The Genesis of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic

Lecture Series: Genomics Now

Michael Worobey, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Arizona

The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 was the most intense outbreak of disease in human history. It killed upwards of 50 million people (most in a six-week period) casting a long shadow of fear and mystery: nearly a century later, scientists have been unable to explain why, unlike all other influenza outbreaks, it killed young adults in huge numbers. I will describe how analyses of large numbers of influenza virus genomes are revealing the pathway traveled by the genes of this virus before it exploded in 1918. What emerges is a surprising tale with many players and plot lines, in which echoes of prior pandemics, imprinted in the immune responses of those alive in 1918, set the stage for the catastrophe. I will also discuss how resolving the mysteries of 1918 could help to prevent future pandemics and to control seasonal influenza, which quietly kills millions more every decade.

Genomics and the Complexity of Life

Lecture Series: Genomics Now

Michael W. Nachman, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Arizona

What determines the complexity of life? Darwin described how evolution produced “endless forms most beautiful”, yet he was unaware of genetics and the laws of inheritance. Our genomes provide the ultimate record of evolution, and evolution explains many fascinating aspects of our genomes. How do changes in the genome allow organisms to adapt to their environment? How do changes in the genome produce new species? Why do worms and humans have about the same number of genes? This lecture will explore how genomics has deepened our understanding of evolution in ways Darwin never could have imagined.

The 9 Billion-People Question

Lecture Series: Genomics Now

Rod A. Wing, Bud Antle Endowed Chair, School of Plant Sciences and Director, Arizona Genomics Institute, The University of Arizona

The world’s population will grow to more than 9 billion in less than 40 years. How can farmers grow enough food to feed this population in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way? Research is now underway to create the next generation of green revolution crops - the so called “green super crops” where “super” means a doubling or tripling of yields, and “green” means a reduction in the use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides etc. The 9 billion-people question (9BPQ) is one of the world’s most pressing issues of our time. Our society must realistically solve this question within the next 25 years if we are to be able to supply farmers with the seeds required to feed the future. This lecture will explore the many facets of how to feed the world and will propose a bold solution to help solve the 9BPQ.

Epigenetics: Why DNA Is Not Our Destiny

Lecture Series: Genomics Now

Donata Vercelli, MD, Professor, Cellular and Molecular Medicine; Director, Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases, The University of Arizona

Two twin sisters, one with and one without asthma. Two genetically identical mice, one black and lean, the other yellow and obese. Two human cells, one from the brain and the other from the skin: they look and act different, but they have the same DNA sequence. All of this is the work of epigenetics. Much emphasis has been placed on DNA and genes as repositories of the code designed to transmit information and dictate biological programs. However, developmental trajectories and responses to environmental cues are – and need to be – highly plastic. This plasticity is made possible by epigenetic mechanisms that enhance or silence gene expression at the right time in the right environmental context but do not change the DNA sequence. Thus the code inscribed in our DNA is necessary but not sufficient to recapitulate our biological identity and determine our biological destiny. This lecture will explore how understanding epigenetics will advance our understanding of human biology and disease.

Genomics Tomorrow

Lecture Series: Genomics Now

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.

Can We, and What If We Do?

Lecture Series: Living Beyond 100

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

Lecture Series: Living Beyond 100

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

Lecture Series: Living Beyond 100

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

Lecture Series: Living Beyond 100

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

Lecture Series: Living Beyond 100

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.