2018 Grantees

The FBF is proud to sponsor 21 outstanding projects in 2018, with awards totaling $220,480.

In addition, two projects have received support and special distinction from the “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative launched by French President Emmanuel Macron to support innovative research in climate-related fields.

Learn more about our funded collaborations below. Congratulations to this year's winners!


Headshot of Adam Arkin Headshot
Adam Arkin, QB3 - California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, UC Berkeley Matthieu Barret, Emersys (Emergence, Systematics and Ecology of plant pathogenic bacteria), INRA - Beaucouzé

Engineering a pathogen-resistant seed microbiome

The seed microbiome, the microorganisms that live on and within seeds, directly affect early stages of the plant life cycle but can also have long-term consequences on plant health and survival. We have designed high-throughput genetics and microbial ecology methods that will inform our design of engineered seed microbiomes to limit seed transmission of microbial pathogens. This project works toward new pathogen treatments for crops.

 Headshot of Jillian Banfield  Simonetta Gribaldo
Jillian Banfield, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, UC Berkeley Simonetta Gribaldo, Département de Microbiologie, Institut Pasteur - Paris

Combining genome-resolved metagenomics and phylogenomics approaches to unravel the diversity and evolution of the Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR) bacteria

The availability of genomic data from uncultured microbial lineages from a wide variety of environments is dramatically changing our view of microbial diversity. Recently, these techniques have brought to light a huge number of bacterial groups that, together with previously reported sequences, were used to define the Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR).The CPR may constitute up to 50% of all bacterial diversity on Earth, yet it remains largely uncharacterized. This project will unite the complementary expertise of the Gribaldo (phylogenomics, evolutionary microbiology, Institut Pasteur) and Banfield (genome-resolved metagenomics, ecology, Berkeley) laboratories, to address the diversity and evolution of the CPR.

    Marc Robert
Louise Berben, Department of Chemistry, UC Davis Marc Robert, Laboratoire d'électrochimie moléculaire, UMR CNRS - Université Paris 7

Exploring Photocatalytic CO2 Reduction to Fuels with Small Molecular Iron Clusters

This project will advance the chemistry of CO2 to fuels conversion using small iron clusters by a collaboration to combine fuels production directly with the harvesting of energy from light. Thus we create a sunlight-to-liquid fuels system for storage of renewable energy. Expertise in iron catalyst development at UC Davis complements expertise in photochemistry at University of Paris-Diderot.

 Benjamin Blackman  Helene Berges
Benjamin Blackman, Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, UC Berkeley Hélène Bergès, CNRGV - Plant Genomic Center, INRA Toulouse

Examining the history and impact of gene content variation in sunflower

Recent progress in plant genomics has revealed that the total functional gene sequence present among all individuals of a species, also known as the pan-genome, is far larger than the content annotated in a single individual's genome. This diversity in gene content arises because large DNA duplication, insertion, or deletion events lead to variation in the presence or absence of whole genes among individuals within species, and this variation may have contributed in the past to crop domestication or adaptation of wild populations to local habitats. The investigators will develop advanced genomic resources to reveal gene content variation among wild and domesticated accessions of the common sunflower, Helianthus annuus. Doing so will facilitate greater understanding of what role gene content variation played during the process of sunflower domestication and inform how this variation may be exploited by breeders to improve crop yields under future climates.

Jennifer Bussell, Department of Political Science, UC Berkeley Christophe Jaffrelot, Centre de Recherches Internationales, Sciences Po, Paris

Political Representation in India: The Berkeley-Sciences Po Indian Legislators Project

This project will develop a novel research agenda focused on political representation in India, building upon and integrating previous major data collection efforts by the Principal Investigators. In particular, we will examine the sociological backgrounds and responsiveness to constituents of national, state, and sub-state-level elected officials in India.

 Danica Chen  
Danica Chen, Department of Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology, UC Berkeley Mélanie Hamon, Unité des Interactions Bactéries-Cellules, Institut Pasteur - Paris

Effects of aging on the immune system and risk of infectious diseases

We propose to address fundamental questions related to aging of hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to all cells of the immune system. We aim to understand how hematopoietic stem cells lose their functional capacity to support the immune system during aging and explore the therapeutic potential to reverse the degeneration and dysfunction of the aging immune system. Successful completion of these studies will reveal key factors that play paramount roles in maintaining stem cell homeostasis and tissue integrity during the aging process, and suggest new approaches to improve the immune function in the aged population.

