How a Year in Space Affects the Human Body

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

We Are All Africans

Svante Pääbo once said, “We are all Africans, either living in Africa or in recent exile from Africa.”

It is now abundantly clear that Africa was the “cradle of humanity,” with multiple waves of hominins arising on that continent and spreading across the old world, eventually being effectively displaced by our own species, which also arose in Africa.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the strong emphasis of anthropogeny is on the continent of Africa with wide-ranging studies including genetic, paleontological, archeological, primatological, climatological, sociocultural and more.

This CARTA symposium focuses on the contributions of scientists and scholars of anthropogeny who live and work in Africa.

Browse more programs in Anthropogeny: The Perspective from Africa.

Engineering Mosquitos to Fight Malaria

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

Why Do People Reject Good Science?

Many people will consider factual information and it will change their understanding. But there are some for whom, “Providing more, accurate information doesn’t seem to change their opinions or make them alter their erroneous views,” says Eugenie Scott, Founding Executive Director of National Center for Science Education. For example, Americans have a much lower incidence of acceptance of evolution than people in any other developed country in the world. The same is true about the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, despite the scientific evidence for both.

What explains this knowledge resistance?

We all view factual information through a filter of ideology, values, and group identification but these filters often make ideas very resistant to change because they prevent us from looking dispassionately at empirical evidence, facts and logic. Scott explores what drives knowledge resistance and what can break it down.

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 Why Do People Reject Good Science?

Marvelous Machines

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s popular lecture series, “Science on Saturday,” returns to UCTV with four different lectures, each exploring the theme “Marvelous Machines.” These presentations are targeted to middle and high school students so we can all get our science on.

Checkout these lectures:
Biomolecular Action Movies: Flash Imaging With X-ray Lasers, with Matthias Frank and Megan Shelby

Biomedical Accelerator Mass Spectrometry: Improving Human Health One Atom at a Time with scientist Mike Malfatti

Laser Plasma Accelerators: Riding the Wave to the Next Generation X-Ray Light Source, by Felicie Albert

The Evolution of Computing Technologies: From Following Instructions to Learning, by Katherine Lewis

Browse more programs in Field Trip at the Lab: Science on Saturday.