Noah Whiteman, Ph.D.

Noah Whiteman

Title
Professor
Department
Dept of Integrative Biology
Dept of Molecular & Cell Biology
Phone
(510) 664-7545
Research Expertise and Interest
adaptation, evolutionary biology, genomics, genetics, toxicology, insect biology, plant biology, microbiology, CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing
Research Description

Noah Whiteman is an evolutionary biology and genetics professor at UC-Berkeley. He also has affiliations with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, Center for Computational Biology, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Essig Museum of Entomology, and University and Jepson Herbaria. His laboratory focuses on understanding how and why plants and microbes use toxins and how animals overcome and even steal those toxins, as well as host-parasite interactions. He is also interested in understanding how biological toxins can be leveraged to prevent and treat human disease. He teaches the introductory Evolution course (IB 160) at Cal.

Over half of all of our modern medicines are natural products. The healing plants and fungi from which pure drugs have been isolated were first discovered by Indigenous peoples. The powers of these plants and fungi are communicated across the generations through oral tradition and materia medica. Curare, the first muscle relaxant used in general surgery, and cocaine, the first local anesthetic, were first discovered and used by Indigenous peoples. Wonder drugs, from aspirin (anti-inflammatory) to cephalosporins (antibiotics), and morphine (analgesic) to taxol (anti-cancer) evolved not for our benefit at all, but to protect plants and microbes from enemies as chemical defenses.

Through a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, he is writing a book on the origins of biotoxins and their use and abuse by humans. Taking this approach provides a new lens through which to view both natural and human history as well as the biology of addiction.

In their research, they often use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and its relatives as models on the animal side. They are also interested in the plant side of the equation and also use the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and other mustards as hosts. A smaller project focuses on interactions between hummingbirds and their nectar plants at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado.

See their latest research on how they used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to understand how the monarch butterfly evolved to be resistant to milkweed toxins it stores in its body:

Goals/Interests as an educator: To teach and mentor creative, kind, passionate, and skeptical scientists. He has a deep interest in engagement with students, and the public, on evolutionary biology and science as a way of knowing. He often shares his failures and successes as a gay, first-generation college student who grew up in rural, northeastern Minnesota.

See his lab website: www.noahwhiteman.org for more details.

In the News

November 22, 2021

What it takes to eat a poisonous butterfly

In a study appearing this week in the journal Current Biology, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC Riverside report monarch-like genetic mutations in the genomes of four organisms that are known to eat monarchs: the black-headed grosbeak, a migratory bird that snacks on the butterflies at their overwintering home in Mexico; the eastern deer mouse, a close relative of the Mexican black-eared deer mouse that feeds on butterflies that fall to the ground; a tiny wasp that parasitizes monarch eggs; and a nematode that parasitizes insect larvae that feed on milkweed.
October 2, 2019

CRISPRed flies mimic monarch butterfly — and could make you vomit

The fruit flies in Noah Whiteman’s lab may be hazardous to your health. Whiteman and his University of California, Berkeley, colleagues have turned perfectly palatable fruit flies — palatable, at least, to frogs and birds — into potentially poisonous prey that may cause anything that eats them to puke. In large enough quantities, the flies likely would make a human puke, too, much like the emetic effect of ipecac syrup.

Latest News

Update Faculty Profile

Update your profile

In the News

November 22, 2021

What it takes to eat a poisonous butterfly

In a study appearing this week in the journal Current Biology, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC Riverside report monarch-like genetic mutations in the genomes of four organisms that are known to eat monarchs: the black-headed grosbeak, a migratory bird that snacks on the butterflies at their overwintering home in Mexico; the eastern deer mouse, a close relative of the Mexican black-eared deer mouse that feeds on butterflies that fall to the ground; a tiny wasp that parasitizes monarch eggs; and a nematode that parasitizes insect larvae that feed on milkweed.
October 2, 2019

CRISPRed flies mimic monarch butterfly — and could make you vomit

The fruit flies in Noah Whiteman’s lab may be hazardous to your health. Whiteman and his University of California, Berkeley, colleagues have turned perfectly palatable fruit flies — palatable, at least, to frogs and birds — into potentially poisonous prey that may cause anything that eats them to puke. In large enough quantities, the flies likely would make a human puke, too, much like the emetic effect of ipecac syrup.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
October 3, 2019
Emily Makowski
The Scientist's 'Image of the Day' pictures a fruit fly walking on a Monarch Butterfly's wing to represent a landmark study conducted at Berkeley. The researchers, led by associate integrative biology professor Noah Whiteman, used CRISPR gene-editing technology to re-create evolutionary mutations that could help a creature adapt to the environment. They accomplished this by engineering fruit flies that can safely consume toxic milkweed and protect it from predation by making it toxic to would-be predators, just as the Monarch butterfly evolved. "All we did was change three sites, and we made these superflies," Professor Whiteman says. "But to me, the most amazing thing is that we were able to test evolutionary hypotheses in a way that has never been possible outside of cell lines." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources, including Scientific American.
October 2, 2019
Ben Guarino
In a landmark use of CRISPR gene-editing technology to re-create evolutionary mutations that could help a creature adapt to the environment, a team of researchers led by associate integrative biology professor Noah Whiteman has engineered fruit flies that can safely consume toxic milkweed and protect it from predation by making it toxic to would-be predators, just as the Monarch butterfly evolved. "All we did was change three sites, and we made these superflies," Professor Whiteman says. "But to me, the most amazing thing is that we were able to test evolutionary hypotheses in a way that has never been possible outside of cell lines. ... It would have been difficult to discover this without having the ability to create mutations with CRISPR." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Other stories on this topic have appeared in the New York Times, Science, and Daily Mail Online.
FullStory (*requires registration)

Loading Class list ...
.