 Jacob Dalton

 Isabelle Charleux

Jacob Dalton, Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley Isabelle Charleux, Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités, CNRS-EPHE - Ivry-sur-Seine

Points of Transition: Ovoo and the Ritual Remaking of Religious, Ecological, and Historical Politics in Inner Asia

Ubiquitous on the landscape of contemporary Mongolia, Buryatia, Inner Mongolia, and Eastern Tibet/Qinghai, structures of stones or trees covered with scarves, skulls, steering wheel covers, and a staggering array of other objects known as ovoo have long marked sites where ritual, though often highly spontaneous, practices invoke the presence of immanent relations. Built and maintained by various publics, gatherings at ovoo have over past centuries been major sites of political action, where the identities of and relationships between more and less local shamans, lamas, imperial officials, businesspeople, bureaucrats, politicians, and nonhumans are narrated, contested, and re-defined.  While Mongolia struggles to assert itself on the world stage and lives of Mongolians are undergoing rapid change, the ovoos continue to represent not only a key aspect of traditional culture, but sites at the core of debates on development, ownership of land, mining industry, ecology, and the environment. This project brings together scholars from Northern California and from France to present research, develop new insights, and formulate research directions in the fields of anthropology, art history, East Asian Studies, and religion pertaining to political ritual in Inner Asia.

 Daniel Feldman

 Daniel Shulz

Daniel Feldman, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, UC Berkeley  Daniel Shulz, École des Neurosciences de Paris Île-de-France, Université Paris Descartes

Multiwhisker Features Coding in Mouse Somatosensory Cortex

Animals live in a spatiotemporally complex sensory world, but current understanding of how the brain processes sensory information to mediate perception is based on highly simplified, isolated stimuli.  This collaborative project will reveal how the brain’s cerebral cortex encodes and processes complex tactile (touch) stimuli, using the mouse whisker system as a model.  Building on prior work in other species, we will identify the optimal single-whisker stimuli for cortical neurons, and determine how these single-whisker responses are integrated across whiskers and across time to build a neural representation of the complex tactile world.

 Mary Firestone

 Graeme Nicol

Mary Firestone, Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, UC Berkeley  Graeme Nicol, Laboratoire Ampère, Université de Lyon

Determining the interaction of viruses with autotrophic prokaryotic hosts in soil

While we are beginning to understand the complexity of bacterial and archaeal communities in soil, we are currently ignorant of the roles of viruses in influencing the ecology of these soil populations.  Infection by lytic viruses is followed by replication and lysis of the host cell, releases new virions into the environment. In addition to controlling population numbers, viral infection also has major consequences for nutrient cycles.  We are targeting a critical process in the nitrogen cycle (nitrification) using stable isotope (13C) enabled metagenomic analyses.

 Teresa Head-Gordon  Jean-Philip Piquemal
Teresa Head-Gordon, College of Chemistry, UC Berkeley Jean-Philip Piquemal, Laboratoire de Chimie Théorique, Sorbonne Université

Advanced Potential Energy Surfaces for Condensed Phase Simulations: Theory and Applications

The failures of pairwise additive force fields are accumulating and unambiguous for molecular simulation of physical systems, and higher accuracy force fields that introduce new terms that describe many-body polarization and non-classical effects such as charge transfer and penetration are needed. The vastly greater complexity of this additional physics poses great challenges for rational force field design as well algorithmic and software challenges that inhibit their application to grand challenge chemistry applications. The joint project between Prof. Jean-Philip Piquemal (Sorbonne Université, Chemistry & Institut Universitaire de France), and Prof. Teresa Head-Gordon (University of California, Berkeley) will be focused on the development and deployment of new computational methodology for such advanced potential energy surfaces.

 Rebecca Heald

 Denis Chretien
 Rebecca Heald, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, UC Berkeley Denis Chrétien, Institut de Génétique et Développement de Rennes, Université de Rennes 1

Understanding the structural basis regulating the size and architecture of the mitotic spindle

During cell division a dynamic, bipolar, microtubule polymer-based machine called the mitotic spindle attaches to chromosomes and segregates them to daughter cells.  Correct spindle size and shape is essential for its function, but exactly how spindle microtubules are organized and the spatial cues that lead to distinct spindle architectures in different cell types and species is poorly understood. We are taking advantage of a cell-free system based on cytoplasm isolated from frog eggs that reconstitutes spindle assembly in a test tube to analyze the organization and dynamics of spindle microtubules and reveal novel principles underlying spindle morphology and its regulation.

