Decoding Ancient DNA

8232From tiny remnants of tartar (the calculus built up on your teeth) to a minuscule segment of a finger bone, ancient DNA data is providing unprecedented insights into the recent history of our species. In particular, methodological improvements and innovations over the last ten years have advanced our ability to recover small fragments, target specific sequences, identify damage patterns, and obtain genome scale data. As a result, we have evidence for admixture among modern and archaic humans as well as greater appreciation for the complexity of population histories for modern humans around the world. We know the diets of our predecessors and even physical traits they have passed on to us. This symposium brings together researchers at the forefront of ancient DNA research and population genetics to discuss current developments and share insights about human migration and adaptation.

Watch Ancient DNA and Human Evolution.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Transforming lives, businesses and communities through design thinking

Design thinking, or human-centered design, is a growing global trend that is being embraced by companies and local governments to help drive innovation and improve communities. The guiding principle of design thinking is to focus on the needs of people to ensure that the correct problem is being solved in the most effective way.

Community, business and civic leaders gathered recently to explore how they could work together to make San Diego an international hub for design thinking and bolster the local economy at the first annual San Diego Design > Forward Summit, which was hosted by the Design Lab at University of California San Diego.

Design Forward San Diego
8232Design is a proven and necessary innovation strategy today – and one that San Diego is well-positioned to leverage for unprecedented transformation. Key regional leaders discuss the convergence and propulsion of civic, industry and community through human-centered design.

Creating Value Through Design – Design Forward San Diego
8232A panel of experts from around the world present models of how leading industry and government organizations have leveraged design and assessed its contribution to grow their economies and global stature.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

IT CAME TO SAN DIEGO

UnknownAs it has every year since 1970, July heralds the arrival in San Diego of the pop culture phenomenon known as Comic-Con International. From its humble beginnings as a single-day comic book convention, Comic-Con has grown into a four-day multimedia extravaganza celebrating all aspects of popular arts – comics, science fiction and fantasy literature, collectibles, gaming, cosplay, movies and television, and more – that attracts 130,000 devoted attendees from around the globe.

You’re probably thinking, “But John, what does a pop culture convention have to do with an academic institution that’s been ranked as the 17th best in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings?” I was hoping you’d ask. Though it may not be immediately apparent, UC San Diego has long served as a sort of incubator for some of the most respected and provocative writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. Authors who claim UC San Diego as their alma mater include David Brin (the Uplift series), Gregory Benford (the Galactic Center Saga), Vernor Vinge (Rainbow’s End), and Kim Stanley Robinson (the Mars trilogy). Since attending UC San Diego several of these alumni have maintained their ties to the University of California by teaching at various UC campuses, and appearing at UC-sponsored academic conferences and symposia.

In addition to UC San Diego, other campuses in the UC system have contributed significantly to science fiction, fantasy, and pop art studies. Most notable is UC Riverside, which houses the world-renowned Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Eaton Collection, featured in our Web series It Came From Riverside, is “the largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and utopian and dystopian literature in the world,” and consists of more than 300,000 items. Many of the writers and illustrators associated with UC have donated to the collection, and scholars consider it a unique and indispensable resource.

These and other personalities and topics are featured in UCSD-TV’s omnibus series, Comics, Pop Culture, and Science Fiction. This series gathers together programs on a wide range of subjects related to Comic-Con, including profiles and conversations with industry artists (David Gerrold, Michael Westmore), in-depth analyses of popular films and TV shows (Blade Runner, Lost, The Walking Dead), and discussions of important issues in the science fiction and fantasy genres (Marv Wolfman, David Brin). Whether an aficionado or merely curious, you’re sure to find something that will intrigue, stimulate, and inspire.

