James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

January 31, 2008

Arriving at Berkeley

Filed under: University Visits — Tags: , , , — James @ 7:13 pm

I’ve arrived at the Berkeley City Club , and pretty soon will be going over to a lecture on campus before dinner. Meet another student from Cornell, and she’ll be putting pictures up on facebook, so I should have some visual aids after the fact. So far San Fransisco looks grey and foggy, but hopefully that will improve over the weekend. I’m really looking forward to interviews tomorrow, one of the advantages of Berkeley is that the department is big enough there are lots of different people doing research I’m interested in. 


The afternoon talk we went to (quickly):


Enriched amounts of C14 from nuclear testing in the 1950s provide a way of determining how long it takes carbon to cycle through into different parts of the ocean. Obviously it takes a carbon a really long time to reach some deep sea carbon cycles, since atmospheric carbon for the 50s hasn’t made it there yet. 


They found a six gene operon which is sufficient to allow otherwise heterotrophic bacteria to make ATP (energy) from sunlight, using a protein called rhodopsin which is also the light sensing protein used in the rods and cones of our eyes. You can splice this single operon into something like E. Coli which doesn’t get any energy directly from light, and suddenly that bacteria is capable of photosynthesis. The speaker has also found evidence that this operon has been taken up, as a unit into new, previously non-photosynthetic species in the wild. That was definitely the most exciting part of the talk for me


All in all, definitely worth getting soaking wet for. (I forgot to pack an umbrella when I as leaving at 4 am this morning.) Hopefully tomorrow is less rainy.

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