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Golden Scholars: UC Berkeley figures out what lets humans reason and teaches organic farming how to be competitive.

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All the latest news out of UC Berkeley research--featuring organic farming and the development of human reasoning--and Chancellor Dirks's statement on the Berkeley protests.

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Chancellor Nick Dirks released a statement regarding the escalating protests in Berkeley over police brutality.

Times Magainze placed Nobel laureate and professor Saul Perlmutter on their list of "great scientists ... who transformed our world."

Professor Severin Borenstein considers what UC Berkeley should do to help fight climate change, working with a colleague from "that other top university in the bay area that I will not name" to consider the usefulness of a carbon tax.

It's a headphones off, old school rules! Two companies with Berkeley roots are competing in the headphones market via crowdsourcing. In this corner, we have Axent Wear; they are founded by Berkeley alums and have feline-inspired headphones that can function as speakers. In the other corner, is Wearhaus, which is founded by a pair of Berkeley drop-outs and have headphone that allow you to share music by Bluetooth. Two headphone companies enter. ...Both could theoretically leave. This competition isn't exciting for being a deathmatch, but just to see two companies with unique ideas succeed!

UC Berkeley and psychologist Dacher Keltner released an interesting look at how humans were born for sympathy and kindness. I'll have more on brain development and human behavior down below!

UC Berkeley is in a bit of hot water for paying students in a work-study program less than the minimum wage.

In 2016, the Haas School of Business will open a learning lab called the North Academic Building. Check out some mock-ups and details about the design!

Berkeley researchers are helping provide more accurate measurements of pollution in New Delhi, finding it's worse than expected.

Professor Ana Arias is designing cheap, wearable pulse oximeters that could be used in the medical field or when you're out on a run.

Google gets all the credit for their Street View maps and self-driving cars, but they acquired that technology when they bought 510 Systems, a Berkeley-born start-up.

MMA stands for Mixed Martial Agriculture?

UC Berkeley researchers led by Professor Claire Kremen are challenging the belief that organic farming will never produce sufficient yields to be competitive with conventional farming. Because this story just can't get any more Berkeley, right? Farming's about to get way more competitive. Farmers, let's get ready to rumbleeeee!

"In terms of comparing productivity among the two techniques, this paper sets the record straight on the comparison between organic and conventional agriculture," said the study's senior author, Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. "With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it's critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining."

The first key finding in this paper is that the difference in in yields between conventional and organic farming is less than previously believed. These researchers found that organic farming is still less productive--19.2% less productive--but by performing their own study without the pro-conventional bias that they contend tainted the previous research, they found the difference is much more manageable. This begs the question if their conflict of interest towards pro-organic affected their results.

The crux of their research is that through the optimized use of some agriculture practices, the disparity can drop even further, thus proving the need to invest more in agricultural research. After all, we'd reap what we sow, MIRITE?

"Our study suggests that through appropriate investment in agroecological research to improve organic management and in breeding cultivars for organic farming systems, the yield gap could be reduced or even eliminated for some crops or regions," said the study's lead author, Lauren Ponisio, a graduate student in environmental science, policy and management. "This is especially true if we mimic nature by creating ecologically diverse farms that harness important ecological interactions like the nitrogen-fixing benefits of intercropping or cover-cropping with legumes."

By keying in on two specific farming tools--multi-cropping and crop rotation--researchers were able to cut down the difference in productivity to only 8 or 9%. The differences in yield varied depending on crop, with some crops having equal productivity when farmed conventionally vs. organically.

Improving the yields of organic agriculture is certainly a huge step in improving the viability of that farming option and to provide consumers with their choice in the supermarket. I think a necessary expansion of this research would be to look into a cost analysis, either considering how the prices of groceries would increase as organic farming takes over conventional farming or to see hos increased productivity from organic farms decreases the cost of organic products.

The aforementioned more on brain development and human behavior!

Humans. We're kinda smart sometimes! But how the why?

Led by neuroscientist Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley researchers believe they can determine when the uniquely human trait of relational reasoning (defined as "a cognitive skill in which we discern patterns and relationships to make sense of seemingly unrelated information, such as solving problems in unfamiliar circumstances") developed in our species.

Their findings, reported in the Dec. 3 issue of the journal Neuron, suggest that subtle shifts in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain are linked to superior cognition. Among other things, the frontoparietal network plays a key role in analysis, memory retrieval, abstract thinking and problem-solving, and has the fluidity to adapt according to the task at hand.

"This research has led us to take seriously the possibility that tweaks to this network over an evolutionary timescale could help to explain differences in the way that humans and other primates solve problems," said UC Berkeley neuroscientist Silvia Bunge, the study's principal investigator.

So, these researchers focused on development of the connections between the frontal and the parietal regions of the brain (i.e., the frontoparietal network) are linked to the evolution of reasoning. Specifically, this research compared humans to non-human primates in brain anatomy and reasoning skills. And what did they find?

Also crucial to their finding was a study led by Oxford University neuroscientist Matthew Rushworth that compared neural patterns in humans and macaque monkeys. While human and non-human primates were found to share similarities in the frontal and parietal brain regions, activity in the human rostrolateral prefrontal cortex differed significantly from that of the macaque monkey's frontal cortex, the study found.

"We had hypothesized that there could have been evolutionary changes to this region to support our reasoning ability, so we were really excited when Rushworth and his colleagues came out with these findings," Vendetti said.

So they did indeed find anatomical changes in one of the two components of that frontoparietal network. And, needless to say, they did indeed find that humans were better at solving reasoning tasks than non-human primates as the primates relied on their perception while the humans used higher-order strategies.

Of course, when the problem is something like the internet going out, don't expect those higher-order strategies from humans. Expect a lot hardware smacking and unintelligible grunts.