LIFE

OUT OF OUR MINDS: HOW DID HUMANS COME DOWN FROM THE TREES AND WHY DID NO ONE FOLLOW?

[7.16.09]

In the 6 million years since hominids split from the evolutionary ancestor we share with chimpanzees and bonobos, something happened to our brains that allowed us to become master cooperators, accumulate knowledge at a rapid rate, and manipulate tools to colonize almost every corner of the planet.

VANESSA WOODS, author of It's Every Monkey for Themselves, is an award-winning journalist who has a double degree in biology and English from the University of New South Wales. She is a researcher with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group and studies the psychology of bonobos and chimpanzees in Africa. 

Vanessa Woods's Edge Bio Page

BRIAN HARE is an anthropologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke University. His research centers on human cognitive evolution, and his experience in the field includes work in Siberia, the jungle of Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brian Hare's Edge Bio Page


From WHAT'S NEXT?
Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited By Max Brockman
 

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80906126

"When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced?

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

[7.4.09]

 

When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced? Or is it mainly a cultural change? There's no way we can answer this question from historical records. But my dream was to address questions like this. Then, after some initial success, I realized the real limitations on what I wanted to do.

SVANTE PÄÄBO, the founder of the field of ancient DNA, is Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig. In 2007 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Svante Pääbo's Edge Bio Page


HOW TO PREVENT A PANDEMIC

[4.30.09]

 

My organization and its collaborators have recently set up virus monitoring stations in China, Laos, Madagascar, Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet this is just a beginning. To establish a worldwide safety net, we would need to monitor thousands of people exposed to animals in dozens of sites around the world — not only hunters but also people working on farms and in animal markets. It is important that the American government make pandemic prevention a priority and devote more resources to expanding disease surveillance in people and in wild and domestic animal populations throughout the world.

 

NATHAN WOLFE is the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and directs the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (www.gvfi.org). His research combines methods from molecular virology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to study the biology of viral emergence.

Nathan Wolfe's Edge Bio Page

WAITING FOR THE FINAL PLAGUE

[1.30.09]

 

We should be and we can be doing a much better job to predict and prevent pandemics. But the really bold idea is that we could reach a point—and this is a distant point in the future—where we become so good at this that we really reach a point where we have the "final plague," and where we are really capable of catching so many of these things that new pandemics become an oddity. I think that is something that we should certainly have as an ideal.


 

Introduction

Nathan Wolfe trained at Harvard under Marc Hauser (where he was Hauser's first doctoral student) and Richard Wrangham. "I started working with Richard and thinking about self-medicating behavior of chimpanzees," he says. "Richard encouraged me to understand what the chimps may be treating, and so I starting thinking about what are the viruses, what are the microorganisms of chimps that they may be consuming plants in order to treat. Then I never really came back from that."

Subsequently he lived in Malaysia for three years and then in Africa for close to seven years. He describes himself as "a nice Jewish boy from suburban Detroit", which opens up an interesting line of research for Edge scientists, given that our other pandemics expert, Larry Brilliant, Executive Director of Google.org. and the man credited with eliminating smallpox, is also "a nice Jewish boy from suburban Detroit"."I'm sure it was some kind of rebellion," Wolfe said, "but I'm not sure what it was. My grandmother, for years, even when I became an assistant professor at Hopkins, said, "Will this let you go back and get an MD now, Nathan?" Something like that. I do come from that sort of family background, but they just figure it is working out okay. They certainly wish I would make a lot more money. But I told them you were going to help me with that. "

-JB

NATHAN WOLFE is the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and directs the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (www.gvfi.org). His research combines methods from molecular virology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to study the biology of viral emergence.

Nathan Wolfe's Edge Bio Page.

CHANGING LIFESTYLE CHANGES GENE EXPRESSION

[12.3.08]

These findings may capture people's imagination—so often, people think there is not much they can do, what I call genetic nihilism. But even if your mother and your father and your sister and brother and aunts and uncles all died from heart disease, it doesn't mean that you need to. It just means that you are more likely to be genetically predisposed. If you are willing to make big enough changes, there is no reason you need ever develop heart disease, except in relatively rare cases.

DEAN ORNISH is a clinical professor of medicine at UCSF and the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine and Research Institute in Sausalito. His most recent book is The Spectrum.

Dean Ornish's Edge Bio Page


[12:05 minutes]

CHANGING LIFESTYLE CHANGES GENE EXPRESSION

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80904248

"These findings may capture people's imagination—so often, people think there is not much they can do, what I call genetic nihilism. But even if your mother and your father and your sister and brother and aunts and uncles all died from heart disease, it doesn't mean that you need to. It just means that you are more likely to be genetically predisposed. If you are willing to make big enough changes, there is no reason you need ever develop heart disease, except in relatively rare cases."

ANTS HAVE ALGORITHMS

Topic: 

  • LIFE
http://vimeo.com/80903758

"Another example that we've been investigating arehuge swarms of Mormon crickets. If you look at these swarms, all of the individuals are marching in the same direction, and it looks like cooperative behavior. Perhaps they have come to a collective decision to move from one place to another. We investigated this collective decision, and what really makes this system work in the case of the Mormon cricket is cannibalism."

ANTS HAVE ALGORITHMS

[3.11.08]

...we've been investigating...huge swarms of Mormon crickets. If you look at these swarms, all of the individuals are marching in the same direction, and it looks like cooperative behavior. Perhaps they have come to a collective decision to move from one place to another. We investigated this collective decision, and what really makes this system work in the case of the Mormon cricket is cannibalism.

IAIN COUZIN is Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. His research focuses on understanding collective behavior; how large-scale biological patterns result from the actions and interactions of the individual components of a system. He studies self-organized pattern formation in a wide range of biological systems, including ants, fish schools, bird flocks, locust/cricket swarms and human crowds.

Iain Couzin's Edge Bio Page

ENGINEERING BIOLOGY

[2.17.08]

ED. NOTE: A theme appears to be evolving, beginning with the Edge event "Life: what A Concept!" in August, proceeding to Munich at DLD (Hubert Burda's Digital, Life, Design ) in January, where Craig Venter, and Richard Dawkins held an Edge conversation, "Life" A Gene-Centric View". Both events were important, and newsworthy. Next, the following conversation, Engineering Biology", with Drew Endy, a young researcher who is defining the cutting edge of synthetic biology.

-JB


The only thing that hasn't been engineered are the living things, ourselves. Again, what's the consequence of doing that at scale? Biotechnology is 30 years old; it's a young adult. Most of the work is still to come, but how do we actually do it? Let's not talk about it, let's actually go do it, and then let's deal with the consequences in terms of how this is going to change ourselves, how the biosecurity framework needs to recognize that it's not going to be nation-state driven work necessarily, how an ownership sharing and innovation framework needs to be developed that moves beyond patent-based intellectual property and recognizes that the information defining the genetic material's going to be more important than the stuff itself and so you might transition away from patents to copyright and so on and so forth. 

DREW ENDY, is Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, where he is working to enable the design and construction of large scale integrated biological systems, and to develop and improve general methods for representing cellular behavior.

Drew Endy's Edge Bio Page


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