University of California, Berkeley   |  College of Natural Resources 

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

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Issue No. 44
April 10, 2016
Research. Academics. Discoveries.
In This Issue ...

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How Bacteria get their Magnetic Compass

An inactivated protein, MamO (lower left), shepherds iron atoms directly to the growing magnetite crystal (red), which forms inside a membrane compartment (blue). The yellow filaments are proteins that organize the crystals into chains in the cell. The chain of magnets helps the bacteria align with Earth's magnetic field. (David Hershey image, UC Berkeley.)
By Robert Sanders
UC Berkeley Public Affairs 

Many bacteria build miniature magnets and use them to navigate their environment and UC Berkeley's Arash Komeili has found a neat trick they use to do it.

As reported in this week's issue of the journal PLOS Biology, Komeili, an associate professor of Plant and Microbial Biology, discovered that most so-called magnetotactic bacteria repurpose a commonplace enzyme and use it as a scaffold on which to assemble iron atoms into tiny magnets.

Read more: 


Oustanding Graduate Student Instructors Recognized
Riva Bruenn, Sydney Glassman honored

By Karyn Houston
Plant & Microbial Biology

Riva Bruenn, one of UC Berkeley's outstanding Graduate Student Instructors for 2016, uses games and inclusion to get students engaged and learning from each other.
Sydney Glassman is a graduate student in Environmental Science, Policy and Management and a researcher in Professor Tom Bruns lab in Plant & Microbial Biology. (photo courtesy of Sydney Glassman)
"Involving the whole class in teaching each lesson engages everyone on different levels, and causes students to accept more of the responsibility of learning," said Bruenn. Along with Graduate Student Sydney Glassman she has been named an outstanding Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for the department and the campus.
"The students who are furthest ahead take the most active role in teaching, which keeps them interested," Bruenn said. "The students in the middle get to learn actively, working things out for themselves. The students who need the most help get concepts explained to them multiple times in different ways, which makes it more likely they'll find an explanation that makes sense."

Everyone is invited to attend an award ceremony Monday, April 18th from 12-12:20 pm in 338 Koshland, to honor Bruenn and Glassman.


A New Approach at Student-Postdoc Seminars
Faculty, alumni and others share perspectives

By Christopher Gee / Student-Postdoc Seminar Coordinator

PMB Alumna Shannon Greene recently gave a talk on
non-traditional paths for graduate students.
 (Photo courtesy of Christopher Gee)
On April 4, 2016, the Student and Post-Doc (SPD) Seminar Series was pleased to host Dr. Shannon Greene, who presented on her experience after graduating from PMB in 2012. 

After leaving the lab of Associate Professor Arash Komeili with a newly minted PhD, she pursued opportunities outside the traditional academic path.

Instead of the "usual" post-doctoral research position, her life post-graduation began with a science communication fellowship with the American Society for Microbiology, and then a position as a product manager with the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Greene described how she eventually sought out new opportunities that would satisfy her desire to be close to the nitty-gritty scientific work, but also allow her be a part of the bigger picture, spurring innovation and producing real-world solutions. She found this in her current position working for the Schafer Corporation in support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), working in Washington DC to direct DARPA funding to new promising biotechnology projects and managing these contracts as they progress. 
Stepping back, Greene encouraged current grad students and post-docs unsure of the road ahead to assess their skillsets as bench scientists and reimagine them applied in new careers. Finally, her parting advice was to stay flexible and open to new opportunities, since they may very well open doors to unexpected places and rewarding careers in jobs far removed from the bench.

To read the full article on the PMB website, go to the Graduate Students - Postdoc Seminars tab on


Brenner Named Fellow of Scientific Society

By Karyn Houston
Plant & Microbial Biology

Steven Brenner, a professor in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, has been elected a fellow of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) for his groundbreaking research in computational protein analysis and genomics. Brenner's work is on the cutting edge of computational biology, the science of developing and applying computational approaches to understand biology. 

The ISCB is a scholarly society dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of living systems through computation, and is the leading professional society in the field.  The group elects fellows that have distinguished themselves through exceptional contributions to the fields of computational biology and bioinformatics. The fellows program began in 2009; 56 members have been conferred with this status to date.



Cal Day 2016: Yeast Farts, Microscopes and Microbes 
Come on by, bring family and friends

Professor Renee Sung at Cal Day 2015
The Department of Plant and Microbial Biology will be participating in UC Berkeley's Cal Day on Saturday April 16, 2016. PMB students and faculty will be presenting and hosting all sorts of activities that revolve around plants and microbes. 

Cal Day is one of the ways PMB interacts with the Berkeley community and future Golden Bears along with their families. From 11 am to 2 pm, visit PMB at the Genetics and Plant Biology lawn, located next to Pat Brown's grill on the UC Berkeley campus, north side.

To see a full list of activities and to download a PMB Cal Day Poster, visit:

To review the full agenda of activities campus-wide on Cal Day, please visit:


New Botanical Garden Director 

Eric Siegel has been appointed the new director of the UC Botanical Garden, effective July 1, 2016.
Eric Siegel, a longtime leader of museums and botanical gardens in New York City, will take over the reins of the UC Botanical Garden in Strawberry Canyon on July 1, 2016, when Paul Licht steps down.

The selection follows a nationwide search for a replacement for Licht, a professor emeritus of Integrative Biology. Licht led the UC Botanical Garden for a 13-year-period, in which he managed the move of Julia Morgan Hall, a building designed by renowned Berkeley architect Julia Morgan, from campus to the garden. He also managed research at the garden and expanded its profile, membership and visits.


Upcoming Symposia, Events and Dates to Remember


Sixth Annual Bay Area Symposium on Viruses

An outstanding slate of speakers will be featured at the annual Bay Area Symposium on Viruses, a conference that works to bring together the network of scientists in the San Francisco Bay Area working on virology, host-pathogen interactions and control of human and animal viral infections. 

The symposium also serves as the annual meeting for BayViro, the Bay Area Virus Network.
WHEN: Friday, May 27, 2016, 9 am - 6 pm
WHERE: Li Ka Shing Center Auditorium (Room 245), University of California, Berkeley 
Confirmed speakers are:

James Hurley - UC Berkeley
Yvonne Maldonado - Stanford
Steven Deeks - Gladstone Institutes
Koen Van Rompay - UC Davis
Marion Lanteri - Blood Systems Research Institute
Please register at
The 6th Annual Bay Area Symposium on Viruses is sponsored by the Henry Wheeler Center for Emerging & Neglected Diseases (CEND). If you are interested in joining BayViro as a sponsor, please contact CEND.


Microbiology Student Symposium Registration Open

The Microbiology Student Group at UC Berkeley invites you to join us for the 17th Annual Microbiology Student Symposium on Friday, May 6, 2016 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. 

This year, keynote speakers are Victoria Orphan from Caltech and Micheal Laub from MIT.

PMB Article:


4th International Symposium on Plant Signaling and Behavior  
The 4th Annual Symposium of Plant Signaling and Behavior will take place in Saint Petersburg

The 4th International Symposium on Plant Signaling and Behavior will be held from June 19 to June 23, 2016, at the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences under the auspices of the Society of Plant Signaling and Behavior and the Russian Science Foundation.

The plenary lectures will be given by leading scientists in diverse fields of plant signaling, ion transport, electrophysiology, autophagy,and programmed cell death. 

For more information visit: 


Save the Date
Event Calendar Image
Spring 2016

4/13 - Ileana Christea, PMB Seminar Series

4/20 - Elizabeth Sattely, PMB Seminar Series

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