UC Berkeley News


William Berg

08 November 2006

William Eugene Berg, a professor emeritus of zoology who studied the effects of chemicals on embryos, died Oct. 27 at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton. Berg, who was 87, had suffered a stroke earlier in the week.

William Berg

Berg, who retired from Berkeley in 1980, straddled the transition between early embryological research, conducted primarily with a microscope, and modern developmental or cell-biology research involving genetic and cellular manipulation.

Said Fred Wilt, Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and a former colleague of Berg's: "He worked in the bridge between pre-modern and modern, and he and his students did some of the first, and best, work on how the embryo used amino acids to synthesize proteins, and how various treatments affected the accumulation of RNA and other substances in the embryo."

Born at home in Round Mountain, Nev., on Dec. 6, 1918, Berg received both his B.S. in biology and his M.S. in experimental embryology from the California Institute of Technology. He conducted research in aviation physiology at USC and Stanford between 1940 and 1943, and subsequently was appointed a research fellow in the Division of Medical Physics at Berkeley, where he worked on gas exchange during respiration with division founder John H. Lawrence, brother of cyclotron inventor and Nobel Laureate Ernest O. Lawrence. He was selected as one of three scientific observers to the detonation of atomic bombs at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

Berg subsequently earned his Ph.D. in experimental morphogenesis and genetics from Stanford in 1946, began lecturing at Berkeley in 1947, and was appointed an assistant professor of zoology in 1948 and a full professor in 1961. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1950 and an instructor in embryology at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., in 1953.

After retiring from Berkeley, he moved with his wife to Pollock Pines, where he continued his interest in national and state conservation and environmental issues. Barbara (Bobbie) Berg, his wife of 32 years, died in 1999.

He is survived by his daughters, Susan Landauer of Oakland and Doran Berg of Stockton; his sole grandchild, Benjamin Jacob Hirschfield of Santa Cruz; and his siblings, Shirley Ann Henle and Karl (Skook) Berg, both of Round Mountain, Nev. Berg was predeceased by his siblings, Betty Jane Berg, Dan Berg, and Getta Jakowatz; and his first wife, Patricia Garrett.

The family asks that contributions in his name be made to the Sierra Club, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, or other charities.

- Robert Sanders