Category Archives: science communication

Science Slam on November 29, 2019 and Collider Cafe: Art. Science. Analogies. on December 4, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada

Starting in date order:

Science Slam in Vancouver on November 29, 2019

I first featured science slams in a July 17, 2013 posting when they popped up in the UK although I think they originated in Germany. As for Science Slam Canada, I think they started in 2016, (t least, that’s when they started their twitter feed).

As for the upcoming event, here’s more from Science Slam Vancouver’s event page (on the ‘at all events in’ website),

Science Slam YVR at Fox
It’s beginning to look a lot like … it’s time to have another Science Slam at the Fox!

For those of you who have never experienced the wonder of Science Slam, welcome! We are Vancouver’s most epic science showdown. Sit back, relax, and watch as our competitors battle to achieve science communication fame and glory.

What exactly is a science slam? Based on the format of a poetry slam, a science slam is a competition where speakers gather to share their science with you – the audience. Competitors have five minutes to present on any science topic without the use of a slideshow and are judged based on communication skills, audience impact and scientific content. Props and creative presentation styles are encouraged!

Whether you’re a researcher, student, educator, artist, or communicator, our stage is open to you. If you’ve got a science topic you’re researching, or just a topic you’re excited about, send in an application! If you’re not sure about an idea, just ask!

Application link: https://forms.gle/y5nQZwLzVUcRiHZT9

YouTube channel (for creative inspiration): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWmI8llf3pAW5xtbvnXmsog

*Early Bird Tickets are $10, Regular are $12. [emphasis mine] Purchase them here:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/science-slam-at-fox-tickets-80868462749

Doors open at 7pm, event begins at 7:30pm. We’ll see you there!

Accessibility Notes:

Science Slam acknowledges that this event takes place on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Squamish, Sto:lo, Musqueam, and Tsleil Waututh Nation. Many of our attendees, Science Slam included, are are guests of these territories and must act accordingly.

Science Slam is an inclusive event, as a result hate speech and abuse will not be tolerated. This includes anti-blackness, anti-indigenous, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, fatphobia, ableism, transmisogyny, misogyny, femmephobia, cissexism, and anti-immigrant attitudes.

Ticket Information Ticket Price
*General Admission CAD 14
*Early Bird Ticket CAD 12 [emphases mine]

I went to the eventbrite website where you can purchase tickets and the prices reflect the first set in the announcement. Early bird tickets are sold out, which leaves you with General Admission at $12.

Collider Cafe in Vancouver on December 4, 2019

I think they were tired when they (CuriosityCollider.org) came up with the title for the upcoming Collider Cafe December 2019 event. Unfortunately, the description isn’t too exciting either. On the plus side, their recent Invasive Systems Collisions Festival was pretty interesting and one of the exhibits from that festival is being featured (artist: Laara Cerman; scientist: Scott Pownell)..

Here’s more about the upcoming Collider Cafe from their November 27, 2019 announcement (received via email),

Art. Science. Analogies.

Let analogies guide us through exploring the art and science in chemistry, nature, genetics, and technology.

Our #ColliderCafe is a space for artists, scientists, makers, and anyone interested in art+science to meet, discover, and connect. Are you curious? Join us at “Collider Cafe: Art. Science. Analosiges.” to explore how art and science intersect in the exploration of curiosity.

When: 8:00pm on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Doors open at 7:30pm.
Where: Pizzeria Barbarella. 654 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC (Google Map).
Cost: $5-10 (sliding scale) cover at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events.

//Special thanks to Pizzeria Barbarella for hosting the upcoming Collider Cafe!//

With speakers:
Vance Williams (Chemistry) – Crystalline Landscapes
Laara Cerman (Art & Nature) and Scott Pownell (Genetics) – Flora’s Song (DNA Sonification)
Chris Dunnett (Multidisciplinary Art) – Poetry of Technology

Plus, interact with Laara and Scott’s work “Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major” – a hand-cranked music box that plays a tune created from the DNA of local invasive plants.

Also, CC Creative Director Char Hoyt will share highlights from our annual art-science festival Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems.

Head to the Facebook event page – let us know you are coming and share this event with others! Follow updates on Instagram via @curiositycollider or #ColliderCafe. 

