Undergraduate Majors Advisors

Plant & Microbial Biology | 111 Koshland Hall | University of California, Berkeley | Berkeley | CA | 94720