Category Archives: Science

Recommended for You

We use recommender system all the time. A website will recommend something to you based on what you’ve watched, listened to, bought or who you’ve friended on Facebook. These systems attempt to predict your preferences based on past interactions.

The systems range from simple statistical approaches like Amazon’s people who bought X also bought Y links, to complex Artificial Intelligence-based approaches that drive feed ranking on sites like Facebook.

Julian McAuley, UC San Diego Computer Science and Engineering, explores the modeling techniques behind personalized recommendation technology on the web and the different systems that we encounter.

He reminds us that we often find these recommendations a bit “creepy,” but that actually the recommender system has no human intelligence; it’s really a simple statistical process. They focus on short-term predictions but could they be adapted to make long-term predictions or estimate more subjective qualities? Would that be bad?

Watch How Do Websites Personalize Recommendations for Me? – Exploring Ethics

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Drug Wars: A New Hope

Why do some people develop addictions and others don’t? Does that provide insight in how to mediate addictive responses and behaviors? Join The Scripps Research Institutes’ Olivier George as he talks about his research and shares insights into how the brain responds to a variety of drugs, both illicit and prescription – as well as alcohol and nicotine – and new directions in developing novel therapies to reduce compulsive drug use and abuse.

Watch Drug Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Finding New Therapies to Fight Drug Addiction with Olivier George – Saturday Science at Scripps Research

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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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