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Life, gene editing, and rock ’n’ roll: 5 things we learned from Jennifer Doudna’s talk

Jennifer Doudna, left, professor and co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, speaks with Susan Koskinen, head of the Life and Health Sciences Library Division, at the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library on Nov. 14, 2017. (Photo by J. Pierre Carrillo for the University Library)
Jennifer Doudna, left, professor and co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, speaks with Susan Koskinen, head of the Life and Health Sciences Library Division, at the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library on Nov. 14, 2017. (Photo by J. Pierre Carrillo for the University Library)

When Jennifer Doudna was in high school, a guidance counselor called her into his office to talk to her about her career.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Doudna recalls him asking.

“I want to be a scientist,” Doudna said.

“Girls don’t do science,” she remembers him saying.

She has been proving him wrong ever since.

For one, the UC Berkeley professor co-invented CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, hailed as the biggest biological breakthrough since the discovery of DNA’s molecular structure in the 1950s. The technology comes with the possibility of curing devastating diseases and improving lives but also raises ethical questions.

“If you have a tool that allowed precision changes to DNA to be made,” she said, “that provides a way that, in principle, one could alter human evolution by making changes that could become inherited by future generations.”

In the years that followed, Doudna has become instrumental in raising awareness and broadening understanding — within the scientific community and beyond — about the technology. It’s a duty Doudna doesn’t take lightly. “It’s something I feel deeply passionate about,” she said.

Doudna sat down in front of an audience Tuesday in the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library for a chat about her book (“A Crack in Creation” is out this year), her life, and her scientific breakthrough.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Her upbringing in Hawaii influenced her career path.

Growing up, Doudna lived in Hilo, a “small, rural town,” on the big island of Hawaii. It was living in Hawaii, surrounded by diverse wildlife (“blind cave spiders and all kinds of interesting plants,” she said) that sparked her lifelong love of science.

“When I think back on how I got interested in science and biology and chemistry,” she said, “it really, I think, stems from growing up in that island environment and wondering about how organisms can evolve to live in a setting like that.”

And in 10th grade, Doudna’s interest in science deepend, thanks to a chemistry teacher, Miss Wong, who “taught us kids that science was about solving puzzles — it was about asking questions and figuring out how to answer them.”

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was fun, and I started imagining that it would be really great to grow up and have someone pay me to do what I thought was just kind of fun — playing around in a lab.”

2. Even bioscientists get the blues.

In her 40s — and well into her second decade of running her lab — she started to question whether her work was going to have an impact.

“I really almost had sort of a midlife crisis,” she said.

She took a leave of absence at Berkeley for an opportunity at a company — which, in retrospect, was the wrong move.

Although it was a great company, she began to realize, “It was just the wrong fit for me,” she said. “I felt it in my gut. This is not where I’m meant to be.”

“I realized that I just loved working with students. I loved being at a public university,” she said. “I really believed in that mission of having education available to anyone who can come and wants to learn and wants to work at this wonderful place that we have here.”

She asked her former colleagues at UC Berkeley if she could return.

“They took me back,” she said.

3. She didn’t like the name of her book at first.

Neither Doudna nor co-author Samuel Sternberg liked the title “A Crack in Creation,” which their editor suggested.

“It sounded very ominous, somehow,” she said.

Neither could think of a better title, and they were eventually won over.

“It does sort of convey this idea that … we’re sort of at a fork in the road, in a way, and it really does feel kind of profound at times to me.

“We’re at a point where now we as a species have a tool that will allow us to control … who we are.”

4. She has a complicated relationship with the spotlight.

“People have called me the public face of CRISPR, and I’m sort of shocked by it,” she said.

But with glare of the spotlight comes the opportunity to raise awareness and educate the public.

“I feel sort of a sense of honor that I’ve been sort of thrust into this position of being a spokesperson for science, and it’s something that I feel deeply passionate about,” she said.

5. She had a brush with rock royalty.

With her profile having reached new heights come opportunities that she had never previously imagined.

“I was at a thing in London not long ago, and I turned around, and behind me was (rock guitarist) Jimmy Page,” she said. “We just struck up a conversation. We started talking about science, and about guitars, and Led Zeppelin.

“And I said to him, ‘I’m such a fangirl. I mean, I listened to your music growing up. Would you mind if I took a picture with you?’

“And (now) I have a picture with Jimmy Page.”

EZproxy is here!

As of today, EZproxy is available for off-campus access to licensed online resources. EZproxy allows users to connect to resources via CalNet sign-in or with their PIN / Cal 1 card number and without any configuration in a browser or device. No longer having to configure or install anything means that online resources are available from any computer anywhere.

EZproxy replaces our current home-grown Library proxy service. However, the home-grown proxy will be around until Summer 2018.

To learn more about EZproxy see our guide at guides.lib.berkeley.edu/ezproxy.

Video: Center for Connected Learning: The Undergraduate ‘Collider Space’

Moffitt Library provides undergraduates with something that no other space on campus can — a place where students of all disciplines can come together to actively discover, develop and prototype solutions that change the world. As the undergraduate hub for connected teaching, learning, and discovery at Berkeley, Moffitt Library now serves 10,000 students each day. “This is a very special place,” explains University Librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason.

And this is just the start. This summer, the Library received campus approval to build a campaign for the Center for Connected Learning at Moffitt Library. The Library is now laying the groundwork to bring together students, faculty, Library staff, and supporters to design an innovative and interactive teaching and learning space that spans all five floors of Moffitt Library.

We envision the Center for Connected Learning as a “collider space” where students flow between multimedia classrooms, collaborative project spaces, hands-on studios, and peer-to-peer and expert consultation — all within the same building. Students would have access to one-stop consultation on retrieval, evaluation and use of advanced information resources, tech support, and the skills required for 21st century information literacy.

Watch our video, Center for Connected Learning: The Undergraduate Collider Space, to learn more.

Summer Reading: Making Sense of Science

Making Sense of Science

Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin
Cornelia Dean
Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017

Cornelia Dean was a New York Times science writer for over thirty years and is currently a writer-in-residence at Brown University. Given her excellent previous work, I have every confidence that her new book, Making Sense of Science, will be well written and informative. The book is targeted for non-scientists who seek the background needed to evaluate scientific claims. Books like Dean’s are especially timely because of the anti-science climate that now reigns in Washington.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Summer Reading: Paying the Price

Paying the Price

Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream
Sara Goldrick-Rab
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016

Goldrick-Rab conducted this study of thousands of young people to understand the obstacles they face in completing a degree whether at a two-year or four-year college. She discovered what you probably already know. Young people from middle class and low income families alike confront many challenges just to get an education: rising tuition and fees; the high cost of living (rent, food, gas, books, etc); a complicated and insufficient Federal aid program; difficulties finding flexible work that allows students to pay for and stay in school full time. Politicians will tell you that they worked their way through college and so should you. But, only a generation ago, theirs was a very different world in which hard work and determination got you a degree. Implementing policies that will make college affordable for all can happen. But first, we as a society must agree that a college education is a right for all and not just a privilege for those who can afford it.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Remembering Playwright Sam Shepard

Today we remember Sam Shepard, who passed away this past Thursday due to complications from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Shepard left behind a rich legacy as a major American playwright, best known for True West, Fool for Love, and Buried Child, for which he won the Pulitzer in 1979. Part of the post-World War II generation, Shepard wrote bare-bones, atmospheric plays with surreal elements and dark humor, exploring American mythologies, dysfunctional families, and outsider heroes. Known in his youth as Steve Rogers (no relation to Captain America, we think!), Shepard was born in 1943 and lived in many different places before his family settled down in California. After a productive sprint in New York City’s Off-Off-Broadway scene, Shepard returned to San Francisco’s avant-garde Magic Theatre (started by a UC Berkeley graduate student), where he succeeded Michael McClure as Playwright in Residence. You can see Shepard onscreen, too: he acted in several films and appeared most recently in Netflix’s Bloodline.

Explore More:
Browse the Library’s Sam Shepard collection
Find criticism and biography
Explore related Bancroft holdings, including records from the Magic Theatre


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Summer Reading: Our Kids

Our Kids

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
Robert D. Putnam
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015

Can we reduce inequality and improve the lives of America’s youth in a generation? This book, an exploration of inequality in the lives of American children, may be a cautionary tale in its sobering portrait of what happened in the author’s own lifetime. Robert Putnam grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s and most of the kids in his hometown took advantage of all that the American dream had to offer and went on to live better than their parents. As he and his researchers studied working families all across the country, what they observed was increased separation between those with a college education and those without. Educated families have more stable jobs, parent differently, and live in vastly different neighborhoods, all of which adds up to greater advantages and more opportunities for their children. Of course, health problems, divorce, and other life traumas do not discriminate by class but upper middle class families have more resources and more social capital to draw on and a bigger cushion to protect them when they hit a rough patch.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

On View Now: The Summer of Love, from the Collections of The Bancroft Library

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, an exhibit in the corridor between Doe Library and The Bancroft Library features Bancroft’s rare and unique collections documenting the world-famous Bay Area counterculture of 1967.