Back to me, I’m still struggling with this hugely changed Word Press, which they claim is an ‘improvement’. In any case, for this second event, I decided that choosing a larger font size was superior to putting everything into a single block as I did for the Science Slam event. Please let me know if you have any opinions on the matter in the comments section.

Moving on, don’t expect Chris Dunnett’s presentation ‘Poetry of Technology’ to necessarily feature any poetry, if his website is any indication of his work. Also, I notice that Vance Williams is associated with 4D Labs at Simon Fraser University. At one time, 4D Labs was a ‘nanotechnology’ lab but at this time (November 29, 2019), it seems they are a revenue-producing group selling their materials expertise and access to their lab equipment to industry and other academic institutions. Still, Williams may feature some nanoscale work as part of his presentation.

Fantastic Fungi Futures: a multi-night ArtSci Salon event in late November/early December 2019 in Toronto

In fact, I have two items about fungi and I’m starting with the essay first.

Giving thanks for fungi

These foods are all dependent on microorganisms for their distinctive flavor. Credit: margouillat photo/Shutterstock.com

Antonis Rokas, professor at Venderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee, US), has written a November 25, 2019 essay for The Conversation (h/t phys.org Nov.26.19) featuring fungi and food, Note: Links have been removed),

I am an evolutionary biologist studying fungi, a group of microbes whose domestication has given us many tasty products. I’ve long been fascinated by two questions: What are the genetic changes that led to their domestication? And how on Earth did our ancestors figure out how to domesticate them?

The hybrids in your lager

As far as domestication is concerned, it is hard to top the honing of brewer’s yeast. The cornerstone of the baking, brewing and wine-making industries, brewer’s yeast has the remarkable ability to turn the sugars of plant fruits and grains into alcohol. How did brewer’s yeast evolve this flexibility?

By discovering new yeast species and sequencing their genomes, scientists know that some yeasts used in brewing are hybrids; that is, they’re descendants of ancient mating unions of individuals from two different yeast species. Hybrids tend to resemble both parental species – think of wholpins (whale-dolphin) or ligers (lion-tiger).

… What is still unknown is whether hybridization is the norm or the exception in the yeasts that humans have used for making fermented beverages for millennia.

To address this question, a team led by graduate student Quinn Langdon at the University of Wisconsin and another team led by postdoctoral fellow Brigida Gallone at the Universities of Ghent and Leuven in Belgium examined the genomes of hundreds of yeasts involved in brewing and wine making. Their bottom line? Hybrids rule.

For example, a quarter of yeasts collected from industrial environments, including beer and wine manufacturers, are hybrids.

The mutants in your cheese

Comparing the genomes of domesticated fungi to their wild relatives helps scientists understand the genetic changes that gave rise to some favorite foods and drinks. But how did our ancestors actually domesticate these wild fungi? None of us was there to witness how it all started. To solve this mystery, scientists are experimenting with wild fungi to see if they can evolve into organisms resembling those that we use to make our food today.

Benjamin Wolfe, a microbiologist at Tufts University, and his team addressed this question by taking wild Penicillium mold and growing the samples for one month in his lab on a substance that included cheese. That may sound like a short period for people, but it is one that spans many generations for fungi.

The wild fungi are very closely related to fungal strains used by the cheese industry in the making of Camembert cheese, but look very different from them. For example, wild strains are green and smell, well, moldy compared to the white and odorless industrial strains.

For Wolfe, the big question was whether he could experimentally recreate, and to what degree, the process of domestication. What did the wild strains look and smell like after a month of growth on cheese? Remarkably, what he and his team found was that, at the end of the experiment, the wild strains looked much more similar to known industrial strains than to their wild ancestor. For example, they were white in color and smelled much less moldy.

… how did the wild strain turn into a domesticated version? Did it mutate? By sequencing the genomes of both the wild ancestors and the domesticated descendants, and measuring the activity of the genes while growing on cheese, Wolfe’s team figured out that these changes did not happen through mutations in the organisms’ genomes. Rather, they most likely occurred through chemical alterations that modify the activity of specific genes but don’t actually change the genetic code. Such so-called epigenetic modifications can occur much faster than mutations.

Fantastic Fungi Futures (FFF) Nov. 29, Dec. 1, and Dec. 4, 2019 events in Toronto, Canada

The ArtSci Salon emailed me a November 23, 2019 announcement about a special series being presented in partnership with the Mycological Society of Toronto (MST) on the topic of fungi,

Fantastic Fungi Futures a discussion, a mini exhibition, a special screening, and a workshop revolving around Fungi and their versatile nature.

NOV 29 [2019], 6:00-8:00 PM Fantastic Fungi Futures (FFF): a roundtable discussion and popup exhibition.

Join us for a roundtable discussion. what are the potentials of fungi? Our guests will share their research, as well as professional and artistic practice dealing with the taxonomy and the toxicology, the health benefits and the potentials for sustainability, as well as the artistic and architectural virtues of fungi and mushrooms. The Exhibition will feature photos and objects created by local and Canadian artists who have been working with mushrooms and fungi.

This discussion is in anticipation of the special screening of Fantastic Fungi at the HotDocs Cinema on Dec 1 [2019] our guests:James Scott,Occupational & Environmental Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, UofT; Marshall Tyler, Director of Research, Field Trip, Toronto; Rotem Petranker, PhD student, Social Psychology, York University; Nourin Aman, PhD student, fungal biology and Systematics lab, Punjab University; Sydney Gram, PhD student, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology student researcher (UofT/ROM); [and] Tosca Teran, Interdisciplinary artist.

DEC. 1 [2019], 6:15 pm join us to the screening of Fantastic Fungi, at the HotDocs Cinemaget your tickets herehttps://boxoffice.hotdocs.ca/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=104145~fff311b7-cdad-4e14-9ae4-a9905e1b9cb0 afterward, some of us will be heading to the Pauper’s Pub, just across from the HotDocs Cinema

DEC. 4 [2019], 7:00-10:00PM Multi-species entanglements:Sculpting with Mycelium, @InterAccess, 950 Dupont St., Unit 1 

This workshop is a continuation of ArtSci Salon’s Fantastic Fungi Futures event and the HotDocs screening of Fantastic Fungi.this workshop is open to public to attend, however, pre-registration is required. $5.00 to form a mycelium bowl to take home.

During this workshop Tosca Teran introduces the amazing potential of Mycelium for collaboration at the intersection of art and science. Participants learn how to transform their kitchens and closets in to safe, mini-Mycelium biolabs and have the option to leave the workshop with a live Mycelium planter/bowl form, as well as a wide array of possibilities of how they might work with this sustainable bio-material. 

Bios

Nourin Aman is a PhD student at fungal biology and Systematics lab at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan. She is currently a visiting PhD student at the Mycology lab, Royal Ontario Museum. Her research revolves around comparison between macrofungal biodiversity of some reserve forests of Punjab, Pakistan.Her interest is basically to enlist all possible macrofungi of reserve forests under study and describe new species as well from area as our part of world still has many species to be discovered and named. She will be discussing factors which are affecting the fungal biodiversity in these reserve forests.

Sydney Gram is an Ecology & Evolutionary Biology student researcher (UofT/ROM)

Rotem Petranker- Bsc in psychology from the University of Toronto and a MA in social psychology from York University. Rotem is currently a PhD student in York’s clinical psychology program. His main research interest is affect regulation, and the way it interacts with sustained attention, mind wandering, and creativity. Rotem is a founding member oft the Psychedelic Studies Research Program at the University of Toronto, has published work on microdosing, and presented original research findings on psychedelic research in several conferences. He feels strongly that the principles of Open Science are necessary in order to do good research, and is currently in the process of starting the first lab study of microdosing in Canada.

James Scott– PhD, is a ARMCCM Professor and Head Division of Occupational & Environmental Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of TorontoUAMH Fungal Biobank: http://www.uamh.caUniversity Profile: http://www.dlsph.utoronto.ca/faculty-profile/scott-james-a/Research Laboratory: http://individual.utoronto.ca/jscottCommercial Laboratory: http://www.sporometrics.com

Marshall Tyler– Director of Research, Field Trip. Marshall is a scientist with a deep interest in psychoactive molecules. His passion lies in guiding research to arrive at a deeper understanding of consciousness with the ultimate goal of enhancing wellbeing. At Field Trip, he is helping to develop a lab in Jamaica to explore the chemical and biological complexities of psychoactive fungi.

