Updating our Views on Nature and How to Save it

What is nature? What does it mean to preserve, or save it? Science writer Emma Marris says one common definition of nature in North America is the way any given place was before European explorers arrived and began changing the landscape. Therefore, saving nature would mean returning the land to how it was before their arrival. But, she says that idea is flawed because there are countless examples of land management by indigenous people: relocating useful plants to new environments, creating systems to manage rainwater, and clearing land for crops. And, human impact on the environment goes back much more than a few hundred years. Marris notes that pretty much anywhere you look, there is evidence of major changes with the arrival of humans – in particular, the extinction of large land mammals like the woolly mammoth.

Today however, the planet is largely tailored entirely to human existence. Nearly 40% of the ice-free surface of the earth is agriculture. Domesticated livestock far outweighs wild animal life. Species have been moved around, in some cases wreaking havoc on ecosystem. And of course, there are growing impacts of climate change – even hitting places on the planet where humans have never lived.

Marris argues that in order to effectively conserve nature, we have to change our perception of what nature means. She says her old way of thinking, that nature was a pristine untouched and unchanged place didn’t match reality, because if left alone, all places will change. So, she came up with new definitions, including the idea of resource-intensive land management to keep certain culturally important lands as unchanged as possible, and also the idea of novel ecosystems where uncontrolled landscapes have transformed themselves.

With this updated understanding of what nature is, Marris proposes an updated take on conservation. She suggests dividing land into three different styles of management: restoration, innovation, and observation. In her exciting and hopeful talk at UC San Diego, Marris goes on to give concrete examples of how these strategies have worked, and might continue to work around the world.

Watch — The Future of Nature: Conservation in the Anthropocene with Emma Marris – Institute for Practical Ethics

Shaping Our Dynamic Microbiomes for Lifelong Health

Our life-spans are ever-increasing, but our health-spans are not, leading to long periods of unpleasant and expensive suffering with chronic conditions. Many of these conditions have recently been linked to the microbiome. We are constantly shaping our microbiomes through the foods we eat, the environments we experience, even the people we live and work with.

Through the American Gut Project, the largest crowdsourced and crowdfunded citizen-science project yet conducted, we now know about the microbiomes of many types of people, from the healthiest to the sickest. Potentially real-time analysis of our microbiomes could guide our daily decisions in a way that optimizes our microbiomes for extending our health-span. Although the potential benefits of such research are clear, what are the risks (e.g., privacy concerns) that need to be identified and addressed?

Rob Knight is Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering and Computer Science & Engineering and is Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego. He authored “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes” and co-authored “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System.” His work combines microbiology, DNA sequencing, ecology and computer science to understand the vast numbers of microbes that inhabit our bodies and our planet. He was recently honored with the 2017 Massry Prize for his microbiome research.

Watch Shaping Our Dynamic Microbiomes For Lifelong Health – Exploring Ethics

Your Brain on Advertisements

Advertisers are always looking to better understand consumers’ preferences and decision making. The application of neuroscience knowledge and techniques to answer market and media research questions is not new but in our digital age, the practice raises new questions about privacy, informed consent, and consumer autonomy in decision making. Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen explores the ethical concerns that arise and explains some of the tools used by advertisers in this growing field.

Watch My Brain Made Me Buy It: The Neuroethics of Advertising – Exploring Ethics

Can We Talk? Communicating Through the Cancer Journey

25296As our series on cancer continues, we take a look not at the symptoms of the disease but at the way we talk about the disease. The words we choose and the tone we employ can greatly impact the way patients, caregivers, medical professionals, and families move through the cancer journey.

In this unique look at conversations about cancer, professor Wayne Beach of San Diego State University shares audio and video examples of how communication occurs among those affected in the context of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Deborah Mayer, an advanced practice oncology nurse from the University of North Carolina follows with a look at the different meanings of the word “cancer,” the discomfort of difficult conversations, and the challenge of expressing basic fears.

Watch Communicating Through the Cancer Journey: Can We Talk? — Overthrowing the Emperor of all Maladies: Moving Forward Against Cancer Series — Exploring Ethics online now or click here to view the entire series.

Women in Science

Our recent series, “Women in Science” was so popular, it has been given it’s own subject page!

UCSD-TV wants to acknowledge the accomplishments of women in science, with the hope of nurturing more female scientists and encouraging other women to get involved in this exciting field.

There have been many great women scientists whose discoveries have been undercut based on their gender. For example, Rosalind Franklin remains the unsung hero who played a pivotal role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure with her X-ray diffraction images. She was out-shined by Watson and Crick, the two men who took full credit for the discovery.

And Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring,” faced many personal attacks on her intelligence and credibility because she was smart enough to recognize and brave enough to tell about the devastation caused by large chemical companies. These corporations claimed that because she was a woman her facts were not to be trusted.

Although we would like to think that these sort of prejudices have faded from society, it is important to remember heroes like Franklin and Carson to celebrate women’s scientific accomplishments of the past and support women’s future in science.

Available_on_iTunes_Badge_US-UK_110x40_0824Check out the Women in Science subject page and the podcasts available on iTunes!