Black and white photo of a crowd in Golden Gate Park watching a rock band on stage, with a "Love" banner among crowd.
[Unidentified band on stage, Summer Solstice, Golden Gate Park, June 21, 1967] Ted Streshinsky, photographer (BANC PIC 2004.132 M686-5, frame 34. Further reproduction prohibited: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/libraries/bancroft-library/rights-and-permissions)
Presented are images from the Bay Area alternative press, psychedelic rock posters and mailers, documentary photographs of the Haight-Ashbury scene and major rock concerts, material from the papers of poet Michael McClure, and text from Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” drawn from her papers and paired, for the first time since publication in the Saturday Evening Post, with photographs taken to accompany her essay.

A young hippie woman with feathers that look like antlers, in day glow face paint, Avalon Ballroom, 1967] Ted Streshinsky, photographer.
[A young hippie woman with feathers that look like antlers, in day glow face paint, Avalon Ballroom, 1967]  Ted Streshinsky, photographer. (BANC PIC 2004.132–LAN, box 14, file 258. Further reproduction prohibited: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/libraries/bancroft-library/rights-and-permissions)
Photographs by Ted Streshinsky, Michelle Vignes, Larry Keenan, and Stephen Shames are featured, as well as psychedelic art by Wilfried Sätty, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Stanley “Mouse” Miller, Lee Conklin, Bonnie MacLean, David Singer, and others. Publications and leaflets of the Underground Press Syndicate are also highlighted, with examples such as the Berkeley Barb, the Oracle, and the Communication Company as well as fliers from the Sexual Freedom League.

Psychedelic poster with spiral in blue and red.
Turn on Your Mind: Relax and Float Down Stream. Poster art by Wilfried Sätty. (Henri Lenoir pictorial collection, BANC PIC 2004.158–D, folder 5. Further reproduction prohibited: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/libraries/bancroft-library/rights-and-permissions )

This exhibit, prepared by Chris McDonald and James Eason of the Bancroft Library Pictorial Unit will be on view through Fall 2017.

 

Summer Reading: Disposable People

Disposable People

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy
Kevin Bales
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004

If you knew nothing about modern day slavery, you might think that a writer investigating the subject would need to go to extraordinary lengths to find any human beings still living as chattel slaves in the Twenty-First Century. Maybe put on a disguise and infiltrate a remote compound, far from the reach of any civil authority. That’s what I thought before I read Kevin Bales’ book, Disposable People. What I learned, though, is that modern day slave economies operate openly, all over the world, and that as many as 25 million people in the world–right now, today–live in slavery.

Modern day slaves might be farmers, miners, brick makers, or textile workers. They might live in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mauritania, or Brazil. They are part of the global economy, and the products of their labor can be found all over the world, maybe even in your own home.

Bales, though, doesn’t just set out to horrify the reader with the scope and reach of modern day slavery. He also provides, in the book’s last two chapters, suggestions for actions that concerned citizens–and consumers–can take to help eradicate slavery from our world.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Library featured in The Mercury News

Writable glass wall in the Moffitt Library
Writeable glass walls are used by students in the newly-reimagined Moffitt Library. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)

This week, an article in The Mercury News outlines the changes afoot in Bay Area university libraries, including those here at UC Berkeley. It describes recent updates to Moffitt Library, including writeable glass walls, moveable furniture, and napping pods, and identifies “the changes that aren’t as flashy and easy to spot.”

“Libraries are helping students, faculty and staff navigate an increasingly complicated digital world,” the article explains.

Other less-visible developments include the many new services offered by librarians.

“As textbook costs soar, librarians are helping professors design courses around open source material,” the article continues. “They’re also beginning to serve as bridges between different departments and disciplines, so an English student reading Jane Austen can learn the data and mapping skills to, say, plot and analyze the places she mentions in a particular book.”

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