Here is the star-studded lineup.
Speaking of star-stud. Leading things off is our SALSAmigo Fernando Martinez. Don’t miss it — either live or streaming live.
The last 20 years have been marked by an astonishing growth in our knowledge about the molecules that make up living things. And among those molecules, none has attracted more attention than DNA. The DNA code of hundreds of life forms has been sequenced, and this code contains not only information needed to assemble all proteins; a myriad of bit and pieces of DNA are also involved in controlling when proteins are built and destroyed. It is thus not surprising that DNA has been called the software of life, but the metaphor breaks down when we look more closely. Contrary to any reputable software, small, random “errors” are introduced in the code each time DNA is copied in order to be transmitted to the next generation. Most often, these changes have no effect whatsoever. Almost all the remaining changes are deleterious and are most likely the cause of the many diseases that affect many human beings at some point in their lives. But a small portion of these random “errors” allow those who carry them to better adapt to the environment in which they live. And the fast and slow accumulation of those favorable “errors” is what ultimately gave rise to the immensely successful history of life in the planet. Two indispensable conclusions arise: first, disease is often caused by the same mechanism, random mutation, that allowed us to become conscious beings and, therefore, those of us who are healthy and can pursue happiness have a basic biological and ethical debt towards those who are not; second, the massive changes that we are introducing into the environment are making many of us sick simply because our ancestors never saw them and thus, never “adopted the right genes” for them. Contrary to all other species that ever existed, therefore, we are increasingly putting our future as a species in our own hands.
The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 was the most intense outbreak of disease in human history. It killed upwards of 50 million people (most in a six-week period) casting a long shadow of fear and mystery: nearly a century later, scientists have been unable to explain why, unlike all other influenza outbreaks, it killed young adults in huge numbers. I will describe how analyses of large numbers of influenza virus genomes are revealing the pathway traveled by the genes of this virus before it exploded in 1918. What emerges is a surprising tale with many players and plot lines, in which echoes of prior pandemics, imprinted in the immune responses of those alive in 1918, set the stage for the catastrophe. I will also discuss how resolving the mysteries of 1918 could help to prevent future pandemics and to control seasonal influenza, which quietly kills millions more every decade.
What determines the complexity of life? Darwin described how evolution produced “endless forms most beautiful”, yet he was unaware of genetics and the laws of inheritance. Our genomes provide the ultimate record of evolution, and evolution explains many fascinating aspects of our genomes. How do changes in the genome allow organisms to adapt to their environment? How do changes in the genome produce new species? Why do worms and humans have about the same number of genes? This lecture will explore how genomics has deepened our understanding of evolution in ways Darwin never could have imagined.
The world’s population will grow to more than 9 billion in less than 40 years. How can farmers grow enough food to feed this population in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way? Research is now underway to create the next generation of green revolution crops – the so called “green super crops” where “super” means a doubling or tripling of yields, and “green” means a reduction in the use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides etc. The 9 billion-people question (9BPQ) is one of the world’s most pressing issues of our time. Our society must realistically solve this question within the next 25 years if we are to be able to supply farmers with the seeds required to feed the future. This lecture will explore the many facets of how to feed the world and will propose a bold solution to help solve the 9BPQ.
Two twin sisters, one with and one without asthma. Two genetically identical mice, one black and lean, the other yellow and obese. Two human cells, one from the brain and the other from the skin: they look and act different, but they have the same DNA sequence. All of this is the work of epigenetics. Much emphasis has been placed on DNA and genes as repositories of the code designed to transmit information and dictate biological programs. However, developmental trajectories and responses to environmental cues are – and need to be – highly plastic. This plasticity is made possible by epigenetic mechanisms that enhance or silence gene expression at the right time in the right environmental context but do not change the DNA sequence. Thus the code inscribed in our DNA is necessary but not sufficient to recapitulate our biological identity and determine our biological destiny. This lecture will explore how understanding epigenetics will advance our understanding of human biology and disease.