I am thrilled to be on the faculty in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California. Because of my personal history, I am interested in encouraging those from all backgrounds to join and enrich the scientific enterprise with their perspectives--this includes, of course, those with liberal and conservative political perspectives, those who hold religious views and those who do not, those from big cities or those from rural areas. I am a first-generation college student. I was the first openly gay faculty member in my department at the University of Arizona and I am also the first in my new department at the University of California, Berkeley. I have found academia to be an oasis: at each university where I have worked I came to believe that I belonged there. I look forward to the day when none of us is judged by non-merit based criteria, where none of us has to talk about rising above societal perceptions of income, ethnicity, religion, physical traits, accents, sexual orientation or gender, political opinions and where human diversity is embraced in all of its forms, at all levels in our society and in every place. Until that day comes, we need to talk about it.
Noah Whiteman studies the molecular basis of adaptations arising from the ancient arms race between toxic plants and the animals and microbes that attack them. His laboratory's focus is on understanding the molecular bases (genetic, biochemical, physiological) of plant-insect chemical co-evolution, and specifically, how plant toxins are sensed and metabolized by animals. Most recently, they focused on plants that produce heart poisons that bind to the sodium potassium pump of animals. They used CRISPR-Cas-9 genome editing in Drosophila melanogaster to retrace the adaptive walk taken by monarch butterflies and their relatives as they colonized toxic milkweed plants. This allowed them to study how a series of adaptive mutations resulted in resistance to heart poisons in whole animal 'monarch flies' and revealed a biochemical mechanism for resistance.