Carl Lucas Alsberg was born in New York City. After his early education graduating from Columbia University in 1896 he studied medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He received his M.D. in 1900 and then traveled to Germany to study biochemistry at the Universities of Strassburg and Berlin. Returning to the United States in 1903, he became an assistant and later an instructor at Harvard Medical School, where he worked for 5 years. In 1908, Alsberg moved to Washington, D.C., to become a chemical biologist at the Bureau of Plant Industry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He later became chief of the Bureau of Chemistry, which he directed for 8 years. After leaving this post in 1921, Alsberg joined the faculty of Stanford, where he was director of the Food Research Institute and dean of graduate studies from 1927 to 1933. In 1937, he became professor of agricultural economics and director of the Giannini Foundation at the University of California, Berkeley, where he remained until his death.
Unique in its range, Alsberg's career as a scientist encompassed basic scientific research as well as technical economic and social problems. Some of the subjects he studied were protein metabolism, maize deterioration, sea mussels nutritive value, cell activity mechanisms, mold metabolism, fermentation theories, government research organization, federal food control, wheat starch viscosity, hard wheat deficiency, chemistry and the theory of population, food consumption and the increase of wealth, cereal colloid chemistry, plant growth curve, population increase and the standard of living, population and industry redistribution, and settlement limits in the migration process. Alsberg also found time to immerse himself in organizations devoted to scholarship, research, and public policy. He was chairman of the Social Science Research Council's Pacific Coast Regional Committee and the Institute of Pacific Affairs International Research Committee and was president of the American Society of Biological Chemists from 1917 to 1918. Alsberg was also a member of the Committee on Pacific Investigations, the California Economic Research Council, and the Board of Trustees of Reed College. In addition, he also played a leading role in the organization of the Annual Review of Biochemistry and was the first editor of the Journal of the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists.