Category Archives: Science

From Stone Bowls to Unsuspected Superheroes

If rocks could talk – what could they tell us about the earth, history and maybe ourselves? Find out as collections manager Alex Hangsterfer and curator Richard Norris reveal the treasure trove of samples housed at Scripps. Hear some of the fascinating stories behind how these samples were collected and learn about the incredible variety of investigations that they enable – from plate tectonics to earthquakes to archaeology.

Watch Archives of the Scripps Geologic Collections: From Stone Bowls to Unsuspected Superheroes

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Feeling the Heat: The Biology of Ocean Warming

The effects of climate change on fauna and flora across the globe are more and more evident – the Pika has changed its range, and may disappear, sea stars have been visited by a withering collapse in population, insects from bark beetles to mosquitoes are inhabiting new territories bringing disease to humans and destruction to forests. And close to home, the ocean temperature recently hit the highest temperature ever recorded.

As our changing climate provides a natural laboratory for examining how organisms evolve adaptations to environmental extremes, Scripps’ Oceanography’s Ron Burton asks: can evolution keep up with rapid climate change or are most species likely to go extinct as temperatures rise?

Ron shares about the cutting-edge genetic tools he uses to understand how populations of tidepool animals cope with rapid temperature changes and how evolution has shaped those responses across the geographic range of each species.

Watch Feeling the Heat: The Biology of Ocean Warming

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Combatting the Scourge

Malaria has been described as “the perennial scourge of mankind,” with over 200 million cases reported annually resulting in up to 750,000 deaths and incalculable misery. The disease is most common in the tropical and subtropical regions that surround the equator, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia, but it may be found in any region where climatic conditions favor the growth and spread of the mosquito-borne parasite.

On-going global eradication efforts employing pesticides have been successful in southern Europe and the southern United States, but less so elsewhere. In recent years genomics has taken center stage in malaria research with the sequencing of both the malarial parasite and the human genome. One experimental application of this research is the production of genetically-modified mosquitoes that do not transmit malaria. Another new and promising technique is the gene drive, which combats malaria by introducing disruptive genes into wild populations of mosquitoes that interfere with the development of females.

The use of such radical measures unavoidably prompts serious bioethical concerns, including the possibilities of unforeseen mutations and broader ecological impacts. Ethicists also question whether we have the right to potentially eliminate a species. In her self-described role as a “moral philosopher” Laurie Zoloth (University of Chicago) has written and lectured extensively about these issues, arguing that:

In the 1960s, the world agreed that smallpox was a species worth eliminating. We should feel the same way about A. gambiae. And isn’t deploying a gene drive that specifically targets the mosquito species that carries malaria far better than using chemical sprays, such as pyrethroids, organochlorines and DDT (still used in some countries) that indiscriminately target any insect?

Though malaria and other insect-borne diseases have historically been associated with Third World poverty, Zoloth notes these maladies are no longer the exclusive province of underdeveloped tropical countries. As climate change results in greater and more widespread extremes of temperature, rainfall, and humidity, the range of mosquitoes is likely to increase, and with them the diseases they transmit including malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika. While acknowledging the dangers of meddling with the genetic status quo, Zoloth maintains that preoccupation with those risks is a luxury afforded only to those who are not at risk of losing a loved one to wrenching fevers and severe dehydration.

Zoloth concludes that in that light, gene drives and other genomic-based eradication methods represent the most moral and ethical choice available to scientists.

Watch May We Make the World?: Religious and Ethical Questions with Dr. Laurie Zoloth – Burke Lectureship

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Tool Use, Technology and the Evolution of the Human Mind

We “behaviorally modern humans” likely emerged more than 100,000 years ago in Africa, spread across that continent and eventually all over the planet, effectively replacing all closely related potentially competitive species. Among many possible explanations, was the co-evolution of the human mind with tool use and technology – ranging all the way from simple stone tools millions of years ago, to computers today.

Speakers in this series addresses this important process at all levels, from molecules to brain imaging, beginning with the potential link between early stone tool use and the parallel expansion of the human brain, to the control of fire and the invention of projectile weapons, all the way through reading and writing to current day technologies such as computers and 3D reality–perhaps with a look to the potential future of the human mind.

Browse more programs in CARTA: Impact of Tool Use and Technology on the Evolution of the Human Mind

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Your Brain on Advertisements

Advertisers are always looking to better understand consumers’ preferences and decision making. The application of neuroscience knowledge and techniques to answer market and media research questions is not new but in our digital age, the practice raises new questions about privacy, informed consent, and consumer autonomy in decision making. Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen explores the ethical concerns that arise and explains some of the tools used by advertisers in this growing field.

Watch My Brain Made Me Buy It: The Neuroethics of Advertising – Exploring Ethics

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