 Todd Hickey  
Todd Hickey, Department of Classics, UC Berkeley Jean-Luc Fournet, Culture Ecrite de l'Antiquité Tardive et Papyrologie Byzantine, Collège de France

Everyday writing in a literary town: Some rediscovered tablets from late antique Panopolis
Professors Fournet and Hickey are interested in the culture and society of an ancient town called Panopolis (modern Akhmim, about a 500km drive south of Cairo). In Late Antiquity (c. 300‒700 CE), Panopolis was a “city of letters” second only to Alexandria, and many of the works produced by its authors have been preserved. The documentation illuminating the socio-economic structures that nurtured these individuals, in contrast, is rather poor. Fournet and Hickey’s FBF project seeks to remedy this imbalance through the careful study of an extraordinary set of wooden writing tablets recently rediscovered at the British Library.



Stephen Leone, College of Chemistry / Department of Physics, UC Berkeley  Marino Marsi, Laboratoire de  Physique des Solides, CNRS, Université Paris-Sud

Attosecond dynamics in topological insulators

Topological insulators (TI’s) are a new class of quantum materials characterized by conduction at the surface, while the bulk is insulating. The goal of this project is to investigate very short time dynamics in these topological insulatormaterials, at the limits of the shortest possible time resolution achievable today. It bringstogether an interdisciplinary and complementary know how from the groups of S. Leone in Berkeley and M. Marsi (Laboratoire de Physique des Solides - LPS, Orsay), creating a uniquely advantageous combination with the ambition of pushing forward the frontiers ofthis research domain. The group of the French partner at LPS Orsay has been among the pioneers of this worldwide effort, with one of the first studies of carrier dynamics at the surface of 3D topological insulators. The group of the Berkeley collaborator brings an experimental platform suitable for the shortest possible laser-produced pulses oflight (called attosecond pulses) to make the measurements. Despite the considerable progress achieved by many groups, new and even more challenging questions can be addressed regarding the timescales for transient states in these materials. Studying out-of-equilibrium photoexcited topological insulator materials on short time scales is a challenge of paramount importance for the field to test fundamental physical principles, while ultimately determining the speed of possible light-driven devices.

David Limmer, Department of Chemistry, UC Berkeley Benjamin Rotenberg, Laboratoire PHENIX, Sorbonne Université

Understanding energy storage in highly concentrated aqueous salt mixtures

Water metal interfaces have become a topic of renewed interest in the scientific community, due the recent discovery that in the presence of high concentrations of salt, electrochemical devices can be constructed that are stable over a wide range of working conditions. Using recently developed computational tools, we aim to use simulation models to study the molecular properties of highly concentrated salt solutions. By doing so, we hope to understand why these interfaces are so stable, and uncover general design principles for next generation energy storage devices that are both economically and environmentally preferable to traditional ones.

Todd Olson, Department of History of Art, UC Berkeley Anne Lafont, Centre d'histoire et de théorie des arts, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales - Paris

Tabac/Chatbot: Education and Interaction in the Museum Exhibition

This collaborative project is an experiment in the design and use of a digital application in order to extend the educational mission of a museum exhibition in France. Anne Lafont, Directrice d'études, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and doctoral candidate Maxime Georges Métraux (Université Paris-Sorbonne) are currently organizing an exhibition at the Musée du Nouveau Monde in La Rochelle (2019) dedicated to the visual culture of tobacco during the French Enlightenment. Professor Todd P. Olson and Ph.D. Candidate Karine Douplitzky, in History of Art, UC Berkeley, are building a natural language processing (NLP) interface that would allow any visitor to interact vocally with a chatbot (short for "chat-robot").

Eliot Quataert, Department of Astronomy, UC Berkeley Benoît Cerutti, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble, Université Grenoble Alpes

Where General Relativity, quantum electrodynamics, and plasma physics meet: first-principles models of emission from astrophysical black holes

Direct observations of hot gas around nearby supermassive black holes on the scale of the hole's event horizon will soon be in reach of the most powerful telescopes. The goal of this collaboration is to develop new numerical tools to perform the first ab-initio model of energetic particles and radiation being produced in the closest environment of a rotating black hole. This work will provide the most direct and self-consistent bridge between rigorous, first-principles simulations and astronomical observations of black holes.