Tosca Teran, aka Nanotopia, is an Multi-disciplinary artist. Her work has been featured at SOFA New York, Culture Canada, and The Toronto Design Exchange. Tosca has been awarded artist residencies with The Ayatana Research Program in Ottawa and The Icelandic Visual Artists Association through Sím, Reykjavik Iceland and Nes artist residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In 2019 she was one of the first Bio-Artists in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto in partnership with the Ontario Science Centre as part of the Alien Agencies Collective. A recipient of the 2019 BigCi Environmental Award at Wollemi National Park within the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Greater Blue Mountains. Tosca started collaborating artistically with Algae, Physarum polycephalum, and Mycelium in 2016, translating biodata from non-human organisms into music.@MothAntler @nanopodstudio www.toscateran.com www.nanotopia.net8 

A trailer has been provided for the movie mentioned in the announcement (from the Fantastic Fungi screening webpage on the Mycological Society of Toronto website),

You can find the ArtSci Salon here and the Mycological Society of Toronto (MST) here.

The medical community and art/science: two events in Canada in November 2019

This time it’s the performing arts. I have one theatre and psychiatry production in Toronto and a music and medical science event in Vancouver.

Toronto’s Here are the Fragments opening on November 19, 2019

From a November 2, 2019 ArtSci Salon announcement (received via email),

An immersive theatre experience inspired by the psychiatric writing of Frantz Fanon

Here are the Fragments.
Co-produced by The ECT Collective and The Theatre Centre
November 19-December 1, 2019
Tickets: Preview $17 | Student/senior/arts worker $22 | Adult $30
Service charges may apply
Book 416-538-0988 | PURCHASE ONLINE

An immigrant psychiatrist develops psychosis and then schizophrenia. He walks a long path towards reconnection with himself, his son, and humanity.

Walk with him.

Within our immersive design (a fabric of sound, video, and live actors) lean in close to the possibilities of perceptual experience.

Schizophrenics ‘hear voices’. Schizophrenics fear loss of control over their own thoughts and bodies. But how does any one of us actually separate internal and external voices? How do we trust what we see or feel? How do we know which voices are truly our own?

Within the installation find places of retreat from chaos. Find poetry. Find critical analysis.

Explore archival material, Fanon’s writings and contemporary interviews with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, artists, and people living with schizophrenia, to reflect on the relationships between identity, history, racism and mental health.

I was able to find out more in a November 6, 2019 article at broadwayworld.com (Note: Some of this is repetitive),

How do we trust what we see or feel? How do we know which voices are truly our own? THE THEATRE CENTRE and THE ECT COLLECTIVE are proud to Co-produce HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS., an immersive work of theatre written by Suvendrini Lena, Theatre Centre Residency artist and CAMH [ Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] Neurologist. Based on the psychiatric writing of famed political theorist Frantz Fanon and combining narratives, sensory exploration, and scientific and historical analysis, HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS. reflects on the relationships between identity, history, racism, and mental health. FRAGMENTS. will run November 19 to December 1 at The Theatre Centre (Opening Night November 21).

HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS. consists of live performances within an interactive installation. The plot, told in fragments, follows a psychiatrist early in his training as he develops psychosis and ultimately, treatment resistant schizophrenia. Eduard, his son, struggles to connect with his father, while the young man must also make difficult treatment decisions.

The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre and Gallery will be transformed into an immersive interactive installation. The design will offer many spaces for exploration, investigation, and discovery, bringing audiences into the perceptual experience of Schizophrenia. The scenes unfold around you, incorporating a fabric of sound, video, and live actors. Amidst the seeming chaos there will also be areas of retreat; whispering voices, Fanon’s own books, archival materials, interviews with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and people living with schizophrenia all merge to provoke analysis and reflection on the intersection of racism and mental health.

Suvendrini Lena (Writer) is a playwright and neurologist. She works as the staff neurologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and at the Centre for Headache at Women’s College Hospital [Toronto]. She is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Toronto where she teaches medical students, residents, and fellows. She also teaches a course called Staging Medicine, a collaboration between The Theatre Centre and University of Toronto Postgraduate Medical Education.

