Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

A pathogen hunter flies into African dust plumes

4 Nov 2013 -
10:30am to 11:15am
Plant Pathology
satelite image of sandstorm plume over Africa

Each summer, huge atmospheric plumes from African dust storms dump some 50 million metric tons of dust on the state of Florida before spreading through the eastern U.S. The plumes bring with them spores and microbes scoured from the agricultural lands of the Sahel. Many plant and animal pathogens have been found in the dust, but only sparse sampling is possible on land. So plant pathologist Andrew Schuerger is taking to the air.

Andrew Schuerger

research assistant professor in astrobiology and plant pathology
University of Florida

Viral gene therapy: Leveraging structural biology for safer cures

4 Nov 2013 -
9:30am to 10:15am
Structural Biology
Micrograph of Adeno-associated virus

After decades of effort, gene therapy is happening: In November 2012, the European Commission approved a viral gene therapy for a rare metabolic syndrome causing pancreatitis, while clinical trials are well under way for a treatment for a rare form of blindness. Both therapies use adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) as a vector for delivering genes to the cell nucleus. But the pursuit of viral vectors for gene therapy and the battle against pathogenic viruses are both hampered by the subtle shape-shifting of viruses and the immune system’s equally dynamic response to them.

Mavis Agbandje-McKenna

director, Center for Structural Biology, McKnight Brain Institute; professor of biochemistry and molecular biology
University of Florida

Tiny mammals, giant reptiles: Fossil snapshots of biotic response to climate

4 Nov 2013 -
9:30am to 10:15am
Fossilized mammal lying prone

What will happen to life on Earth in a rapidly warming planet? Jon Bloch says we have only to look in the fossil record for abundant data from past global hyperthermal events—the big experiments already run by the planet. Along with Titanoboa, the 48-foot long biggest snake ever, he has found the tiny ungulate ancestors of horses, cows, pigs, camels, rhinos and whales during a big planetary warmup around 60 million years ago. Bloch’s recent work in the Americas tells a dynamic story of the biotic response to global climate change.

Jonathan I. Bloch

director of the Program of Vertebrate Paleontology
Florida Museum of Natural History

From reductionism to sustainable science

4 Nov 2013 -
8:30am to 9:30am
Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of winged flying craft

Paul Anastas acknowledges that science has made huge progress through reductionism and tinkering, learning what happens when you change just one parameter. But the resulting products and processes have given us a 21st-century world that is awash in unintended consequences and expends enormous agency on flawed and ineffective risk analysis. Reductionism, he says, is “a wonderful tool, a terrible master, an even worse religion.” He will propose ways for scientists and engineers to embrace systems thinking, systems design and “transformative innovation.”

Paul T. Anastas

director, Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering; Teresa and H. John Heinz III professor in the practice of chemistry for the environment
Yale University

The future of spaceflight: An update from Virgin Galactic

3 Nov 2013 -
4:30pm to 5:30pm
Space Exploration
painted tin space ship toy with robotic tin pilot

On April 29 this year, a new space vehicle–Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo–reached supersonic speeds in its first rocket-powered flight over the Mojave Desert. By the time ScienceWriters convenes in November, Virgin Galactic will have flown again, and more than 600 passengers are now lined up for commercial flights into space that could start next year. CEO George T. Whitesides will bring a report on the countdown to space operations at Spaceport America, where Richard Branson hopes to ride his ship 50 miles up–officially reaching space to open the age of commercial flight.

From Haiti to the Hajj: Real-time science to prevent pandemics

3 Nov 2013 -
9:30am to 10:30am
Emerging Diseases
Throngs of people on Hajj pilgrimage surrounding the Kaaba

As the annual Hajj pilgrimage approaches, world health officials are watching with concern a SARS-like coronavirus that has already caused dozens of deaths in Saudi Arabia this year. Glenn Morris and his collaborators at the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida scramble to do the basic science necessary to fend off and combat pandemics. Areas of current activity include understanding the transmission of the Saudi Arabian virus from animals to humans.

Gregory C. Gray

Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Global Health, College of Public Health and Health Professions; Director, Global Pathogens Laboratory
University of Florida

J. Glenn Morris Jr.

director, Emerging Pathogens Institute; professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and public health
University of Florida

Planck cosmology: Zooming in on big-bang inflation

3 Nov 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
oval map of the universe in blues and yellows

What would the universe look like to an electron some 370,000 years after the big bang? This spring the Planck cosmology probe released a fine-scale map of the subtle thermal variations imprinted on the cosmos around that time, revealing that the universe was slightly older than previously thought. But the Planck instruments also measured the polarized intensities of the ancient light. Mission scientists are now working to zoom in using the polarization data, getting that electron’s-eye insider view of the early universe.

Charles Lawrence

principal scientist, astrophysics; US project scientist for the Planck Collaboration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

One Medicine: how dogs are accelerating human cancer research

3 Nov 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
Cancer Genomics
Image of Alaskan Husky eyes, one blue one brown

Matthew Breen knows the source of the cancers common in purebred dogs: people. As we bred dogs for behavioral and appearance traits, humans unwittingly selected for susceptibility to maladies including retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia and certain cancers. But genomic studies have revealed a silver lining: Research on these inbred populations can radically accelerate progress on cancers shared by humans and their loyal companions. By looking at 150 dogs with lymphoma, Breen and colleagues identified a genetic signature that predicts how long a dog will respond to chemotherapy.

Matthew Breen

professor of genomics, Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine
North Carolina State University

Probing nanoparticles for answers to big climate questions

3 Nov 2013 -
2:30pm to 3:15pm
Atmospheric Chemistry
Bubbles in the dark

For years, tiny organic particles in the air we breath have bedeviled climate modelers. Some of these particles are byproducts of human activity; others can be traced to oxidized gas molecules emitted by trees. These particles play a significant role in climate and have the remarkable habit of trapping toxic pollutants and transporting them from industrial regions to the pristine arctic. So far, models have been able to explain at best one-tenth of the organics actually measured in the atmosphere.

Alla Zelenyuk

senior research scientist
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Rethinking the origins of dogs

3 Nov 2013 -
1:45pm to 2:30pm
Genetics and Behavior
Australian blue healer dog at play

However popular, useful and abundant they are, dogs hold many mysteries. For one thing, just how did they come to be? Clive Wynne has been traveling the world to re-examine evidence supporting two dominant ideas: the “hunter’s helper” and “dumpster diver” theories. Wynne, who conducts behavioral research with both dogs and wolves, focuses on such issues as how the first dogs achieved the reproductive isolation needed to create a canid subspecies.


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