Venkatesan Sundaresan, Department of Plant Biology, UC Davis Emmanuel Guiderdoni, CIRAD-INRA-SUPAGRO, Université de Montpellier

Synthetic apomixis in rice: Enabling hybrid seeds for smallholder farmers

High yields from crops can be achieved by the use of hybrid plants, which are much more vigorous than inbred plants. However, seeds of hybrids are relatively expensive due to the additional steps required to generate them by cross-pollination. Consequently, hybrids are underutilized for many crops grown by smallholder farmers, including rice, a major staple cropin the developing world. The barrier could be overcome if it were possible to produce a hybrid crop plant that self-reproduces through seeds while maintaining its hybrid constitution. This project will utilize recent advances in understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying seed formation in rice at UC Davis and at CIRAD France, to develop a method called “synthetic apomixis”, for producing rice plants that maintain their hybrid constitution while reproducing asexually through seeds.

Nicholas Swanson-Hysell, Department of Earth & Planetary Science, UC Berkeley
Yves Goddéris, Géosciences Environnement Toulouse - Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, CNRS - Université Toulouse

New paleogeographic models and the onset of a major glacial event in the Ordovician

Earth's climate today includes the presence of large polar ice caps, but there have been periods of Earth history with no such glacial ice. This collaborative research seeks to understand the factors that determine Earth's long-term climate state by focusing on a transition from a non-glacial to a glacial climate that occurred 450 million years ago. The research will use updated reconstructions of the past position of the continents in combination with climate and carbon cycle numerical modeling to test the hypothesis that uplift of volcanic rocks within an ancient tropical mountain belt was a major contributing factor in this climatic transition.

Alexander Von Rospatt, Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley Stéphane Gros, Centre d'Études Himalayennes, CNRS - Villejuif

New Directions in Himalayan Studies

This project aims to help develop Himalayan Studies at UC Berkeley in partnership with the Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes (CEH) of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, which is providing matching funds. For this we are hosting a workshop at Berkeley that will bring together experts from both institutions, including graduate students, working on the Himalayan region in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The broadly configured workshop (which will include Environmental Studies, and cover "Tibet and its Margins,"and "Newar Society, Religion and Art") will allow us to explore specific forms of collaboration and lay the ground for developing research partnerships beyond.

Todd Dawson, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley Sylvain Delzon, UMR Biodiversité Gènes et Communautés, Université Bordeaux

Reconciling critical controversies in Plant Hydraulics*

This France-Berkeley Project proposes to acquire knowledge of how leaf function and xylem water transport interact during water stress to produce distinctive water-use behaviour among plants, capitalising on recent, methodological breakthroughs in plant hydraulics. Intended outcomes include a theoretical framework based on quantitative physiological mechanisms that allows us to predict tree health and productivity in response to abiotic stress. The Project directly targets a key science and research priority of enhancing capacity to respond to environmental change – by improving the accuracy with which we can predict the impact of climate change on trees. The potential scientific, economic, and ecological benefits are considerable.

* "MAPGA" Project

G. Mathias Kondolf, Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley Giacomo Parrinello, Centre d'Histoire de Sciences Po - Paris

The Social Life of the Sediment Balance: A Social and Geomorphic Approach to the Transformation of River Systems and Deltas*

Interdisciplinary scholarship on river systems and society is usually concerned with water flows, but rarely with sediment balance. Sediments, however, are essential component of river systems and their deltas, providing sediment needed to sustain river channels to balance delta subsidence and coastal erosion. Hydroelectric dams, canals, sand and gravel mining, and other human uses alter sediment fluxes, resulting in sediment starvation that causes undermining of bridges and other infrastructure, coastal erosion and retreat of many the world’s river deltas, and loss of ecological values. This project investigates the nexus of social and natural processes behind the modification of sediment balance in river systems. The project will convene fluvial geomorphologists, environmental historians, and historical geographers to look at the intersection of policy, economic development and technology with changes in the sediment balance. Image caption:  Houses in the Mekong Delta.  With construction of over 140 large dams upstream that will trap the river’s sediment, mining of sand from its channel, and accelerated subsidence, nearly half of the Mekong Delta is threatened with inundation by 2100.

* "MAPGA" Project