As synthetic biology emerges into the public sphere, so too does a discussion about the ethical and regulatory questions posed by the field. Because synthetic biology researchers will themselves have broad influence in both the field and the conversations surrounding it, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Wisconsin–Madison sought to shed light on their views. The group first identified a unique sample of synthetic biologists and researchers who focus on ethical, legal, and social issues, then polled them regarding their attitudes and values related to synbio.
For this episode of BioScience Talks, we are joined by Dr. Dietram Scheufele, who discusses the poll's results and also the ways in which synthetic biologists might best engage the public—as experts and as listeners—during and after the field's entrance onto the public and regulatory stage.
Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy, Annenberg School for Communication.
Improving training in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields is a major priority, crucial to the nation's economy and international competitiveness. However, to date, research evaluating the effectiveness of STEM training programs and initiatives has often been lacking.
Writing in BioScience, Alan Wilson of Auburn University, Eric Nagy of the Mountain Lake Biological Station at the University of Virginia, and their colleagues present an assessment of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site programs. They compared the scientific outcomes of demographically matched participants and non-participants and found substantial differences between the two groups. For instance, participants in the REU Site programs were more likely to obtain a STEM PhD and to receive awards, make scientific presentations, and publish the results of their research.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, Wilson and Nagy join us to explain their assessment approach and describe the research opportunities at the REU Site programs at their institutions.
Ticks pose numerous threats to human health and well-being, ranging from the familiar Lyme threat to spotted fever rickettsiosis and even mammalian meat allergies. For this special bonus episode of BioScience Talks, we chatted with Brian Allan of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who works with ticks hands on and leads important research on the ecology of infectious disease. He discussed tick species, their life stages and threats to human health, and the ways that people can avoid exposure to ticks during their most active periods. He also delved into recent research into the techniques and tactics that land managers are using to abate tick overabundance in the face of expanding ranges and growing numbers of many arthropod disease vectors.
To date, the conservation of global biodiversity has relied on a patchwork of international goals and national- and regional-level plans. Hampered by poor planning, competing interests, and an incomplete view of large-scale ecosystem function, these efforts are failing. Effective biodiversity conservation will instead require a broad-based approach that relies on the empirical evaluation of ecosystem dynamics and conservation actions.
Writing in BioScience, William Arlidge, E. J. Milner-Gulland, and colleagues present a unified framework to address these challenges: global mitigation hierarchies. These mitigation hierarchies encompass a four-step process of harm avoidance, minimization, remediation, and offsetting. The authors argue that by implementing such processes, global conservation priorities can be established in a way that bridges gaps in current regulatory regimes and enables more effective conservation. In this episode of BioScience Talks, Arlidge and Milner-Gulland join us to explain the approach in more detail and describe the possible paths to implementation.
The linkages between environmental health and human well-being are complex and dynamic, and researchers have developed numerous models for describing them. The models include attempts to bridge traditional academic boundaries, uniting fields of study under rubrics such as social–ecological frameworks, coupled human and natural systems, ecosystem services, and resilience theory. However, these efforts have been constrained by varying practices and a failure among practitioners to agree on consistent practices.
Writing in BioScience, Jiangxiao Qiu of the University of Florida and his colleagues describe this state of affairs and propose an alternative approach to understanding the interplay of social and ecological spheres: causal chains. The authors describe these chains as an "approach to identifying logical and ordered sequences of effects on how a system responds to interventions, actions, or perturbations." The idea was originally formed as result of a workshop funded by the Packard Foundation, and Dr. Qiu joins us in this episode to discuss causal chains and their implications for the future of policy and management.
In October 2017, through the collaboration of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), BioScience Talks hit the road. We attended ASGSR's annual meeting in Seattle, Washington, where we had the chance to speak with numerous presenters and participants about a diversity of space-related topics, ranging from the International Space Station (ISS) and zero-gravity plant growth to human health at high altitudes and space-based pharmaceutical development.
This special episode brings together the foremost thought leaders in space-related biology and physical science, highlighting the broad spectrum of research being conducted at unique venues such as and the ISS.
The positive mental health effects of nature exposure in urban environments are well known, and the literature on the subject is growing fast. However, many previous studies have relied only on cross-sectional data that offer coarse measurements of the phenomenon. Writing in BioScience, Dr. Andrea Mechelli of King's College London and his colleagues describe a new approach: the Urban Mind smartphone app. By collecting data several times daily, the app provides real-time information on both the environment and the subjective well-being of its users. Through this approach, Mechelli and his colleagues were able to quantify nature's effects on human well-being with previously unseen accuracy and timeliness. Dr. Mechelli joins us in this episode of BioScience Talks to discuss these findings and to explain the next steps for Urban Mind.
The benefits of specimen collection are well known. Natural-history archives are increasingly used by researchers to investigate evolutionary processes, examine the effects of climate and environmental change, explore the ecology of emerging diseases, and so on. However, the effects of specimen removal on the wild populations and communities is a question that has rarely been addressed. Writing in BioScience, Dr. Andrew Hope and his colleagues draw on historical data from a Long-Term Ecological Research site to examine the effects of one such specimen collection program. In this episode of the podcast, we discuss those results in particular, as well as broader the research opportunities afforded by natural-history collections.