What Happened When Modern Humans Met Neanderthals?

In short, they interbred, according to Svante Pääbo, a Swedish biologist and pioneer of paleogenetics, the study of preserved genetic material from the remains of ancient organisms, including ancient human DNA. He has served as director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, since 1997.

He explains in this lecture that Neanderthals and Denisovans have a common ancestor in Africa. About half a million years ago, these species of humans came out of Africa and evolved into what we call Neanderthals in Western Eurasia and Denisovans in Eastern Eurasia. Much later modern humans appeared in Africa and then spread, initially to the Middle East, then to Eurasia where they encountered Neanderthals and Denisovans. Eventually, those earlier species became extinct, replaced by modern humans.

Pääbo’s lab famously retrieved and sequenced ancient Neanderthal DNA and produced a high-quality genome sequence that allowed for the reconstruction of the recent evolutionary history of our species. Once the genome was sequenced and studied it became apparent that ancient and modern humans interbred. In fact, most present-day humans have some Neanderthal DNA.

Svante Pääbo’s was selected by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the UC San Diego as the recipient of the 2018 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. He gave this fascinating lecture on that occasion.

Watch A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins with Svante Pääbo – 2018 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest

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

Young People’s Concert

“My music is best understood by children and animals.”
– Igor Stravinsky

Each year the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus inaugurates its new season with a presentation for San Diego-area students. The Young People’s Concert, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla and hosted by Music Director/Conductor Steven Schick, aims to introduce students to the symphony and encourage an active interest in music. Schick guides the audience through the intricacies of the orchestra by means of excerpts from two works appearing on the full concert program, Tan Dun’s “Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra” (also known simply as the “Water Concerto”) and Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.”

Though very different in form and style, these pieces are each reflective of the overall theme Schick has chosen for the 2018/19 season: Lineage. Tan Dun drew inspiration for the “Water Concerto” from his childhood in rural China, noting the paramount importance of water in everyday life and, indeed, as the source of life itself. In that sense water becomes a truly universal instrument, one instantly familiar to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Set half a world away, Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” evokes childhood memories of Russian Shrovetide fairs, and in particular the puppet theater that was a popular feature of those festivals. Originally written as a ballet for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, “Petrushka” went on to become a concert staple and one of Stravinsky’s most beloved scores.

Between excerpts Schick and orchestra musicians answer questions from the audience, such as “Why does the harp have different color strings?” (an excellent question) and “How long have the violinists been playing?” This interactivity, sadly uncommon in orchestral music circles, de-mystifies symphonic practice for the uninitiated and helps the students to gain an appreciation for the process of rehearsing and performing as a unified ensemble. Throughout, Steven Schick emphasizes the joy to be found both in collaboration and in active listening.

Watch Young People’s Concert 2018 – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

Social Media and Your Job Search

What do photos of your wild spring break trip and poorly defined career objectives have in common? Neither belong on LinkedIn. Your online presence should tell the story of who you are and where you want to be.

Linda Sierra of Toft Group has extensive experience as a recruiter and human resources professional. She shares how to get your resume to the right companies using keywords, thoughtful messaging, and a well-crafted LinkedIn profile.

Watch LinkedIn and the Art of Online Networking with Linda Sierra – Job Won

Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth

Myths symbolize ideas, values, history and other issues that are important to a people. They may be true or false, mundane or fantastic; their significance is their meaning, not their narrative content.

Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. Its conclusions tentatively may be true or false, but its significance is its explanatory power: one has confidence in the process of science, even though some explanations change over time.

Myth and science thus seem very different, but each has been utilized by proponents of both sides of the Christian creationism and evolution controversy. Understanding this role is essential in comprehending (much less mediating) this persistent conflict.

Eugenie C. Scott served as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an organization that works to keep publicly (though not scientifically) controversial topics like evolution and climate change in the public schools. Her work has involved a mixture of science, communication, religion, education, law, and community activism.

Watch Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth