At the beginning of November 2018, through the collaboration of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), BioScience Talks once again hit the road to attend ASGSR's Annual Meeting. This year's event was held in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. Once again, we had the opportunity to speak with numerous eminent presenters and participants at the meeting, who discussed numerous topics on the cutting edge of space-related research. The topics ranged from the epigenetics of plants in space to zero-gravity plumbing—and just about everything in between.
Natural history specimens housed in museums, herbaria, and other research collections are revolutionizing science—largely as a result of growing efforts to digitize samples and share data among many users.
To meet the robust promise of digital collections, the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) has developed a national agenda that leverages new techniques and capabilities to create what they call the Extended Specimen Network. Members of BCoN join us on this episode of BioScience Talks to describe the newly conceived network and to talk about its potential to change the way science is performed—both now and in the future. Pictured above are our guests at a National Press Club briefing where they formally released their report (from left to right: David Jennings, Andrew Bentley, Linda Ford, Anna Monfils, Jennifer Zaspel, John Bates, Barbara Thiers, and Robert Gropp). Photograph: Samuel Hurd.
The importance of human access to adequate food could not be more clear; however, many questions surround the provision of food among and within countries. What obligations do nations have to provide food for their citizens? Is inequality in food availability a problem that requires political action, or is it simply an unfortunate side effect of food distribution systems and landscapes' ability to produce calories for those who live on them?
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Paolo D'Odorico of the University of California, Berkley, and his colleagues present these questions through the framework of human rights, delving into the various ways in which food availability and inequality are affected by trade. Drawing from a wealth of data, the authors find that, broadly speaking, trade tends to reduce food inequality. But joining us in this episode of BioScience Talks, Dr. D'Odorico cautions that more complex phenomena may lie beneath the surface, confounding simplistic explanations.
In recent years, calls to preserve greater swaths of the Earth's land- and seascapes have grown. In particular, numerous conservationists have called for the protection of half of the planet's surface, a bold initiative that would preserve much of the world's existing biodiversity and ecosystem function. However, the path to such a "half-Earth" preservation model lies largely in uncharted territory, with many potential pitfalls along the way.
Writing in BioScience, Dr. Thomas Campagnaro of the University of Padova, in Italy, and his colleagues elucidate one possible route to better landscape preservation. In their article, the authors describe Natura 2000, the world's largest conservation network. Based in the European Union, the network relies on strong governance, flexible designations, and scientific expertise to produce reliable conservation outcomes.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Dr. Campagnaro is joined by coauthors Tommaso Sitzia, also of the University of Padova, and Erle Ellis, of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to discuss the network and the prospects for scaling it up to a planetary scale.
New tools are making it easier to understand not only our genetic code but also the ways that the code's three-dimensional structure contributes to gene expression. This understanding will be vital in the search for cures to diseases with multiple and complex causes, such as lupus. On this episode of BioScience Talks, we discuss one such tool. It's the product of a collaboration among data scientists, medical scientists, and software engineers, and the new "xapp" allows researchers to view the 3D, looped structure of chromatin and examine the ways in which those loops affect our genes' expression.
Richard Pelikan, a bioinformatician at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and Austin Schwinn, a data scientist at Exaptive, joined us on this episode to discuss the collaboration, epigenetics, chromatin looping, and the future of understanding human disease. Images discussed in the podcast can be found below the links.