This panel discussion will bring together this series' five esteemed presenters to address the complex and varied issues associated with genomics research and its potential impact on individuals and society. At the discussion's core will be the questions of mankind's role and responsibilities in choosing to "modify" nature. Topics will include: the risks and rewards associated the new norms of pre-natal genetic screening; the impact of readily available low-cost genetic profiling; global opportunities posed by genetically modified plants and organisms; and the potentials of a greatly expanded knowledge-base of infectious diseases and their treatments. The discussion will be moderated by College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz and audiences will be able to submit questions in advance for panel members' consideration.
Lecture Series: Genomics Now
Can We, and What If We Do?
Shane C. Burgess, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona
For most of human history, what we today consider a "reasonable life span" was a significant achievement for the average human. This remains the case in many parts of the world, but for westerners in particular, the magic age "100" is becoming a milestone to which many now realistically aspire. Our science has allowed us to immortalize cells and is giving us pointers to achieving much longer life spans. Medicine and nutrition are also making rapid progress, and in many cases what were terminal diseases are becoming treatable inconveniences. But if being alive well beyond 100 years is possible, is it really "living"? What if we haven't planned to live that long; can we afford it? How will so many older citizens change our society? So, can we live beyond 100? The increasing numbers of centenarians affirm that the answer is "yes," but what are these special people made of and how can we learn from them?
The Biology of Aging: Why Our Bodies Grow Old
Janko Nikolich-Zugich, Professor and Department Head of Immunobiology; Co-Director, Arizona Center on Aging, University of Arizona
All organisms age, but we really do not have a clear explanation how and why. Do we have to grow old? Can we identify processes that can impact aging of particular parts of our bodies or, even better, of our entire bodies? Where do we stand with anti-aging interventions? This lecture will address theories of aging, emphasizing those that show most potential promise. The incredible promise of research on aging to extend healthspan and lifespan will be contrasted with the vast and unregulated world of anti-aging supplements and with the incredibly small investment we are making in developing credible anti-aging interventions.
The Aging of the Brain
Carol A. Barnes, Regents' Professor of Psychology and Neurology; Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, University of Arizona
One of the great frontiers of contemporary science is exploration of the mind. The brain embodies our individual identities as well as our ability to cooperate with others to understand the remaining mysteries of our universe. It is composed of billions of cells, the connections amongst which capture and preserve unique experiences. Over the past half-century, ideas about the aging brain have evolved away from it being an organ of passive deterioration towards the realization that it is capable of dynamic adaptation and high levels of function well past 100 years. One question remains — can we all achieve this?
Repair, Regeneration and Replacement Revisited
David G. Armstrong, Professor of Surgery and Director, Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance (SALSA), University of Arizona
More than 250 years ago, the philosopher Auguste Comte suggested that "Demography is Destiny". It is this change in demography that is leading toward that destiny: nothing less than a transformation of medicine and our collective relationship with it. From advances in composite tissue transplantation to stem cells to bionic human-machine interfaces, we are experiencing a present-day revolution in replacement parts. As these advances merge with similar progress in consumer and medical devices, the aging individual will be forced to ask the question: What of us will remain innately "us"?
Society, Geographic Change and the New Longevity
Vincent J. Del Casino, Jr., Associate Dean, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Professor of Geography and Development, University of Arizona
Data demonstrate that the world's human population is getting older as life expectancy continues to increase globally. Much of this increase is taking place in the so-called developing world. Despite these trends, there remains tremendous variability in the geography of life expectancy. There are in fact points in time and place where life expectancies have dropped or will drop in the future. We are just beginning to understand, what the 'new longevity' means for society as we adapt our social welfare systems to the changing demographics of our aging populations. Where will our aging populations live? Who will care for them? How are the roles of older populations changing? Aging will continue to present new challenges as our global population reaches toward 9 billion over the next 40 years. To better respond to the needs of our world's changing demographic distributions, it is critical that we understand the nature of aging at both global and local scales today.
Information and Immortality
Paul R. Cohen, Director of the School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts, University of Arizona
Information and immortality have always been related by the idea that we are survived by the stories told about us. The Information Age provides increasingly sophisticated tools to create and tell these stories, but of course the relationship between information and immortality encompasses more: robotic elder care, uploading oneself to the Web, and the likelihood that in future, one will have biological and computational parts and entirely computational friends. All of which raises the question, what do we want informatics to do for us as we age? Where is the line between assisting and supplanting? This is not a new question: Anyone who sits for a portrait knows that the likeness might survive, and eventually become, the sitter. Informatics will eventually merge one's self and one's likeness into bio-robotic complexes of parts and information, maintained by corporations and governments. Then the relationship between information and immortality will be more complicated than ever.
Cosmology: Making Sense of the Universe
Guy Consolmagno SJ, Astronomer and Curator of Meteorites, Vatican Observatory, Castel Gandolfo, Vatican City State Our "cosmology" is the sum of our assumptions and deductions of how the universe behaves. With the advent of modern physics, the term has been appropriated by physicists and astronomers to represent a scientific description of the origin and nature of the physical universe. But cosmologies can also be outlined in ways that don't use physics and astronomy. Indeed, there is continual feedback between prevailing nonscientific assumptions about the universe and the scientific picture, with each influencing the direction of the other. We'll look at a series of historical cosmologies, and discuss the sometimes hidden assumptions that underlie modern astronomy.
The Oldest Question: Is There Life Beyond Earth?
Christopher D. Impey, Distinguished Professor, Astronomy/Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona
Our reconstruction of the chronology of events that led to the origin of the Earth and subsequent chemical evolution on our planet informs us that nothing unusual was required for the origin and development of terrestrial life, and that therefore life may be pervasive throughout the cosmos. Whether extraterrestrial life exists is so ancient and beguiling a question that humankind is actively seeking the answer in its explorations of the planetary systems in our solar system. It may one day transpire that we discover that genesis has occurred, independently, not once but twice in our solar system. At that point, we could safely infer that life is a fundamental feature of our universe ... along with dark matter, supernovae, and black holes.
Origin of the Universe: The Big Bang
Christopher D. Impey, Distinguished Professor, Astronomy/Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona. The scientific story of creation begins 13.7 billion years ago in a circumstance of incredible temperature and density, when all matter and radiation was contained in a region smaller than an atom. The big bang is now a mature theory, with a web of observational evidence supporting it; and the size, shape and age of the universe have been measured with impressive accuracy. This talk will tell the story of how an iota of space-time turned into a vast cold universe of 100 billion galaxies.