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:

3: Biology through the lens of a high-speed camera – Science: A Candle In The Dark

A bladderwort. Image via Dr. Ulrike Müller.

Science: A Candle In The Dark
Episode 3
28 April
Host: Dr. Madhusudan Katti
Guest: Dr. Ulrike Müller
Commentary: Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones

Topic: Biomechanics applies principles from physics and engineering to understand how living organisms move and function as living machines. At the same time, an engineering perspective can be quite limiting in understanding how living systems evolve, because engineers are often focused on finding and designing optimal solutions, whereas evolution rewards solutions that are just good enough. Using high-speed cameras to observe and analyze in detail the too-fast-for-the-naked-eye-to-see movements of fish, and other small organisms—insects, carnivorous bladderworts (see image above)—Fresno State biologist Dr. Ulrike Müller studies how these tiny creatures seemingly defy engineering to move in remarkably efficient ways. Dr. Müller shares insights from her research, some thoughts on the silly creationist notion of intelligent design, and on structural constraints in education systems that limit the participation of women and other minorities in science. The interview with Dr, Brady is followed by a commentary by Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones on urban water policy and what social science tells us about human behavior in the context of California’s ongoing drought, and how science can inform policy during this crisis.

Note: Pardon the slight glitch in the recording where we were unable to capture the opening few seconds of the show, so it seems as if we are jumping into the middle of it – but its only a few seconds.