Alternet Articles

  • Disruptive #10: Sports Genomics

    DISRUPTIVE #10: Sports Genomics

    McNally:
    Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. 

    Can sneaker endorsements, cereals, protein powders or electrolyte cocktails get any of us closer to the peak level performance of our favorite athletes? Despite billions in sales, the answer is probably no. But how about an elite athlete’s biology?

    With 100 trillion cells in the human body, bacteria outnumber our own human cells 2 to 1, and bacteria in our gut affect all our key organ functions. They play a role in our health, development and wellness, including endurance, recovery and mental aptitude.

    What if we could tap the gut bacteria of elite athletes to produce customized probiotics – and what if those probiotics could give recipients access to some of the biological advantages that make those athletes elite?

    A former NBA hopeful in the lab of George Church at the Wyss Institute asked that question a couple of years ago and the lab is now moving toward a startup to bring such products to market.

    In related news, consider this: With 2015 sales of $115B, sports-based nutraceuticals made up the largest share of the global nutraceutical market, but probiotic-focused sports products made up less than 1% of those sales.

    I’ll talk with Wyss Research Fellow JONATHAN SCHEIMAN and – a previous guest on Disruptive – Wyss core-faculty member GEORGE CHURCH.
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  • Disruptive Episode #7 – FISSEQ – Fluorescent In Situ Sequencing

    DISRUPTIVE #7: FISSEQ – Fluorescent In Situ RNA Sequencing
    Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. 

    One of today’s guests, George Church, has made the point that as medicine moves from very blunt instruments – where you had to open up a chest all the way, for example, or had to use molecules that would hit almost every part of your body – now molecules can find one base pair out of six billion and change it – He says we need observational tools that can deal with that high level of resolution and comprehensiveness.

    And we’re going to talk about one such tool. Fluorescent in situ RNA sequencing – F-I-S-S-E-Q – or FISSEQ.

    Working copies of active genes — called messenger RNAs or mRNAs — are strategically positioned throughout living tissues, and their location often helps regulate how cells and tissues grow and develop. Until recently, to analyze many mRNAs simultaneously, scientists had to grind cells to a pulp, which left them unable to pinpoint where those mRNAs actually sat within the cell.

    Now a team at the Wyss Institute and Harvard Medical School has developed a new method that allows scientists to pinpoint thousands of mRNAs and other types of RNAs at once – in intact cells.

    FISSEQ could lead to earlier cancer diagnosis, help biologists better understand embryonic development, and even help map the neurons of the brain.

    I’ll talk with George Church, Wyss Core Faculty member and co-founder of ReadCoor, the startup that will bring FISSEQ to market; Wyss lead senior scientist, Rich Terry, President, Co-Founder, and CTO of ReadCoor; and Shawn Marcell, Wyss Entrepreneur-in-Residence and founding Chairman/CEO of ReadCoor.

    The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

    Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than any entity yet designed by humans. 

    By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.
[02:06]

    George Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT. He’s Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard. He has co-founded a number of companies, including ReadCoor.

    Church earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University in two years and a PhD from Harvard. Honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He has coauthored hundreds of scientific papers, more than sixty patents, and the book, “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.”  [02:41]

    To set the context for this episode, George Church offers an overview of the evolution of sequencing technology –

    Church:       It dates back at least to the ’60s when RNA sequencing and protein sequencing were the main ways of getting insight. In the mid-’70s, ways to do DNA sequencing based on electrophoresis came into play. Those were automated and made less radioactive, more fluorescent. In the ’80s and ’90s, it switched from slab electrophoresis, capillary electrophoresis. None of these scaled particularly well.

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  • Q&A: SHERRY TURKLE, Psychologist & Author – ALONE TOGETHER
     

    Aired 02/13/11

    How much technology do you use? Email, texting, facebook, twitter, second life, etc. How's it working for you? Has it freed you up, given you more time, or has it added new demands to your life that actually make you feel you have less time? If you're using social media regularly, do you feel more connected with your friends and family or less?

    Clinical psychologist SHERRY TURKLE has been studying our relationship with technology for most of her career, and has written several books about what she's experienced and learned. Of her newest, ALONE TOGETHER, she has said, "This is a book of repentance. I have been studying computers and people for thirty years. I didn't see several important things. I got some important things wrong." I was already interested in talking to her, but that really grabbed my attention. I'm interested in people, maybe especially experts, who are willing to change their minds.