Contributed by arts and humanities producer John Menier

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Even Billionaire Philanthropists Need Their Own GPS!
Sir Richard Branson Takes The Long Road to UC San Diego

8232A visit to UC San Diego from Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy , was bound to cause a stir. But how do you explain his late arrival to a campus event on drug use and HIV in Tijuana? His flight was on time, but his driver took him to the wrong university! No matter. Moderator Steffanie Strathdee deftly hosts a fascinating discussion with Proyecto El Cuete research director Dr. Patricia Gonzalez-Zuniga and author Jon Cohen that gets even better when Branson finally takes the stage and opens with a hilarious, off-color joke. Strathdee also previews material she will be presenting this week at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Watch Drug Decriminalization and Tijuana’s AIDS Epidemic with Sir Richard Branson.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Tragedy of Beliefs and Their Reality

8232In her work monitoring populations of marine mammals for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Barbara Taylor has had to deal with sad endings. First, she was involved in the determination that the Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin, existed no more. And now she and those she toils with are faced with the reality that the endearing little Vaquita, who lives only a few hundred miles from us here in Southern California will vanish on their watch. Why? It’s a sad saga that like many tragedies is driven by human greed.

Similar to the belief that ground Rhino horn is a potion that increases virility, or that bear paws are an aphrodisiac, the belief that consuming the swim bladders of fish enhances complexion and boosts fertility is driving Asian consumers to once again abet the extinction of another host of creatures.

This greedy tragedy starts again in Asia. The population of the traditionally preferred source of swim bladders, a large Asian in-shore fish called the yellow croaker, has plummeted due to a host of causes (but in no small part to overfishing). With the scarcity, the value of such bladders increased, so the Asian market has spread its nets, pun intended – to find another source for the storied swim bladders.

Enter the Totoaba, another giant croaker, technically the largest member of the drum family, found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California. The Totoaba, which grows to a size often described as on par with an NFL offensive lineman, has a huge swim bladder which regulates its buoyancy. The Totoaba is also a delicious fish to eat. Once abundant, it was the subject of an intensive fishery. Coupled with other environmental insults such as the diversion of river flows into the Gulf of California, their numbers have been drastically reduced. Mexico banned the fishery in 1975 and it is internationally recognized as an endangered species. But that didn’t stop the fishing for Totoaba. The scarcity and belief in the mythical powers of swim bladders have made even this protected fish a prime target.

Which brings us to yet another critically endangered sea creature – the endearing little Vaquita or “little cow.” The smallest and rarest of all the porpoises, and the rarest cetacean in all of the world’s seas, the Vaquita is Mexico’s only endemic marine mammal. It only lives in the far northern reaches of the Gulf of California. With a range that overlaps the spawning migrations of Totoaba, the tiny Vaquita with its distinctive make-up like facial markings is directly in the cross-hairs of pirate fisherman and the criminal enterprise which supports them. These pirates use huge illegal gillnets to ensnare the Totoaba. At never more than five-feet long, the Vaquita also become trapped in these indiscriminate trawls and perish – dying just as you or I would trapped in a net anchored to the bottom of the sea, struggling to get free for a breath of air.

The scarcity of Totoaba has made their swim bladders an actual instrument of investment in Asia where they are purchased and locked away. Their value becoming akin to that of illicit drugs – bringing tens of thousands of dollars for a single prime swim bladder and arousing the involvement of even drug cartels. With only profit in mind, the pirates take only the swim bladders and leave the shores of Baja California littered with the withering carcasses of Totoaba and everything else their nets destroy, from Humpback whales, to sea-turtles, to earth’s most endangered little porpoise.

The bottom line in this sad saga of myth-driven human misdeeds is that this little creature, inhabiting earth for perhaps 11 million years but known to us only since 1958, is under imminent threat of extinction. As it peacefully forages for small fish and shrimp in the warm, nutrient-rich waters of the northern Gulf of California it faces a looming threat and may soon vanish – very soon.

Barbara Taylor and an international team of experts have established that there are only about 60 Vaquita remaining. She and many others are leading an heroic effort to save our little neighbor, but there may not be time to prevent the Vaquita’s destruction. Drastic, immediate and direct measures must be taken and enforced – or not only Barbara, but all of us, will very soon face a very sad ending to this story of greed and our own failure to act on behalf of defenseless victims.

Learn more by watching Net Loss: New Abundance Estimate Reveals That Mexico’s Vaquita Faces Imminent Extinction Due to Illegal Fishing.

——–

Contributed by science producer Rich Wargo

facebooktwittergoogle_plus