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), was a French West Indian psychiatrist, political philosopher, revolutionary, and writer, whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. Fanon published numerous books, including Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

In addition to performances, The Theatre Centre will host a number of panels and events. Highlights include a post-show talkback with Ngozi Paul (Development Producer, Artist/Activist) and Psychiatrist Collaborator Araba Chintoh on November 22. Also of note is Our Patients and Our Selves: Experiences of Racism Among Health Care Workers with facilitator Dr. Fatimah Jackson-Best of Black Health Alliance on November 23rd and Fanon Today: A Creative Symposium on November 24th, a panel, reading, and creative discussion featuring David Austin, Frank Francis, Doris Rajan and George Elliot Clarke [formerly Toronto’s Poet Laureate and Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate; emphasis and link mine].

You can get more details and a link for ticket purchase here.

Sounds and Science: Vienna meets Vancouver on November 30, 2019

‘Sounds and Science’ originated at the Medical University of Vienna (Austria) as the November 6, 2019 event posting on the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Medicine website,

The University of British Columbia will host the first Canadian concert bringing leading musical talents of Vienna together with dramatic narratives from science and medicine.

“Sounds and Science: Vienna Meets Vancouver” is part of the President’s Concert Series, to be held Nov. 30, 2019 on UBC campus. The event is modeled on a successful concert series launched in Austria in 2014, in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna.

“Basic research tends to always stay within its own box, yet research is telling the most beautiful stories,” says Dr. Josef Penninger, director of UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, a professor of medical genetics and a Canada 150 Chair. “With this concert, we are bringing science out of the ivory tower, using the music of great composers such as Mozart, Schubert or Strauss to transport stories of discovery and insight into the major diseases that affected the composers themselves, and continue to have a significant impact on our society.”

Famous composers of the past are often seen as icons of classical music, but in fact, they were human beings, living under enormous physical constraints – perhaps more than people today, according to Dr. Manfred Hecking, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.

“But ‘Sounds and Science’ is not primarily about suffering and disease,” says Dr. Hecking, a former member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra who will be playing double bass during the concert. “It is a fun way of bringing music and science together. Combining music and thought, we hope that we will reach the attendees of the ‘Sounds and Science’ concert in Vancouver on an emotional, perhaps even personal level.”

A showcase for Viennese music, played in the tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic by several of its members, as well as the world-class science being done here at UBC, “Sounds and Science” will feature talks by UBC clinical and research faculty, including Dr. Penninger. Their topics will range from healthy aging and cancer research to the historical impact of bacterial infections.

Combining music and thought, we hope that we will reach the attendees of the ‘Sounds and Science’ concert in Vancouver on an emotional, perhaps even personal level.
Dr. Manfred Hecking

Faculty speaking at “Sounds and Science” will be:
Dr. Allison Eddy, professor and head, department of pediatrics, and chief, pediatric medicine, BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital;
Dr. Troy Grennan, clinical assistant professor, division of infectious diseases, UBC faculty of medicine;
Dr. Poul Sorensen, professor, department of pathology and laboratory medicine, UBC faculty of medicine; and
Dr. Roger Wong, executive associate dean, education and clinical professor of geriatric medicine, UBC faculty of medicine
UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono and Vice President Health and Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean, faculty of medicine and vice-president, health at UBC will also speak during the evening.

The musicians include two outstanding members of the Vienna Philharmonic – violinist Prof. Günter Seifert and violist-conductor Hans Peter Ochsenhofer, who will be joined by violinist-conductor Rémy Ballot and double bassist Dr. Manfred Hecking, who serves as a regular substitute in the orchestra.

For those in whose lives intertwine music and science, the experience of cross-connection will be familiar. For Dr. Penninger, the concert represents an opportunity to bring the famous sound of the Vienna Philharmonic to UBC and British Columbia, to a new audience. “That these musicians are coming here is a fantastic recognition and acknowledgement of the amazing work being done at UBC,” he says.

“Like poetry, music is a universal language that all of us immediately understand and can relate to. Science tells the most amazing stories. Both of them bring meaning and beauty to our world.”

“Sounds and Science” – Vienna Meets Vancouver is part of the President’s Concert Series | November 30, 2019 on campus at the Old Auditorium from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

To learn more about the Sounds and Science concert series hosted in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna, visit www.soundsandscience.com.

