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
Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping us understand more about this complex and amazing organ.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s popular lecture series returns with four new episodes each relating to the brain. The lectures are aimed at a middle and high school level and presented by LLNL scientists in collaboration with high school science teachers. This is a great opportunity to get a look at the cutting-edge science in a friendly and understandable way. Explore the immensity of the human brain, its billions of neurons and trillions of connections, and the research that is helping understand more about this amazing organ.
Browse more programs in Field Trip at the Lab: Science on Saturday.
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
Jennifer Doudna is a leader in the CRISPR revolution. This new technology is a gene editing tool that manipulates DNA within organisms. The editing process has a wide variety of applications including correcting genetic defects, treating and preventing the spread of diseases and improving crops.
Doudna, Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at UC Berkeley, sat down to talk with Harry Kreisler about her life and how she came to be involved in this amazing discovery.
They also discuss how education and public advocacy can broaden insight into the ethical and policy dimensions of the biological revolution that is upon us.
Watch Unraveling CRISPR-Cas9 with Jennifer Doudna – Conversations with History