February 8, 2021 | OSHER LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE
OLLI's Study Group Committee announces a new series of talks:
Hosted by Craig Stephan and comprising two (perhaps more) series of talks on a variety of scientific topics by experts in the field from all over the U.S. and Canada, the talks will be held on Thursday afternoons starting variously at 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, depending on the availability and time zone of the speaker. The talks are nominally 45-60 minutes in length, with plenty of time afterwards for questions and discussion. They do not presuppose any scientific expertise on the part of the participants. Series 1 consists of five talks:
(1) February 18, 3:00 - 4:30 pm
Plasticity, epigenetics, & evolution
by Prof. David Pfennig, Univ. of North Carolina
Genes are widely regarded as the fundamental unit of heredity and source of all biological information. Yet, many organisms can respond to changes in their environment by altering their features––during their lifetime––via ‘developmental plasticity.’ Moreover, these environmentally modified traits can sometimes be passed to offspring in the absence of changes in genes; that is, acquired traits can be inherited ‘epigenetically’. In this talk, we will examine whether and how such environmentally induced changes to organismal development affect evolution. As we will see, research into developmental plasticity and epigenetics has major implications not only for evolution, but also for human health.
David Pfennig is professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer. His research focuses on how the interplay between evolution, ecology, and development shapes biodiversity. He has published numerous scientific papers, as well as a book - Evolution’s Wedge (with Karin Pfennig) - that seeks to integrate evolution and ecology. His research has been featured on The National Geographic Channel, on PBS’s Nature series, and in The New York Times, Newsweek, National Geographic, Scientific American, New Scientist, and Discover, among other publications.
(2) February 25, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
What happened to the mammoths? Exploring the cause of North America’s most recent mass extinction
by Prof. Todd Surovell, Univ. of Wyoming
For most of the last two million years, North America was home to more than 40 species of large animals, like mammoths, mastodons, camels, and ground sloths. These megafauna suffered a rapid extinction only 13,000 years ago at a time when the planet’s climate was warming, ecological communities were undergoing significant changes, and humans first appeared on the continent. Disentangling the causes of this mass extinction event has been complicated and contentious to say the least. In this talk, I will provide a personal narrative of my experience with the overkill hypothesis, and how I came to believe that if humans had never migrated to the New World, mammoths would still be roaming the continent today.
Todd A. Surovell is a Professor and Department Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He is a former Director of the George C. Frison Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. He received a B.A. in Anthropology and Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995 and an M.A. (1998) and Ph.D. (2003) from the University of Arizona. Although most of his fieldwork has been in Wyoming and Colorado, he has worked throughout the American West and in Israel and Denmark. From 2012 to 2017, he completed a five-year ethnoarchaeological project with Dukha reindeer herders in northern Mongolia. Over a ten-year period, he excavated Barger Gulch, Locality B, a Folsom site in Middle Park, Colorado, and is currently focusing his efforts on the La Prele Mammoth site, a Clovis kill and campsite in Converse County, Wyoming. He has published more than 55 articles on Paleoindian archaeology, lithic technology, geoarchaeology, Pleistocene extinctions, ethnoarchaeology, and other topics. He is also the author of a book on the economics of stone tool use titled Toward a Behavioral Ecology of Lithic Technology. Originally from northern Virginia, he feels at home in the high plains and mountains of Wyoming where he has now lived for 17 years.
[March 4, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
Brain aging and what you can do about it
by Prof. Thad Polk, Univ. of Michigan
N.b.: This talk, scheduled earlier, is not part of this series and must be registered for separately.]
(3) March 11, 2:00 - 3:30 pm
Ten years later: Nuclear power after Fukushima
by Prof. M.V. Ramana, Univ. of British Columbia
Like the earlier nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), the multiple accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that started on 11 March 2011 have had an impact on the future deployment of nuclear power. This talk will describe the current status of nuclear energy in different countries around the world and the evolution of its contribution to global electricity generation. It will then go on to outlining the various factors that will shape the future of nuclear energy, including the impacts of Fukushima, the costs of nuclear reactor construction, trends in renewable energy and other alternatives, social and technical challenges associated with nuclear energy such as radioactive waste disposal and the linkage to nuclear weapons, the imperative to mitigate climate change, and some of the other interests propelling continued investment in nuclear energy.
