Eric Schulze, molecular biologist
Expert Voices Featured

Science can't be at the expense of culture

Our Expert Voices conversation on food security.

Society and science have to work together to develop solutions to historical and unforeseen food and health challenges.

The culture piece: Food culture is human culture. Our humanity is woven into the tapestry of our culinary traditions and our species' omnivorous requirements. Over history we rarely change habits in light of scientific progress. Even clear, direct scientific solutions to food crises and health epidemics push against the weight of thousands of years of cultural identity.

Three scientific questions: What is actually happening with human health and our diets? What information and tools can be produced that address our food and food-related health problems? And, how effective are those future food solutions likely to be generations from now?

Bottom line: To feed a hungry future world, human culture and traditions may need to consider how to better incorporate scientific conclusions into their everyday lives, or failing this, place greater trust in science and technology to provide betters options and evidence for the future of food.

Other voices in the conversation:

  • Pamela Ronald, plant geneticist, UC Davis, Focus on results new technologies bring
  • Henk Hobbelink, agronomist, GRAIN, Support small farmers
  • Deborah Delmer, plant biologist, Genetic modification is an important part
  • Expert Voices Featured

    Alien life is closer than you think

    Our expert voices conversation on "How to look for alien life."

    Alien life will be conceived, discovered, investigated, and iterated upon right here on Earth using biotechnology and our best attempt at collective intelligence: the computer and the internet.

    To me, life is a system defined by generating, storing, and transmitting critical information albeit imperfectly at times. (Here on Earth that is done with DNA.) Simply put, life is complex and non-linear. With that convention, alien life bears no responsibility to be anything like life on Earth — or even follow our terrestrial rules, but it should break rules in a predictable fashion. We should look for systems that can use energy to fuel work, react and adapt to their environments and transmit information about themselves. These together all hint at life, and all can be generated from within a computer using Earth's biology as both tracing paper and as a spotlight.

    Alien life simply awaits modern biotechnology to adapt it to existence beyond a computer. There is little gained in creating life from scratch. Rather, our computers should borrow, adapt, and iterate. Modern biotechnology can attempt parts, genetically recoding existing cells to run molecular programs never imagined, the result of which is a novel system constrained to iterate upon a new set of rules. In other words, new life right here on Earth.

    The other voices in the conversation: