Real Life Science Fiction panel: Extreme Annotation Edition
Apology first: There was some displeasure at the lawyer references made during this panel. I didn't perceive it as derogatory at the time, just that talking to people with very different skill sets is hard. I apologize: on reflection, it definitely played to negative stereotypes. I'll be more careful as a moderator next time.
Thanks to @partiecolored for tweeting some of these links! I definitely cribbed from you. :)
This was a lot of work and I know I messed things up, so please correct me as needed!
Kylee Peterson: suggested the panel, just defended Ph.D. thesis in plant molecular biology
[I got applause every time I said this in a panel all weekend, very gratifying!]
Jacquelyn Gill: ecology background; interested in cloning and de-extinction, geoengineering
Joan Slonczewski: research is in extremophiles in acid, microbial aliens (Brain Plague et seq. are in print, and you can get them electronically!), how bacteria and "multibacterial organisms" evolved w/cooperation, not just competition
Heather McDougal: has written for Cabinet of Wonders blog, Science in my Fiction blog
David Peterson: does research at 3M, interest in science education
JG on De-extinction
on Jurassic Park: to patch missing DNA in the dinos, they used frog DNA, "which made no sense, because -- we've got BIRDS."
her work focuses on the last 20K years
Natl Geo TED event on de-extinction
mammoths are popular because they qualify as charismatic megafauna -- "they're cuddly... in our minds"
practical reason to bring them back: melting permafrost exposes material
Pleistocene Park has been designated, a couple hundred km-sq
could provide evidence on the question: did we kill all these animals? or did climate kill them? well, if they can survive now...
the cloning techniques are going well, but what happens to your ecology when you introduce giant herbivores? -- "many steps between the test tube and the tundra"
other candidates: American chestnut, passenger pigeon
Neanderthals! [cause that's ethical!]
(JS) we could breed with Neanderthals as easily as with chimpanzees, extremely similar genomes
(audience) wasn't an extinct frog cloned already?
(JG) kind of -- maybe only some of its genes were transferred; also a wild goat wasn't able to survive being brought back, so sadly became extinct twice
(audience) mixing genes from one species to another?
(JG) transgenics aren't her department, over to JS!
(JS) "recombinant animals" or hybrids are controversial; they're not completely either animal, so are the originals extinct?
are dinosaurs extinct or are they birds?
JS on Microbes and Evolution
JS advised on a food supplement fed to cattle (for giant companies at v high rate of pay) that came from engineered bacterium, Japanese patented and Chinese alleged to have stolen
"no, we got our bacteria from Chinese biowarfare agency!"
(general laughter, OH TOTES LEGIT THEN)
quasispecies - something RNA viruses like HIV do, ties into the RNA world hypothesis where everything could evolve very quickly
colonize life on other planets by sending rapidly-evolving RNA creatures? Highest Frontier - alien ultraphytes are exactly this, they use stealthy evolution and the humans are too foolish to get it together
(audience) how does JS determine species?
(JS) species concepts are really not relevant in bacteria!
lateral gene transfer is so ubiquitous that it just doesn't make sense
(audience) have we... bred... with chimpanzees?
(JS) look at the evidence all around you
(JG) we do have human-genome evidence of Neanderthal interbreeding
(KP) 23andme will tell you your percentage, then you can get a t-shirt
HM on all that is nifty
tech background and art, the Maker movement
crowdfunding bioluminescent plants to sell for novelty garden lights
bio-printing, like arteries made of three cell types that can migrate to the correct positions
printable pizza, this is a food replicator!
printable e.coli artwork
solar panels using microbes (very early days: inspiration here and here)
"wonderful mind control experiment" -- light-sensitive neurons in rats to cause nerve impulses, now wireless!
writing: obviously using this on humans, crrrreeeeeepy
[bibliographer note: also, rats linked through brains]
device to increase mental focus by manipulating frontal lobe being marketed at Maker Faire
[bibliographer note: All I can find is a headband that measures "mental focus", not anything that alters your brain Vingean Focus style.]
