Mosquitos are the deadliest animal on Earth. They spread diseases like yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus and malaria. Malaria alone killed 435,000 people and infected another 219 million in 2017 according to the World Health Organization. There are widespread efforts to combat mosquito-borne illnesses, including revolutionary new gene editing techniques.
Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz, biologists at UC San Diego, have been researching gene drives – systems that allow scientists to quickly push genes through entire populations. Typically, genetic information from each parent is combined and passed down to their children. Think back to Punnett squares from high school biology. If one parent has blonde hair and the other has brown hair, the brunette would have to carry a recessive blonde gene for any of their children to be blonde. But, gene drives change that. Gantz and Bier came up with a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing technique to insert self-editing genes into mosquitos, so preferred traits are always passed down. Their research shows these traits can take over entire populations within 10 generations, one to two years for mosquitos.
In a recent talk at UC San Diego Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Bier dove into the details of exactly how gene drives work, and their many potential applications.
Watch — Engineering Mosquitos to Fight Malaria with Ethan Bier — Osher UC San Diego
What is nature? What does it mean to preserve, or save it? Science writer Emma Marris says one common definition of nature in North America is the way any given place was before European explorers arrived and began changing the landscape. Therefore, saving nature would mean returning the land to how it was before their arrival. But, she says that idea is flawed because there are countless examples of land management by indigenous people: relocating useful plants to new environments, creating systems to manage rainwater, and clearing land for crops. And, human impact on the environment goes back much more than a few hundred years. Marris notes that pretty much anywhere you look, there is evidence of major changes with the arrival of humans – in particular, the extinction of large land mammals like the woolly mammoth.
Today however, the planet is largely tailored entirely to human existence. Nearly 40% of the ice-free surface of the earth is agriculture. Domesticated livestock far outweighs wild animal life. Species have been moved around, in some cases wreaking havoc on ecosystem. And of course, there are growing impacts of climate change – even hitting places on the planet where humans have never lived.
Marris argues that in order to effectively conserve nature, we have to change our perception of what nature means. She says her old way of thinking, that nature was a pristine untouched and unchanged place didn’t match reality, because if left alone, all places will change. So, she came up with new definitions, including the idea of resource-intensive land management to keep certain culturally important lands as unchanged as possible, and also the idea of novel ecosystems where uncontrolled landscapes have transformed themselves.
With this updated understanding of what nature is, Marris proposes an updated take on conservation. She suggests dividing land into three different styles of management: restoration, innovation, and observation. In her exciting and hopeful talk at UC San Diego, Marris goes on to give concrete examples of how these strategies have worked, and might continue to work around the world.
Watch — The Future of Nature: Conservation in the Anthropocene with Emma Marris – Institute for Practical Ethics
Daniel Lurie has been on a mission to make his community stronger since he was a child. Born and raised in San Francisco, Lurie’s family believed it was their responsibility to be part of a better Bay Area. Today, Lurie is doing just that through his non-profit Tipping Point Community. Lurie developed the concept while he was a student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He recently returned to campus to discuss how Tipping Point is rethinking philanthropy.
Tipping Point provides funding for non-profits around the Bay Area working on four key issues: housing, employment, family wellness, and education. But, rather than just giving money and walking way, Tipping Point works with groups to measure their success, and hold them accountable. Lurie says Tipping Point has ended relationships with 20% of their partners over the years, a testament to their high standards.
Another major issue Tipping Point is addressing is homelessness. Right now, the group is working on a three-pronged approach – creating more housing, prevention, and optimizing the public sector. For housing, they’re attempting to construct a 146-unit building in San Francisco in under three years for less than $400,000 per unit. Lurie hopes this project will prove building at that speed and price is possible, and serve as a model for future development.
For prevention, Tipping Point is working with UCSF to increase the number of beds so people with mental health problems can be set up with case managers instead of being released back onto the streets. They’re also running a pilot program in a jail to arrange housing for people when they are released. And, Tipping Point is holding regular meetings with local officials and business leaders to figure out how they can work together to address the problem.
Watch — Tipping Point and the Fight to End Bay Area Poverty with Daniel Lurie
A lot has changed since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security was created to safeguard the country against terrorism and other threats. As the former head of the agency, Janet Napolitano says we are now safer in many ways. She says it would be nearly impossible for someone to orchestrate another 9/11 style attack using planes as weapons. But, there are other threats to the homeland today, some of which are not getting the attention she believes they deserve.
In a recent talk at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, Napolitano spoke about her time at DHS, and her new book, “How Safe Are We?: Homeland Security Since 9/11.” She says there are three main risks to the safety of Americans: climate change, cyber-attacks, and gun violence. Napolitano says while climate change might not seem like a priority for DHS, it is increasing threats from deadly storms, drought, wildfires and rising sea levels in the US. And, it’s contributing to drought and devastation around the world which can create environments where extremism can take hold.
Napolitano says while there are several serious threats that need to be addressed, the main focus of the current administration – the southern border – is not one of them. As the former governor of Arizona, Napolitano is well-versed in border issues. She agrees that there are problems that need to be addressed, but disagrees with the methods President Trump has proposed. She advocates for increasing technology between ports of entry, and beefing up security at the ports to combat human and drug trafficking. As for the increase of migrants coming from Central America, Napolitano says it’s a crisis we can get through, but not something we can stop with the harsh treatment of asylum-seekers. She points to Colombia as an example of how the US can help restore public institutions in countries like Honduras and El Salvador, and remove the motivation for people to flee.
After her talk, Napolitano takes questions from students and moderator Orville Thomas on everything from how social media companies can combat hate speech, to whether President Trump has reached out for advice.
Watch — How Safe Are We? Janet Napolitano Discusses Homeland Security Since 9/11
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