M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and, during 2020-21, a Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, all at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India (Penguin Books, 2012) and co-editor of Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream (Orient Longman, 2003). Ramana is a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, the Canadian Pugwash Group, the International Nuclear Risk Assessment Group, and the team that produces the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Leo Szilard Award from the American Physical Society.
March 11 is the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.
(4) March 18, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
The Search for the Fountain of Youth
by Prof. Corinna Ross, Texas A&M Univ.
Although advances in medical care have resulted in increased human lifespan we have made relatively few advances in increasing human healthspan. While we continue to explore the mechanistic pathways of aging, it is important to also view aging as a systemic process associated with increased risk for diseases including cardiovascular disease, dementia, frailty, and cancer. Animal models offer the advantage of being able to control environmental factors including nutrition and infection, as well as maintain lifelong confirmed medical history of the individual. The marmoset offers a unique nonhuman primate model for aging studies due to their short lifespan and small size. Marmosets have been found to display many aging diseases that mimic human aging including increased blood pressure, increased inflammatory disease, and decreased cognition. We have begun evaluating treatments in the marmosets that may prevent the loss of function due to aging. There is hope that one of these treatments may truly be the fountain of youth.
Corinna Ross is an Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M University San Antonio and an Associate Professor at the Southwest National Primate Research Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln (PhD 2005), University of Nebraska Omaha (MA 1999) and Cornell University (BS 1997). She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, with a fellowship in the Biology of Aging. After joining the faculty at A&M San Antonio she was awarded a Claude D. Pepper Center research fellowship to continue training in translational gerontology. She is currently the Southwest National Primate Research Center Marmoset Colony Administrator, the San Antonio Marmoset Aging Program co-director, and the San Antonio Pepper Center Core co-director. Her research focuses on marmosets, which are small primates, to explore questions in primate behavior and physiology, and translational biomedicine.
(5) March 25, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
The scientific quest for the origin of life
by Prof. Nick Hud, Georgia Inst. of Technology
The principles of evolution are extremely powerful for understanding the relationship between extinct life forms found in the fossil record and contemporary life. The same principles are also helping us to understand the chemical origins of life, for which there are no clues in the fossil record. The search for the identity of the molecules that first gave rise to life is largely driven by researchers using what are called “bottom up” approaches, studies that often involve laboratory experiments designed to model environments and chemical reactions that are believed to have existed on earth more than 3.5 billion years ago. In contrast, researchers using “top down” approaches draw upon information provided by studies of living cells and their genes to reveal the evolutionary history of living organisms. A major goal of origins research is to use our knowledge of chemical and biological evolution to uncover a plausible and continuous path from small, abiotic molecules to living cells, a path that would link the discoveries of bottom-up and top-down researchers. Advances made during the past few years are showing the power of these two approaches, and how this combined effort may ultimately reveal the origin of life.
Nicholas Hud is Regents’ Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also Director of the NSF-NASA Center for Chemical Evolution. Prof. Hud has studied the physical properties of DNA and RNA (the chemical sibling of DNA) for over twenty-five years. His research has produced insights regarding the packaging and functioning of DNA in living cells and viruses. Over the past decade, Prof. Hud’s research has become increasingly focused on questions related to the origin of life, and particularly the origin of RNA and polypeptides. Experiments carried out in his laboratory have provided several clues to how the first molecules of life could have spontaneously formed on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago. Prof. Hud received his B.S. degree from Loyola Marymount University and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. He conducted postdoctoral research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and at UCLA.
$10/Lecture; Series $35
To Register: Visit OLLI’s Website Course Catalog. Sign in at www.olli-umich.org.
The talks are listed under Study Groups.