Category Archives: Osher Distinguished Lecture Series

How a Year in Space Affects the Human Body

Science fiction has long promised an age of interplanetary human existence. Scenes of spaceships hopping from one galaxy to the next are so common, it seems almost inevitable that future generations will one day vacation on Mars. But, if we are ever going to achieve life on other planets, we first have to figure out if the human body can tolerate it.

Some of the best data we have on the subject comes from American astronaut Scott Kelly. Kelly spent a year living on the International Space Station while his twin brother Mark, also an astronaut, was on Earth. Scientists from all over the country studied the impact life in space had on Scott Kelly, and compared changes in his body to his brother.

One of those scientists was UC San Diego Professor of Medicine, Michael G. Ziegler, MD. In a recent talk at UC San Diego Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Ziegler detailed some of the more interesting findings from the study. Scott Kelly lost weight. There were significant changes to his gene expression. He lost collagen. His carotid artery thickened. His bones became less dense. His eye shape changed, forcing him to wear glasses. While he was in space, his performance on cognitive tests improved. But, his performance plummeted after returning to Earth, and never quite returned to pre-launch levels.

Despite all of this, Ziegler has reason to be hopeful about long-term space travel. He says the year in space study illuminated many of the challenges, and gave researchers some ideas of how to overcome them. Still, it’s probably a little early to start planning your trip to the red planet.

Watch — How a Year in Space Affects the Human Body with Dr. Michael G. Ziegler — Osher UC San Diego

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Engineering Mosquitos to Fight Malaria

Mosquitos are the deadliest animal on Earth. They spread diseases like yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus and malaria. Malaria alone killed 435,000 people and infected another 219 million in 2017 according to the World Health Organization. There are widespread efforts to combat mosquito-borne illnesses, including revolutionary new gene editing techniques.

Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz, biologists at UC San Diego, have been researching gene drives – systems that allow scientists to quickly push genes through entire populations. Typically, genetic information from each parent is combined and passed down to their children. Think back to Punnett squares from high school biology. If one parent has blonde hair and the other has brown hair, the brunette would have to carry a recessive blonde gene for any of their children to be blonde. But, gene drives change that. Gantz and Bier came up with a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing technique to insert self-editing genes into mosquitos, so preferred traits are always passed down. Their research shows these traits can take over entire populations within 10 generations, one to two years for mosquitos.

In a recent talk at UC San Diego Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Bier dove into the details of exactly how gene drives work, and their many potential applications.

Watch — Engineering Mosquitos to Fight Malaria with Ethan Bier — Osher UC San Diego

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Beyond 2018: What’s Next for Congress and Country as a Whole

The results of the 2018 midterm elections are in, but what’s next? Will a Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate be able to work together? What do the results mean for 2020? And, what should Democrats do to capitalize on midterm gains? Professor Emeritus Sanford A. Lakoff shared his thoughts on those questions and more at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego Extension. He begins by looking at midterm turnout, changing demographics, and increasing political polarization. He notes that many point to the Gingrich Revolution as the beginning of modern-day polarization, and suggests President Trump has only added to the trend.

But, there is also division within the Democratic Party. Several newly-elected representatives have pledged not to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Lakoff argues that would be a mistake. He cautions that the coalition risks becoming a “Tea Party of the Left” if they are unwilling to compromise, especially without holding either the Senate or the Presidency. He suggests Pelosi should pledge to only serve as Speaker until 2020, and prepare new Democratic representatives to take on leadership positions in the future.

Lakoff then lays out what he believes should be the top priorities for Democrats over the next two years. His list includes healthcare, immigration reform, climate change, and gun control. While he admits it’s unlikely Democrats will make significant progress on the issues, Lakoff says the effort would show voters what they can expect should Democrats take the Senate and White House in 2020. Lakoff also suggests lawmakers go beyond legislation, and set up think tanks and non-partisan commissions on the major issues of our time. Those include electoral reform, medical coverage, gun violence, the national debt, and ensuring employment with the development of artificial intelligence. But, the ability to make any progress on any of these issues may rest on an unpredictable variable: the Robert Mueller investigation.

Watch Breaking Down the 2018 Midterm Election Results with Professor Emeritus Sanford Lakoff — Osher UC San Diego

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