Splicing and Dicing DNA: Genome Engineering and the CRISPR Revolution

CRISPR: It’s the powerful gene editing technology transforming biomedical research. Fast, cheap and easy to use, it allows scientists to rewrite the DNA in just about any organism—including humans—with tests on human embryos already underway. The technique’s potential to radically reshape everything from disease prevention to the future of human evolution has driven explosive progress and heated debate. Join the world’s CRISPR pioneers to learn about the enormous possibilities and ethical challenges as we stand on the threshold of a brave new world of manipulating life’s fundamental code.

Original Program Date: June 3 2016
MODERATOR: Richard Besser
PARTICIPANTS: George Church, Luke Dow, Josephine Johnston, Ben Matthews, Harry Ostrer, Noel Sauer

The Big Picture: From the Big Bang to the Meaning of Life -Sean Carroll

Award-winning scientist and writer Sean Carroll ties together the fundamental laws of physics governing the workings of the cosmos with the everyday human experience we all share. Dr Sean Carroll is an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology. He has written a variety of popular science books along with textbooks and has long been interested in the biggest questions in astronomy: Where does probability come from? How does time work? What is dark matter and dark energy?

The talk, given at the Royal Institution in October 2016, will take us on a breath-taking journey from the origin of the Universe, through the evolution of life and consciousness, to the eternal question of what it all really means.

Q&A The Big Picture – with Sean Carroll

The Story of Earth: How Life and Rocks Co-Evolved

 Dr. Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institution for Science, Geophysical Laboratory:

The story of Earth is a 4.5-billion-year saga of dramatic transformations, driven by physical, chemical, and—based on a fascinating growing body of evidence—biological processes. The co-evolution of life and rocks, the new paradigm that frames this lecture, unfolds in an irreversible sequence of evolutionary stages. Each stage re-sculpted our planet’s surface, each introduced new planetary processes and phenomena, and each inexorably paved the way for the next. This grand and intertwined tale of Earth’s living and non-living spheres is only now coming into focus. Sequential changes of terrestrial planets and moons are best preserved in their rich mineralogical record. “Mineral evolution,” the study of our planet’s diversifying near-surface environment, began with a dozen different mineral species that formed in the cooling envelopes of exploding stars. Dust and gas from those stars clumped together to form our stellar nebula, the nebula formed the Sun and countless planetesimals, and alteration of planetesimals by water and heat resulted in the approximately 250 minerals found today in meteorites that fall to Earth. Following Earth’s growth and separation into the core, mantle, and crust, mineral evolution progressed by a sequence of chemical and physical processes, which led to perhaps 1500 mineral species. According to some origin-of-life scenarios, a planet must evolve through at least some of these stages of chemical processing as a prerequisite for life. Once life emerged, mineralogy and biology co-evolved, as changes in the chemistry of oceans and atmosphere dramatically increased Earth’s mineral diversity to the almost 5000 species known today.

How the Tyrannosaurs Ruled the World – David Hone

This lecture is from The Royal Institution Ri. I thoroughly enjoyed it because I had also read the book by the speaker, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs

How did the Tyrannosaurus Rex and it’s kind come to dominate their prehistoric world? Palaeontologist Dr David Hone explores the evolution, ecology and behaviour of these amazing dinosaurs, and explains what Jurassic Park got wrong. David Hone is a palaeontologist and writer whose research focuses on the behaviour and ecology of the dinosaurs and their flying relatives, the pterosaurs. He writes extensively online about palaeontology and science outreach, blog for the science pages of The Guardian. 

Q&A – How the Tyrannosaurs Ruled the World – with David Hone
What did Tyrannosaurus do with its tiny arms? How do we find dinosaurs? Palaeontologist David Hone answers questions from the audience.

Richard Dawkins – Enemies Of Reason

The Enemies of Reason is a two-part television documentary, written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in which he seeks to expose “those areas of belief that exist without scientific proof, yet manage to hold the nation under their spell”, including mediumship, acupuncture and psychokinesis.

Part 1 – Slaves to Superstition
Dawkins points to some of science’s achievements and describes it as freeing most people from superstition and dogma. Picking up from his superstition-reason distinction in The Root of All Evil? (while recycling some footage from it), he then says reason is facing an “epidemic of superstition” that “impoverishes our culture” and introduces gurus that persuade us “to run away from reality”. He calls the present day dangerous times. He returns to science’s achievements, including the fact that, by extending people’s lifespan, it helps them to take more advantage of life. He turns his attention to astrology, which he criticizes for stereotyping without evidence. Having put astrology to the test and referred to larger-scale experiments, he then briefly describes the mechanics of astronomy, and then expresses frustration that 50% of the UK population — more than are members of one religion — believe in the paranormal.

Part 2: The Irrational Health Service
Richard Dawkins examines the growing suspicion the public has for science-based medicine, despite its track record of successes like the germ theory of disease, vaccines, antibiotics and increased lifespan. He notes a fifth of British children are currently not immunised against measles, mumps and rubella, attributing it to fears arising from a highly controversial report linking the vaccine with autism.

Dawkins criticizes the growing field of alternative medicine which does not pass the same objective and statistical rigour as scientifically derived treatments using controlled double-blind studies. Without verifiable evidence, alternative therapies must rely on biased anecdotes and word of mouth to perpetuate. Dawkins observes these treatments have fanciful rationales and rituals behind them, with many alternative treatments employing pseudoscientific jargon such as “energy”, “vibration” or “quantum theory” to give themselves greater credence to patients.

Reasons for Hope : Dr. Jane Goodall

One of the most legendary conservationists of our time, Jane Goodall has dedicated her life’s work to the Gombe chimpanzees. In this talk she discusses the future of chimpanzees in the wild and the threats they face from devastating habitat loss, as well as the battle against illegal wildlife trade in ivory and rhino horn. Goodall shares highlights from some of her most unique experiences in the field, her candid thoughts on the future of conservation, and above all, provides heartfelt reasons to maintain hope despite growing threats and often overwhelming odds.

Jared Diamond: “The Third Chimpanzee” | Talks at Google

We human beings share 98 percent of our genes with chimpanzees. Yet humans are the dominant species on the planet — having founded civilizations and religions, developed intricate and diverse forms of communication, learned science, built cities, and created breathtaking works of art — while chimps remain animals concerned primarily with the basic necessities of survival.

What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? In this fascinating, provocative, passionate, funny, endlessly entertaining work, renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world…and the means to irrevocably destroy it.

The Fastest Evolving Regions of the Human Genome : Katherine Pollard

Identifying the specific mutations that make us humans is one of the greatest challenges of biology. Join Gladstone Institutes’ senior researcher Katherine Pollard in exploring the new techniques being used to discover the functions of the fastest evolving regions of the human genome and how individual DNA mutations altered these functions to make us human.

This Leakey Foundation Annual Speaker Series on Human Origins lecture took place at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on November 11, 2015.

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