Golden Scholars: Berkeley assembly tries to reduce blindness in Libya and takes the first step to a new center for bioengineering

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Two new Berkeley projects will help the university's influence spread further and help more.

Before we dive into the bulk of today's material, I've got some appetizers. First off, check out this story from California magazine featuring the history on the periodic table and Berkeley, which owns 14% of the table—despite some disputes from competing scientists. Compare that to 0% for some junior universities in the Bay Area.

Berkeley is starting a new series of lectures called Berkeley Talks: Thought Leaders in Conversation. What better way for a university as accomplished as Berkeley to kick things off than an allNobel laureate panel featuring Randy W. Schekman, Saul Perlmutter, George Smoot, and Daniel L. McFadden? These professors will be discussing the role of science in the modern world and how scientific thinking can solve global issues. Discussion of awesome parking spots may or may not be part of the event. The event will be held Saturday afternoona great way to demonstrate the excellence of Berkeley on Cal Dayand tickets will be FREE!

BOB coming to Berkeley

A new proposal by Berkeley Labs will help keep Berkeley at the scientific forefront, help foster new ideas and young companies, and potentially help change the world. Berkeley Lab submitted a proposal for BOB, the Berkeley Open Biofoundry, to support the development of cellular and genetic engineering.

DARPA has awarded the Lab $1.5 million to proceed with a "Task Area 1" (TA1) design and study phase for what is being called "BOB" - for Berkeley Open Biofoundry. By providing the science and technology that will enable the engineering of biological systems to produce valuable chemical products on a commercial scale, BOB is conceived to do for biology what the Molecular Foundry does for nanomaterials.

There is near-limitless potential for applications stemming from this kind of research. Theoretically, it could allow for the development of new methods to clean up oil spills, cheaply and rapidly manufacture chemicals or materials, or generate novel compounds—and even do that all cleanly. Associate Lab Director for Biosciences of Berkeley Lab, the pioneer for this field, Colbert Report guest, and all-around king of everything Jay Keasling is using this technology to create a cheap and reliable medicine that will eradicate a disease afflicting impoverished countries; he knows firsthand that BOB could greatly expedite the time needed to execute such research projects.

"Biomanufacturing could be a significantly larger fraction of the U.S. economy if biology were easier and cheaper to engineer," says Keasling, who provided a look into what biomanufacturing can offer with the engineering of a strain of yeast that can be used to produce artemisinin, the world's most powerful anti-malaria drug. When exclusively produced from the wormwood plant, the supply of artemisinin was unreliable and its price too high for the people in developing nations who need it most. With the arrival of a microbial-based form of the drug, the supply has stabilized and the price has become affordable.

The approval and completion of BOB would be a great development for Berkeley in so many ways. It will help make research developments come faster and more successfully, aid in the growth and development of new ideas for start-ups, and help the world through the improved production of materials and medicines.

Berkeley course inspires telemedicine reaching Libya

An all-Berkeley union of a grad student, professor, and an alumnus have joined forces to help prevent blindness in Libya by making it easier to diagnose diabetes-related retinopathy before it's too late.

The public service project involves training Libyan doctors to take detailed digital photographs inside patients' eyes, of their retinas, as part of routine health care and put the images online for remote diagnosis of damage caused by diabetes before it's too late. Too often, diabetes-related retinopathy isn't caught until it causes symptoms, when treatment can no longer save vision.

Fatima Elkbati, a graduate student in optometry, has considered practicing medicine in Libya upon graduation, but also acknowledges she can have an even more widespread impact by training doctors with these techniques, allowing that network to treat more patients than she could on her own.

The story of how this idea struck Elkbati is also quite interesting. Professor Jorge Cuadros was teaching a class that involved diagnosing diabetic retinopathy and Elkbati, who was previously aware of how prevalent diabetes and diabetes-related diseases are in Libya, had that lightbulb moment to think of this idea. Her ability to synthesize course material and apply it to problems she was familiar with is a great way of coming up with novel solutions to existing problems.

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