Videos by topic: LIFE

How Humans Make the Earth Their Home


Beginning in 2012, and for many summers ever since, my team and I have been helicoptering onto the Greenland ice sheet, in this fantastical melt zone. We use helicopters to string cableways over the top of rushing super glacial rivers so that we can hang this river discharge measurement technology called Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP). We operate around the clock to collect measurements of river discharge every hour, for up to a week in duration. We have collected the world's first meltwater runoff measurements on top of the ice sheet. What we then do is simultaneously use drones and satellites to map out the upstream contributing watershed area flowing to that point where we are collecting the discharge measurements. When we know the contributing watershed area and we have the flow measurements at the bottom of the watershed, we then have a completely independent field dataset from which we can test the ability of climate models to simulate meltwater runoff from the Greenland ice sheet. And it's those models that are being used to predict the future. It's those models that are being used to estimate projected ranges of sea level rise in IPCC reports and so forth.

LAURENCE C. SMITH is the John Atwater and Diana Nelson University Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University. He is the author, most recently, of Rivers of PowerLaurence C. Smith's Edge Bio Page

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We Have the Power to Destroy Ourselves Without the Wisdom to Ensure That We Don't


I've been thinking about just how bright our future could be, how science knows almost no limits to what we could achieve, to the durations that we could last, to the portion of the cosmos that we could discover and explore, and to the heights of quality in each of our lives or the types of achievements we could make. . . . It's this vision of this wonderful and vast future that's at stake that inspires me to think more carefully about the risks we face now and the ways that we might imperil all of this with our actions. What things can only our generation or our children's generation do in order to protect this seed of humanity so that we can grow into something even more amazing, to protect our present and thereby protect our future?

TOBY ORD is a senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University and author of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of HumanityToby Ord's Edge Bio Page


Rethinking Our Vision of Success


How do we understand that our 100,000-fold excess of numbers on this planet, plus what we do to feed ourselves, makes us a tumor on the body of the planet? I don't want the future that involves some end to us, which is a kind of surgery of the planet. That's not anybody's wish. How do we revert ourselves to normal while we can? How do we re-enter the world of natural selection, not by punishing each other, but by volunteering to take success as meaning success and survival of the future, not success in stuff now? How do we do that? We don't have a language for that.

ROBERT POLLACK is a professor of biological sciences, and also serves as director of the University Seminars at Columbia University. He is the author of The Course of Nature, a book of drawings by the artist Amy Pollack, accompanied by his short explanatory essays. Robert Pollack's Edge Bio Page

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Questioning the Cranial Paradigm


Part of the definition of intelligence is always this representation model. . . . I’m pushing this idea of distribution—homeostatic surfing on worldly engagements that the body is always not only a part of but enabled by and symbiotic on. Also, the idea of adaptation as not necessarily defined by the consciousness that we like to fetishize. Are there other forms of consciousness? Here’s where the gut-brain axis comes in. Are there forms that we describe as visceral gut feelings that are a form of human consciousness that we’re getting through this immune brain?

CAROLINE A. JONES is a professor of art history in the Department of Architecture at MIT and author, most recently, of The Global Work of Art. Caroline Jones's Edge Bio Page

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The Connectomic Revolution

What the Insect Brain Can Tell Us About Ourselves

An even more recent and exciting revolution happening now is this connectomic revolution, where we’re able to map in exquisite detail the connections of a part of the brain, and soon even an entire insect brain. It’s giving us absolute answers to questions that we would have debated even just a few years ago; for example, does the insect brain work as an integrated system? And because we now have a draft of a connectome for the full insect brain, we can absolutely answer that question. That completely changes not just the questions that we’re asking, but our capacity to answer questions. There’s a whole new generation of questions that become accessible.

When I say a connectome, what I mean is an absolute map of the neural connections in a brain. That’s not a trivial problem. It's okay at one level to, for example with a light microscope, get a sense of the structure of neurons, to reconstruct some neurons and see where they go, but knowing which neurons connect with other neurons requires another level of detail. You need electron microscopy to look at the synapses.