    Turkle writes: "Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void,but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down."

    http://www.alonetogetherbook.com/
  • System Failure: We Are Approaching the End of Society As We Know It — And That May Be a Good Thing
     

    Paul Gilding says it’s time to stop worrying about climate change; global crisis is no longer avoidable. He believes the Great Disruption started in 2008, as spiking food and oil prices signaled the end of Economic Growth 1.0 based on consumption and waste. Coming decades will see loss, suffering and conflict, but he believes the crisis offers us both an unmatched business opportunity as old industries collapse to be replaced by new ones, and a chance to replace our addiction to growth with an ethic of sustainability.

    Gilding has been involved with activist campaigns on a wide variety of issues and served as executive director of Greenpeace Australia and Greenpeace International. He founded Ecos Corporation in 1995, consulting to some of the world’s largest corporations on issues of sustainability until its sale in 2008. Gilding’s first book is The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.

    Terrence McNally: Could you briefly talk about your path to the work you do today?

    Paul Gilding: I started as an activist really very young. Age 14, 15, I got involved in a variety of issues and went on from there through 19 years of traditional activism, more on the human social side than the environmental side. Then through the late ’70s to early ’80s, I got involved in the anti-nuclear weapons and nuclear war movement. That led to a greater understanding of environmental issues, which then led to Greenpeace and very focused direct-action campaigns against corporate pollution. I ended up head of Greenpeace International.

    I left there in the mid ’90s, focused on the role of markets and companies. How could we mobilize the power of markets as a force for good in this area? For the next 15 years I focused on that question, working in the corporate sector, running two companies that I built. Really trying to see if you can drive change through business — from the point of view of self-interest, recognizing that business is driven by making money. That’s their core metric.

    Then about four or five years ago, I came to the conclusion that we really had done our best in the environmental and social change movements, but the ecological and system pressures we’d brought to bear on the global ecosystem were now in full flight. Change is going to be unstoppable.

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  • Can Computer Games Save Us All? New Research Shows How Gaming Can Help Cure Our Social Ills
     

    February 21, 2012

    Tech futurist and game designer Jane McGonigle on how computer games can help the fight against AIDS, heal disabilities, increase optimism, and make us better people.

    There are 183 million active computer game players in the United States. The average young person will spend 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21. More than 5 million “extreme” gamers in the U.S. play an average of 45 hours a week. Videogames took in about $15.5 billion last year.

    Most of what you hear about this phenomenon is doom and gloom – people becoming addicted, isolated and socially inept. Some worry that gaming is pulling people away from productive work, fulfilling relationships and real life. But game designer Jane McGonigal says the reason for the mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In a very popular TED talk — and in her first book, Reality Is Broken, just out in paperback – she suggests we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

    Jane McGonigal is the director of Game R&D at the Institute for the Future and creative director of Social Chocolate. BusinessWeek called her “one of the ten most important innovators to watch.” Oprah magazine thinks she’s “one of the twenty most inspiring women in the world.” And MIT Technology Review named her “one of top 35 innovators changing the world through technology.”

    Terrence McNally interviewed McGonigal for AlterNet by phone from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Terrence McNally: I see four strands in what I’ve read about you and your work: Buddhism, games, positive psychology, and entrepreneurism. How do you describe your path?

    Jane McGonigal: That’s a pretty good breakdown, I like it. I think, first and foremost, I try to help people unleash their real-life superpowers to bring out the best in them so they achieve epic wins lead extraordinary lives, and be of extraord

    Link: Full Interview

  • Economic Armageddon: Gretchen Morgensen on How Wall Street Broke the Economy

    NYT business reporter Gretchen Morgensen discusses her new book and the corruption of the mortgage lending industry.

    July 26, 2011  | Gretchen Morgensen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her “trenchant and incisive” coverage of Wall Street and has been on that beat ever since. Her new book, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (written with Joshua Rosner), lays out the toxic interplay between Washington, Wall Street and corrupt mortgage lenders that led to the meltdown. It examines how the watchdogs who were supposed to protect us from financial harm were actually complicit in creating the crisis.

    Gretchen Morgenson is a business reporter and columnist at the New York Times, where she also serves as assistant business and financial editor. Prior to joining the Times in 1998, she worked as a broker at Dean Witter in the 1980s, and as a reporter at Forbes, Worth, and Money magazines.

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  • Good Without God: Why “Non-Religious” Is the Fastest-Growing Preference in America

    Authors Phil Goldberg and Greg Epstein share their provocative views on why a quarter of Americans now call themselves agnostic, atheist or nonreligious.

    May 10, 2011 | Currently more than one billion people around the world define themselves as agnostic, atheist or nonreligious — including 15 percent of Americans. Perhaps more striking, “nonreligious” is not only the fastest growing religious preference in the U.S., but also the only one to increase its percentage in every state over the past generation.

    Phil Goldberg and Greg Epstein have provocative perspectives on who these people are, what they believe, and how they arrived at their worldviews and their moral codes.

