9. A Biologist and a Sociologist talk about CRISPR! – #ScienceCandle


Science: A Candle In The Dark
Episode 9: A Biologist and a Sociologist talk about CRISPR!
October 2015
Host: Dr. Madhusudan Katti
Guests: Dr. Tricia Van Laar and Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones

Topic: The new DNA editing technique called CRISPR has been much in the science news feeds lately because of its exciting and perhaps frightening potential to enable the editing of genomes at levels of precision that may very well exceed the imaginations of some science fiction writers of yore who wrote about brave new worlds. In this edition of the podcast, you’re in for a treat with, with two very engaging speakers getting into it on the topic of DNA editing and what it means for biology and humanity. The conversation ended too soon for me, as the 30 minutes flew by and both Tricia Van Laar and Andrew Rhys Jones left my head is still aswirl with questions I meant to ask them. For the first time I wished the show was an hour long instead! But the great thing is that if you are able to attend the Café, you will get into it with them in person on Nov 2!

For more information about the Café and announcements about upcoming events, please visit our website, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

A Biologist and a Sociologist walk into a… CRISPR!

How would you like it if we had the ability to precisely edit out disease-causing genes from your, or your child’s, DNA? What if a relatively simple, cheap technique could fix specific mutations in our DNA? What if the same technique also allowed you to choose the color of your child’s hair or eyes? What if you could stop cancer from growing by editing out the cancer-causing mutations in your DNA? What if you could edit the genome of any species so precisely as to be able to effectively design them to have traits we desire, or to eliminate just the traits we don’t want?

Questions like these have inspired science-fiction ever since the early days of genetics, with authors like Aldous Huxley imagining (in 1930) a Brave New World full of such wondrous and frightening technologies and exploring their implications for human nature and society. What would Huxley have thought about modern genetics, when we actually have techniques that allow for precise editing of DNA, down to the nucleotide letter?

At the next Café Scientifique event, we will learn about CRISPR, a relatively new DNA-editing technique which has taken the world of genetics by storm, both because of its promise and because of its ethical implications. Dr. Tricia Van Laar, a new microbiologist in the Biology department at Fresno State, will give us an overview of CRISPR technology. Dr. Van Laar will then be joined by sociologist Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones, also from Fresno State, to discuss the broader social and ethical implications of these technologies. You are invited to join in this live discussion at Peeve’s Pub for next month’s Café event.

Here’s science writer Carl Zimmer giving a quick primer explaining CRISPR in 90-seconds:

Tune in to 88.1 FM KFCF radio at 3:30 PM on Tuesday, 27 October 2015, for a preview of the conversation to expect between the biologist and the sociologist. Drs. Van Laar and Jones will be the featured guests in the next episode of Science: A Candle In The Dark, which airs on Tuesday and will be available via podcast soon after.

Join us at Peeve’s Pub the following Monday for an evening with the two scholars where you can join in the discussion about CRISPR, the new biotechnologies, and what they might mean for the future of humanity.

When: Monday, 2 November 2015, 7:00 PM

Where: Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721.

Contact: 559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number).

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and/or share with your friends and family:

Updates from the Autism Spectrum – October 2015 Café


Is Autism on the rise, in the US and throughout the world? Maybe. Or is it something we are seeing more often today because medical science is getting better at diagnosing autism, and we are getting better at recognizing its many shades? Very likely. Is there really an epidemic of autism, as some, including a Presidential candidate or two, keep insisting? Probably not. Is there any link between vaccines and autism? NO. None, according to the best and most large-scale studies conducted till date. Is Autism really one disorder? No. It is better to think about autism as a spectrum of neurodevelopment disorders in how human brains work. And as we are discovering, the range of autistic brains is part of a broader spectrum of how diverse human brains are. Perhaps it is our growing awareness of this neurodiversity which is helping us appreciate the number of people on the autism spectrum and pushing our interpretations past the category of “disorder”, as described beautifully in Steve Silberman’s new bestseller Neurotribes.

Join us this October as Fresno State Neuropsychologist Dr. Amanda Mortimer brings us up to date with current scientific understanding of the autism spectrum. She will share how neurobiology and psychology shed light on the mechanisms through which autism manifests itself, its consequences for behavior, and applied behavioral analysis strategies to enable autistic individuals to function in “normal” society which is still struggling to accommodate neurodiversity. An old friend to the Central Valley Café Scientifique, Dr. Mortimer spoke a few years ago about her research on Dementia.

Dr. Mortimer touched on some of these topics when interviewed for the last episode (22 Sep 2015) of our radio show “Science: A Candle In The Dark“. Have a listen to the archived show via the #ScienceCandle podcast. And join us at Peeve’s Pub on October 5th for another informative Café Scientifique. See you there!

When: Monday, 5 October 2015, 7:00 PM

Where: Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact: 559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and/or share with your friends and family: