2 UC Berkeley-affiliated researchers receive 2016 Tang Prizes

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Two UC Berkeley scientists received Tang Prizes in the categories of biopharmaceutical science and sustainable development over the weekend that grant them funds for research as well as a $1.24 million cash prize.

Campus molecular and cell biology and chemistry professor Jennifer Doudna and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Arthur Rosenfeld received awards for their work in genome editing and sustainable energy, respectively.

The Taipei-based Tang Prizes are awarded every two years and recognize recipients based on their academic research in sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and law.

Doudna’s research focused on the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a genome-editing mechanism that can precisely cut and edit DNA as well as activate or suppress certain genes. CRISPR-Cas was originally identified in bacteria and archaea as an adaptive immune defensive system against invading DNA, while Cas9 is an endonuclease that cuts DNA.

According to the Tang Prize press release, through combining the two elements, this research can be used to further disease treatments, such as fix mutated genes that cause cancer and treat hereditary diseases including sickle cell anemia.

Rosenfeld, who received the prize for his scientific research, was recognized for his many campaigns in energy sustainability and efficiency. One of Rosenfeld’s campaigns is his advocacy for “white roofs” and “white pavements” in U.S. cities to reduce city temperature.

According to Rosenfeld, he and his colleagues calculated that having a white roof could reduce air conditioning use by up to 20 percent in cities, thus reducing greenhouse gases and global warming. The award also recognized Rosenfeld for being the cofounder of the Center for Building Science at Berkeley Lab.

Rosenfeld joined UC Berkeley’s department of physics in 1954. In 1974, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil crisis led him to study the efficient use of energy at Berkeley Lab. He was also appointed to the California Energy Commission in 2000.

“I’ve just had a congregation for my 90th birthday party so it’s been overwhelming,” Rosenfeld said about the award. “I’m not sure how to feel yet.”

Rosenfeld said he has always given away his prize money to other research projects, including international enterprises in third-world countries.

According to Carl Blumstein, director and cofounder of the California Institute for Energy and Environment, who first met Rosenfeld in 1974 and has since worked with him on energy efficiency research, Rosenfeld’s influence has been critical in shaping his own career.

“In my mind, the first meeting (with Rosenfeld) was very vivid,” Blumstein said. “We ran into (Rosenfeld) in the hallway — he just radiated energy. … He had the ability to bring so much passion to the science of energy.”

Doudna and Rosenfeld will formally receive their awards at a ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan in September.

Contact Jessie Qian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessieq96.