    In February, 1968, the Beatles went to India for an extended stay with their new guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness.

    With these words, interfaith minister Goldberg begins American Veda, his look at India’s impact on Western culture. From Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, succeeding generations absorbed India’s “science of consciousness,” and millions have come to accept and live by the central teaching of Vedic wisdom: “Truth is One, the wise call it by many names.”

    Acccording to Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, recent bestsellers from Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris stress the irrationality of belief and what’s wrong with religion, while offering few positive alternatives. In Good without God, Epstein explains how humanists strive to live well, build community, uphold ethical values, and lift the human spirit…all without a god. “It’s not enough to just ‘discover’ the meaning of life. Humanism is concerned with one of the most important ethical questions—what we do once we’ve found purpose in life.”

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  • How You Can Have a Billion-Dollar Income in America and Pay No Taxes

    Tax journalist David Cay Johnston explains what’s so rotten about our taxation system and the distribution of wealth in this country.

    April 20, 2011  | When I was growing up, people joked about how much they hated taxes, but they paid them, and we had a solid middle-class society. Real wages rose from WWII through 1973.

    Today one of our two major political parties — nationally and in state capitals — is unwilling to consider raising taxes no matter the circumstances. Though most of Washington’s officials and media are hysterical about the deficit, and willing to hurt anyone in an effort to reduce it, both parties voted in December to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans for two more years.http://aworldthatjustmightwork.com/wordpress/wp-admin/post.php?post=947&action=edit

    Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year. Its CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, recently replaced Paul Volcker as leader of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board as its name was changed to the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

    David Cay Johnston worked as an investigative reporter for several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times from 1976 to 1988, and the New York Times from 1995-2008 where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his innovative coverage of our tax system. He now teaches at Syracuse University College of Law and Whitman School of Management and writes a column at Tax.com. He is the author of two bestsellers, Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch. His next book, The Fine Print, will be published later this year.

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  • Alone Together: Why We’ve Started Expecting More from Technology and Less from Each Other

    Author Sherry Turkle on her new book arguing that relentless connection through technology leads to a new solitude.

    March 18, 2011  |   “This is a book of repentance,” Sherry Turkle has said of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. “I have been studying computers and people for thirty years. I didn’t see several important things. I got some important things wrong.”

    “Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude.”

    Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. A licensed clinical psychologist, Sherry is the author of several books including The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Alone Together completes a trilogy.

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  • Why Germany Has It So Good — and Why America Is Going Down the Drain

    Germans have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, and nursing care. Why the US pales in comparison.

    October 14, 2010 | While the bad news of the Euro crisis makes headlines in the US, we hear next to nothing about a quiet revolution in Europe. The European Union, 27 member nations with a half billion people, has become the largest, wealthiest trading bloc in the world, producing nearly a third of the world’s economy — nearly as large as the US and China combined. Europe has more Fortune 500 companies than either the US, China or Japan.

    European nations spend far less than the United States for universal healthcare rated by the World Health Organization as the best in the world, even as U.S. health care is ranked 37th. Europe leads in confronting global climate change with renewable energy technologies, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the process. Europe is twice as energy efficient as the US and their ecological “footprint” (the amount of the earth’s capacity that a population consumes) is about half that of the United States for the same standard of living.

    Unemployment in the US is widespread and becoming chronic, but when Americans have jobs, we work much longer hours than our peers in Europe. Before the recession, Americans were working 1,804 hours per year versus 1,436 hours for Germans — the equivalent of nine extra 40-hour weeks per year.

    In his new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, Thomas Geoghegan makes a strong case that European social democracies — particularly Germany — have some lessons and models that might make life a lot more livable. Germans have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, and nursing care. But you’ve heard the arguments for years about how those wussy Europeans can’t compete in a global economy. You’ve heard that so many times, you might believe it. But like so many things, the media repeats endlessly, it’s just not true.

    According to Geoghegan, “Since 2003, it’s not China but Germany, that colossus of European socialism, that has either led the world in export sales or at least been tied for first. Even as we in the United States fall more deeply into the clutches of our foreign creditors — China foremost among them — Germany has somehow managed to create a high-wage, unionized economy without shipping all its jobs abroad or creating a massive trade deficit, or any trade deficit at all. And even as the Germans outsell the United States, they manage to take six weeks of vacation every year. They’re beating us with one hand tied behind their back.”

    Thomas Geoghegan, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, is a labor lawyer with Despres, Schwartz and Geoghegan in Chicago. He has been a staff writer and contributing writer to The New Republic, and his work has appeared in many other journals. Geoghagen ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Congressional primary to succeed Rahm Emanuel, and is the author of six books including Whose Side Are You on, The Secret Lives of Citizens, and, most recently, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?

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