Disruptive #10: Sports Genomics

Written on April 23rd, 2017

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

Written on October 5th, 2016

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

Written on August 6th, 2014
 

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

Written on July 5th, 2012
 

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

Written on April 5th, 2012
 

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