ANDREW BARRON is the Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Deputy Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. He is a neuroethologist with a particular focus on studying the neural mechanisms of honey bees. Andrew Barron's Edge Bio Page

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Sexual Double Standards

The Bias Against Understanding the Biological Foundations of Women's Behavior

We don’t know enough about important issues that impact women. We don’t know enough about potential side effects of using hormonal contraception. There’s a lot of speculation about it, but most of that speculation is problematic. If you eliminate women’s hormone cycles, what are the implications? That’s an important question. We still don’t know enough about hormone supplements for women later in life. We don’t even know enough about fertility. The data are also problematic. The data on fertility in women’s third, fourth, fifth decades of life are based on ancient records, 200 years old. The statistics that doctors will cite when they are telling women whether they need to see a fertility specialist or not are from a period before modern medicine was really in place, which is outrageous. More recognition of the biological influences on women’s behavior is going to awaken these areas of research, and that will have a positive impact.

MARTIE HASELTON is a professor of psychology and communication studies at the Institute for Society and Genetics and UCLA. She is the author of Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones—How They Drive Desire, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us WiserMartie Haselton's Edge Bio


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Church Speaks


The biggest energy creators in the world, the ones that take solar energy and turn it into a form that’s useful to humans, are these photosynthetic organisms. The cyanobacteria fix [carbon via] light as well or better than land plants. Under ideal circumstances, they can be maybe seven to ten times more productive per photon. . . .

Cyanobacteria turn carbon dioxide, a global warming gas, into carbohydrates and other carbon-containing polymers, which sequester the carbon so that they're no longer global warming gases. They turn it into their own bodies. They do this on such a big scale that about 15 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fixed every year by these cyanobacteria, which is roughly the amount that we’re off from the pre-industrial era. If all of the material that they fix didn’t turn back into carbon dioxide, we’d have solved the global warming problem in a year or two. The reality, however, is that almost as soon as they divide and make baby bacteria, phages break them open, spilling their guts, and they start turning into carbon dioxide. Then all the other things around them start chomping on the bits left over from the phages.

GEORGE CHURCH is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, director of the Personal Genome Project, and co-author (with Ed Regis) of Regenesis. George Church's Edge Bio page 

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Soul of a Molecular Machine


We're at the threshold of a new age of structural biology, where these things that everybody thought were too difficult and would take decades and decades, are all cracking. Now, we're coming to pieces of the cell. The real advance is that you're going to be able to look at all these machines and large molecular complexes inside the cell. It will tell you detailed molecular organization of the cell. That's going to be a big leap, to go from molecules to cells and how cells work.

In almost every disease, there's a fundamental process that's causing the disease, either a breakdown of a process, or a hijacking of a process, or a deregulation of a process. Understanding these processes in the cell in molecular terms will give us all kinds of ways to treat disease. They'll give us new targets for drugs. They'll give us genetic understanding. The impact on medicine is going to be quite profound over the long-term.

VENKATRAMAN "VENKI" RAMAKRISHNAN is an Indian-born American and British structural biologist. He shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ada Yonath and Tom Steitz and is the current President of the Royal Society. His many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of the ribosome. Venki Ramakrishnan's Edge Bio Page

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Urban Evolution

How Species Adapt, or Don't, to City Living

We realize evolution can occur very rapidly. Yet, despite this realization, very few people have taken the next logical step to consider what's happening around us, where we live. Think about the animals that live just around you. Look out your window in your backyard. . . . All the animals living around us are facing new environments, coping with new food, new structures, new places to hide, and in many cases new temperatures. These are radically different environments. If, as we now believe, natural selection causes populations to adapt to new conditions, why shouldn't it be happening to those species living around us in the very new conditions?

JONATHAN B. LOSOS is the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Curator in Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He is the author of Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of EvolutionJonathan B. Losos's Edge Bio Page


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Why We're Different


What we're trying to do in behavioral genetics and medical genetics is explain differences. It's important to know that we all share approximately 99 percent of our DNA sequence. If we sequence, as we can now readily do, all of our 3 billion base pairs of DNA, we will be the same at over 99 percent of all those bases. That's what makes us similar to each other. It makes us similar to chimps and most mammals. We're over 90 percent similar to all mammals. There's a lot of genetic similarity that's important from an evolutionary perspective, but it can't explain why we're different. That's what we're up to, trying to explain why some children are reading disabled, or some people become schizophrenic, or why some people suffer from alcoholism, et cetera. We're always talking about differences. The only genetics that makes a difference is that 1 percent of the 3 billion base pairs. But that is over 10 million base pairs of DNA. We're looking at these differences and asking to what extent they cause the differences that we observe. 

ROBERT PLOMIN is a professor of behavioral genetics at King's College London and deputy director of the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. Robert Plomin's Edge Bio Page

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