I found more information regarding logistics,

Saturday, November 30, 2019
6:30 pm
The Old Auditorium, 6344 Memorial Road, UBC

Box office and Lobby: Opens at 5:30 pm (one hour prior to start of performance)
Old Auditorium Concert Hall: Opens at 6:00 pm

Sounds
Günter Seifert  VIOLIN
Rémy Ballot VIOLIN
Hans Peter Ochsenhofer VIOLA
Manfred Hecking DOUBLE BASS

Science
Josef Penninger GENETICS
Manfred Hecking INTERNAL MEDICINE
Troy Grennan INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Poul Sorensen PATHOLOGY & LABORATORY MEDICINE
Allison Eddy PEDIATRICS
Roger Wong GERIATRICS

Tickets are also available in person at UBC concert box-office locations:
– Old Auditorium
– Freddie Wood Theatre
– The Chan Centre for the Performing Art

General admission: $10.00
Free seating for UBC students
Purchase tickets for both President’s Concert Series events to make it a package, and save 10% on both performances

Transportation
Public and Bike Transportation
Please visit Translink for bike and transit information.
Parking
Suggested parking in the Rose Garden Parkade.

Buy Tickets

The Sounds and Science website has a feature abut the upcoming Vancouver concert and it offers a history dating from 2008,

MUSIC AND MEDICINE

The idea of combining music and medicine into the “Sounds & Science” – scientific concert series started in 2008, when the Austrian violinist Rainer Honeck played Bach’s Chaconne in d-minor directly before a keynote lecture, held by Nobel laureate Peter Doherty, at the Austrian Society of Allergology and Immunology’s yearly meeting in Vienna. The experience at that lecture was remarkable, truly a special moment. “Sounds & Science” was then taken a step further by bringing several concepts together: Anton Neumayr’s medical histories of composers, John Brockman’s idea of a “Third Culture” (very broadly speaking: combining humanities and science), and finally, our perception that science deserves a “Red Carpet” to walk on, in front of an audience. Attendees of the “Sounds & Science” series have also described that music opens the mind, and enables a better understanding of concepts in life and thereby science in general. On a typical concert/lecture, we start with a chamber music piece, continue with the pathobiography of the composer, go back to the music, and then introduce our main speaker, whose talk should be genuinely understandable to a broad, not necessarily scientifically trained audience. In the second half, we usually try to present a musical climax. One prerequisite that “Sounds & Science” stands for, is the outstanding quality of the principal musicians, and of the main speakers. Our previous concerts/lectures have so far covered several aspects of medicine like “Music & Cancer” (Debussy, Brahms, Schumann), “Music and Heart” (Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner), and “Music and Diabetes” (Bach, Ysaÿe, Puccini). For many individuals who have combined music and medicine or music and science inside of their own lives and biographies, the experience of a cross-connection between sounds and science is quite familiar. But there is also this “fun” aspect of sharing and participating, and at the “Sounds & Science” events, we usually try to ensure that the event location can easily be turned into a meeting place.

At a guess, Science and Sounds started informally in 2008 and became a formal series in 2014.

There is a video but it’s in German. It’s enjoyable viewing with beautiful music but unless you have German language skills you won’t get the humour. Also it runs for over 9 minutes (a little longer than most of videos you’ll find here on FrogHeart),

Enjoy!

CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has a metaphor issue?

Elinor Hortie at the University of Sydney (Australia) has written a very interesting essay about CRISPR ‘scissors’, a metaphor she find misleading. From Hortie’s July 4, 2019 essay on The Conversation,

Last week I read an article about CRISPR, the latest tool scientists are using to edit DNA. It was a great piece – well researched, beautifully written, factually accurate. It covered some of the amazing projects scientist are working on using CRISPR, like bringing animals back from extinction and curing diseases. It also gave me the heebies, but not for the reason you might expect.

Take CRISPR. It’s most often described as a pair of molecular scissors that can be used to modify DNA, the blueprint for life. And when we read that, I think most of us start imagining something like a child with her Lego bricks strewn in front of her, instruction booklet in one hand, scissors in the other. One set of pictograms, one model; one gene, one disease; one snip, one cure. We’re there in a blink. CRISPR seems like it can work miracles.