[ETA: EUB found a mind-altering headband for us, though!]
Bio Curious lab will let you use their stuff
(audience) new meaning for computer virus!
(JS) in Highest Frontier you can print out viruses like Ebola, big problem! also there's a shell of microbial solar harvesting on the space habitat
(audience) explain maker movement
see Make magazine, Maker Faire
(audience) local maker fairs/hackerspace?
yes! several midwest options
(audience) carryable 3d printers with handles now!
with laser-cut pieces too! programs/DIY online, can print from your vector graphics [e.g., Tantillus]
(audience) printable gun
printing pharma! [Lee Cronin's TED talk]
(audience) printed prosthetic hand for child
printing bone, too
(HM) inflatable shell, coat inside with soil and ice, spaceship with shielding! plus, you can grow things in there.
[NASA testing an inflatable habitat]
[history of inflatable modules]
DP on bioengineering
The Gecko's Foot : Bio-inspiration: Engineering New Materials from Nature , Peter Forbes
Bulletproof Feathers: How Science Uses Nature's Secrets to Design Cutting-Edge Technology, Robert Allen
creepy super-lifelike skin
[bibliographer note: uh, I got sex toys, that's about it]
he's interested in life cycle mgmt - some scifi is a lot of fun, but where do you go from there?
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, Tom Rogers
2001 still renowned for best science! also least pirated SF movie :) -- so the ridiculous and cliche stuff does seem to make compelling watching
how can society survive if we can't evaluate science? Abducted, by Susan Clancy, about social science of belief
How Risky Is It, Really? : Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts by David Ropeik
structure in nanoassembly is very important - like the Princess and the Frog story [Disney?], her sisters just get a lump with the same batter
(HM) recommends New Scientist, written for scientists but not those in the same field, so it's detailed but accessible
JG on Geoengineering
how to deal with climate change: (1) adaptation and mitigation, (2) adapt ourselves/our tech, (3) geoengineer
"hack the planet"
add iron as fertilizer to oceans
nanoparticles or sulfates to put into upper atmosphere for cooling, since reducing soot has actually sped warming
green roofs etc, change albedo to reflect more heat
worldbuilding/terraforming fiction can draw on this science
will it go exactly as planned? fiction usually thinks it'll work perfectly, but could critique very interestingly
we're inclined to use hacks to avoid changing our behaviors/population etc
JS on aliens
"the trouble with climate change it's so darned depressing"
let's talk about "things that might actually help us out, like alien abduction"
Weekly World News intersperses ridiculous fiction with actual science that only sounds bizarre - for instance, 1/5 of Americans say they were abducted by aliens (so if it's a recessive trait, how many of us carry it? -- exercise for students!)
Human Genome Project a huge boon for aliens studying us, they abduct us like we abduct meerkats to make a reality show about them
so fewer abductions, they can just get our beamed genome
JS blog post on this circulated widely at NIH as one of the few positive news stories about human genome project!
in fiction, Highest Frontier: ultraphytes sneak along as worms and snakes etc., then start stealing DNA, like bacteria with conjugation to adapt better, then start giving some back to make our organisms more friendly
JS on microbes
microbes are like visiting extraterrestrials, they have chemical abilities our chemists would love - carbon monoxide-eating microbes inside deep-sea worms
some breathe uranium, too
(audience) Toxoplasma gondii: makes rats love cats, correlated with schizophrenia in humans, makes L-DOPA in the brain [possibly also GABA]
[bibliographer note: The CDC says transmission is not that easy, luckily.]
JS has a student working on Toxoplasma!
parasites are well known for producing amazing behavior in hosts
[bibliographer notes: and being amazing in general. Scott Westerfeld's YA novel Peeps is amusing and informative; Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex is high-quality pop science.]
