The frontier of biology these days is the genetics and ecology of bacteria, and the frontier of THAT is what’s being learned about viruses. “The science of virology is still in its early, wild days,” writes Carl Zimmer. “Scientists are discovering viruses faster than they can make sense of them.”
The Earth’s atmosphere is determined in large part by ocean bacteria; every day viruses kill half of them. Every year in the oceans, viruses transfer a trillion trillion genes between host organisms. They evolve faster than anything else, and they are a major engine of the evolution of the rest of life. Our own bodies are made up of 10 trillion human cells, 100 trillion bacteria, and 4 trillion very busy viruses. Some of them kill us. Many of them help us. Some of them are us. Viral time is ancient and blindingly fast.
Science journalist Carl Zimmer’s new book, A Planet of Viruses, is the best introduction to the subject. His previous books include Parasite Rex and Microcosm.
The first ten minutes below. Switch to fora.tv afterwards to see the rest.
Many people see their fate as rather like a cake, which can be sliced into a piece called Nature – what you are born with: your DNA – and another known as Nurture – the way you live. Life – genetics – alas, is not so simple; to separate those ingredients one would have to unbake the cake, which is impossible.
The UK’s Professor Steve Jones is keenly interested in understanding diversity, the role of natural selection and the nature of genetic differences between species. His research has led him to study the ecological genetics of snails, fruit flies and humans. In more recent years however, with information on the genetics of human populations expanding, Jones’ interests have moved more towards human genetics.
In this talk, the award-winning science writer discusses everything from the genetics of the royal family and the Siamese cat to what happens to those who eat too much cake and whether genes might indeed influence our chance of becoming obese.
The Sir David Rivett Memorial Lecture is in honour of an Australian chemist and Chief Executive Officer of CSIR (1927-1945). He died in 1961. The lectures are delivered by distinguished scientists on current and significant new research, with the first David Rivett Lecture delivered in Melbourne in 1963 by Lord Florey on the topic ‘The Development of Modern Science’.
Professor Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at the University College London. He has written a number of popular books on genetics and evolution, including “The Language of the Genes”, “Y: The Descent of Men” and “Darwin’s island”. Jones has won the Rhone-Poulenc book prize and the Yorkshire Post first book prize in 1994; and the BP Natural World Book Prize in 1999. He was awarded the Royal Society Faraday Medal for public understanding of science in 1997 and the Institute of Biology Charter medal in 2003. More recently, he won the 2009 Zoological Society of London/Thomson Reuters Award for Communicating Zoology, for his book – “Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise”. In 2011, he was elected President of the UK Association for Science Education.
All watched over by machines of loving grace is Adam Curtis’ latest three-part documentary series. The introduction to the series reads:
This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy — but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.
The underlying argument is that people have given up a dynamic political model of the world — the dream of changing things for the better — for a static machine ideology that says everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.
From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.
The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there’s also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.
The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.
Some of the people included in this story: Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden, Larry Ellison, John McCaskey, Kevin O’Connor, Loren Carpenter, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Alvin Toffler, Keniche Ohmae, Peter Schwartz, Bill Clinton, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Joan Mitchell, Stephen Roach, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Rubin, Carmen Hermosillo, Monica Lewinsky, Suharto, Mahatir Mohamad, Arthur Tansley, Sigmund Freud, Peder Anker, Jay Wright Forrester, Norbert Wiener, Fred Turner, Howard Odum, Eugene Odum, Peter J Taylor, Daniel Botkin, Buckminster Fuller, Randall Gibson, Molly Hollenbach, Richard Brautigan, Alexander King, Jan Smuts, Tord Björk, Steward Pickett, George Van Dyne, Al Gore, (W.D.) Bill Hamilton, Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu Sese Seko, Michael Ruse, George R. Price, Kathleen Price, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, James Schwartz, Diane Fossey, Richard Dawkins.
The episodes are titled: Love and Power, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, and The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. The three parts, each lasting ~55 minutes, in a YouTube playlist:
Curtis in the The Guardian: How the ‘ecosystem’ myth has been used for sinister means When, in the 1920s, a botanist and a field marshal dreamed up rival theories of nature and society, no one could have guessed their ideas would influence the worldview of 70s hippies and 21st-century protest movements. But their faith in self-regulating systems has a sinister history
Also check out Curtis’ blog over at the BBC. The post of the trailer to this series has a bunch of interesting comments, including some that gather most of the music used. It includes the following tracks: