Lectures & Speaking Topics

Can Your Genome Save Your Life
In 2001, scientists finished sequencing the first human genome. It took them ten years and three billion dollars. Now you can get your genome sequenced for a few thousand dollars in a matter of days. In the next few years, doctors will be able to scan the genomes of their patients as easily as they take a blood pressure reading. The potential to change medicine is vast—from personalized drug cocktails for cancer to discovering the causes of previously mysterious diseases. But as we enter the age of personalized medicine, it’s essential that everyone understand what the genome can and cannot reveal to us about our health.
A Journey to the Center of the Brain
Our brains are the foundation for who were are—they store our memories, give rise to our emotions, and enable us to look to the future. But our brains remain terra incognita, an inner continent that remains barely explored. Only now are scientists beginning to map the brain in its full complexity, mapping some of its 80 billion neurons and their trillions of connections with each other. The results, while early, are mind-blowing to contemplate. Already, brain-mapping has improved people’s lives, having enabled scientists to implant electrodes in the brain to help people with Parkinson’s regain their ability to walk and give paralyzed people the power to control computers. In the future, mapping the brain may point to better ways to treat disorders such as autism, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. And ultimately, we will gain an inner map of human nature itself.
You are Thousands of Species
We think of ourselves as individual human beings, but our identity is actually intermingled with a menagerie of microbes that live in us and on us. Our microbiome contains about five times more cells than our own body, and a thousand times more genes. While we’ve known that microbes live in our bodies for centuries, only in the past few years have scientists been able to survey their diversity and begin to figure out what they’re doing. It turns out they are essential for our health and influence everything from our weight to our minds.
Masters of Evolution
Life has evolved in Earth for over 3.5 billion years, transformed into an awesome pageant—from luminiscent squid to cloud-dwelling bacteria to bipedal apes that can build spaceships. Until now, the forces that have driven evolution have been natural—from droughts to drifting continents. But now we humans have emerged as a major evolutionary force. We are driving natural selection into overdrive, fostering the emergence of new species, and pushing old species towards extinction. Scientists are only starting to reckon with our evolutionary power, but it’s clear that our own survival depends on managing it.

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