Makers in Spaaaace
(HM) 3D print a moonbase! working on conversion of silica from soil into building material
(audience) power source?
(JS) 8x as much solar on moon because no atmosphere -- could you make your printers self-replicating?
but how do they know when to stop?
(HM) you can certainly print moving parts
nanotech like in The Diamond Age, assembling things out of small reusable modules
building things out of carbon, like nanotubes and buckyballs -- can you bring this carbon back to your ecosystem? edible spaceships!
(KP) not quite as simple as composting -- you'd need special microbes to break that type of bond and you'd have to keep them out of the items you still want!
DP on printing electronics
can they replace semiconductors? printed solar cells 5-7% efficient now, but some hope for new materials
(DP) spatial "difference" between boys and girls is down to training, according to recent research
(audience) hasn't this been completely debunked anyway?
(DP) not this particular bit
(JS) all studies show very small differences: social expectations would easily explain them
one showed spatial differences, but subjects were tested in a dark room with an older male experimenter giving commands, maybe KIND OF UNCOMFORTABLE? [bibliographer note: not sure which one this is, sorry, have another debunk instead]
always be cautious of barely significant results!
(HM) iron specifically helped pubescent girls' math skills
[bibliographer note: a negative correlation between iron and skill exists, but see also evidence that menstruation doesn't reduce iron levels, so mechanism is unclear]
(JS) women outperform men especially in liberal arts colleges, the administrative response is to admit more men despite bad scores to keep parity -- but that's not affirmative action, oh no
[something here about heteronormativity, not sure of attribution]
(DP) social decision-making is a huge factor for women in STEM fields
The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci
(audience) what about science education for the broader population? maybe good for small elite groups now, but seems to be going backward for many parts of US
(JG) problems with the deficit model of science (you just have to give people information and that will fix everything); studies show other factors involved in accepting science info and the decision making that results: cultural cognition
Dan Kahan: how receptive people are to info varies based on their position in their social group
(HM) works in elementary school, redoing standards for No Child Left Behind! yay! science section is changing to involve critical thinking, not just facts
(audience) as a teacher and administrator, want to say local support is critical: my lab budget for chem class is $1.68/student/yr
(JS) scientists with grant funding can do enormous good here, got local/state Goldwater grant to put sci equip into elem/middle schools in community
and then people came to her to vet textbooks because she was a known supporter!
(HM) not being saddled to standards also helps
(audience) heard of LUCA a few years ago?
Last Universal Common Ancestor
(JS) LUCA was not one body, but a community of organisms sharing genes -- 3.5 bya!
(audience) heard a rumor that Tesla invented a car running off energy from earth magnetic core, but couldn't be monetized? [bibliographer note: maybe related to the rotating magnetic field induction motor?]
(JS) magnetic energy exists -- haven't heard story, and energy level is really low
signaling, though, works
microbes use the field for direction; DoE studying these
(audience) Tesla wanted to use such energy in general but yes, wasn't meterable so corporate backers wouldn't support it
(JG) don't fear your local scientists! contact us with your ideas, we might not respond but we're happy to talk if we have time
(JS) HF's space elevator made of cables of anthrax bacteria, self-healing!
reviewers didn't always like this, "but I thought you guys might!"
(DP) ask him for more books!
(HM) Make magazine and online, BLDGBLOG, DIY online, New Scientist, Instructables, Bibliodyssey
From the panel description:
Brief review of suspended animation technology, including an embedded TED talk by Mark Roth on the pioneering hydrogen sulfide method
Metabolic sharing in bacteria
"Arsenic life" original report, with link to backlash
On cooperativity and evolution:
Gene sharing in gut bacteria adapts humans for their diets
Goodies from DP that we didn't get to discuss:
If you want dyed silk, dye your silkworms
Ultrasound wound sealing for first responders
Still speculative: Tailored carbon crystals as information archive
Just for fun: the Elemental Manhattan project