I want to stress that the molecular scissors metaphor is pretty damn accurate as far as it goes. But in focusing on the relatively simple relationship between CRISPR and DNA, we miss the far more complicated relationship between DNA and the rest of the body. This metaphor ignores an entire ecosystem of moving parts that are crucial for understanding the awe-inspiring, absolutely insane thing scientists are trying to do when they attempt gene editing.

Hortie proposes a different metaphor,

In my research I use CRISPR from time to time. To design experiments and interpret results effectively, I need a solid way to conceptualise what it can (and can’t) do. I do not think of CRISPR as molecular scissors.

Instead I imagine a city. The greater metropolis represents the body, the suburbs are organs, the buildings are cells, the people are proteins, and the internet is DNA.

In this metaphor CRISPR is malware. More precisely, CRISPR is malware that can search for any chosen 20-character line of code and corrupt it. This is not a perfect metaphor by any stretch, but it gets me closer to understanding than almost anything else.

Hortie offers an example from her own work demonstrating how a CRISPR ‘malware’ metaphor/analogy more accurately represents the experience of using the gene-editing system,

As an example, let’s look at Alzheimer’s, one of the diseases CRISPR is being touted to cure. The headlines are usually some variation of “CRISPR to correct Alzheimer’s gene!”, and the molecular scissors analogy is never far behind.

It seems reasonable to me that someone could read those words and assume that chopping away the disease-gene with the DNA-shears should be relatively simple. When the cure doesn’t appear within five years, I can understand why that same person would come to ask me why Big Pharma is holding out (this has happened to me more than once).

Now let’s see how it looks using the malware metaphor. The consensus is that Alzheimer’s manifests when a specific protein goes rogue, causing damage to cells and thereby stopping things from working properly inside the brain. It might have a genetic cause, but it’s complicated. In our allegorical city, what would that look like?

I think riots would come close. Rampaging humans (proteins) destroying houses and property (cells), thereby seriously derailing the normal functioning of a specific suburb (the brain).

And you want to fix that with malware?

It’s hard to predict the domino effect

Can you imagine for a second trying to stop soccer hooligans smashing things on the streets of Buenos Aires by corrupting roughly three words in the FIFA by-laws with what’s essentially a jazzed-up command-F function?

I’m not saying it’s not possible – it absolutely is.

But think of all the prior knowledge you need, and all the pieces that have to fall in place for that to work. You’d have to know that the riots are caused by football fans. You’d have to understand which rule was bothering them (heaven help you if it’s more than one), and if that rule causes drama at every game. You’d have to find a 20-character phrase that, when corrupted, would change how the rule was read, rather than just making a trivial typo.

You’d have to know that the relevant footballers have access to the updated rule book, and you’d have to know there were no other regulations making your chosen rule redundant. You’d have to know there aren’t any similar 20-character phrases anywhere on the internet that might get corrupted at the same time (like in the rules for presidential succession say, or in the nuclear warhead codes). Even then you’d still be rolling the dice.

Even if you stop the riots successfully, which of us really know the long-term consequences of changing the World Game forever?

That’s stretching the metaphor as Hortie notes herself later in the essay. And, she’s not the only one concerned about metaphors and CRISPR. There’s a December 8, 0217 article by Rebecca Robbins for STAT news which covers ten analogies/metaphors ranked from worst to best,

… Some of these analogies are better than others. To compile the definitive ranking, I sat down with STAT’s senior science writer Sharon Begley, a wordsmith who has herself compared CRISPR to “1,000 monkeys editing a Word document” and the kind of dog “you can train to retrieve everything from Frisbees to slippers to a cold beer.”

Sharon and I evaluated each of the metaphors we found by considering these three questions: Is it creative? Is it clear? And is it accurate? Below, our rankings of CRISPR analogies, ordered from worst to best:

0. A knockout punch


9. The hand of God


8. A bomb removal squad

It’s a very interesting list with a description of why each does and doesn’t work as an analogy. By the way, ‘scissors’ was not the top analogy. The number one spot went to ‘A Swiss army knife’.

There are many more essays than I would have believed concerning CRISPR and metaphors/analogies. I’m glad to see them as the language we use to describe our work and our world helps us understand it and can constrain us in unexpected ways. Critiques such as Hortie’s and the others can help us to refine the language and to recognize its limitations.

h/t July 4, 2019 news item on phys.org