LBL tests environmental biotech waters

September 23, 1994

By David Gilbert,

Life Sciences Division Director Mina Bissell convened a workshop on September 1 to assess LBL's ability to lead a major environmental biotechnology initiative.

The workshop, held in response to national needs outlined by the University of California, brought together leaders from local environmental firms and state and federal regulators with UC and LBL researchers. The brainstorming session led to the creation of an executive environmental biotechnology working group that will be headed by LBL Deputy Director Pier Oddone.

Sally Benson, director of LBL's Earth Sciences Division, framed the workshop's opening discussion. "The environment is an international problem. There are many opportunities in the developing world to help them avoid the mistakes we [in the developed world] have made."

DOE has estimated that clean up efforts at its own facilities will cost $300 billion.

The scope of LBL's potential role in a major initiative appears to be broad, according to workshop participants. It was suggested that LBL's expertise could be directed to redesigning industrial processes to reduce waste streams, or developing methods to test new technologies. Near-term projects could improve sample preparation techniques, while longer term efforts could be directed toward evaluating human health risks associated with exposure to toxins, and thus aid the decision-making process in public policy forums.

It was also suggested that LBL, in concert with the Berkeley and Davis campuses, could bring considerable facilities and expertise to bear on solving the technological needs identified by the environmental industry.

The working group will be charged with finalizing an LBL Environmental Biotechnology Capabilities Guide, and determining whether LBL has the required expertise to serve as a catalyst for an initiative. The group will identify ways to foster interactions with the environmental industry, and explore funding possibilities to support such an effort. It is anticipated that an initiative would serve as the foundation of an LBL center for environmental biotechnology research and development.

Other workshop participants from LBL included ICSD Director Stu Loken, Mark Alper and Jerry Torrance of Materials Sciences, Nancy Brown of Energy and Environment, Don Foster of Engineering, Philip Ross of Chemical Sciences, Kam Tung of EH&S, Chin-Fu Tsang and Jiamin Wan of ESD, and E&E retiree Rolf Melhorn.

To obtain a detailed report of the workshop, call 510-486-6096.