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Exploratorium Announces New Lecture Series: BioFutures

Exploratorium Announces New Lecture Series: BioFutures

Six focused discussions will explore how emerging bioscience technologies are changing our world    

SAN FRANCISCO (January 31, 2020)—The Exploratorium announced today that it is launching a new lecture series entitled BioFutures, that will engage leading scientists, legal experts, and artists in focused discussions around emerging technologies and innovations in bioscience, and their social, health, and legal implications in our society. The six discussions in the series will take place between February 6 and June 4, 2020, and will feature speakers including Dr. Allyson Moutri, Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego; Dr. Katherine Pollard, Director of the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institute of Data Science; Dr. Elizabeth Joh, Professor of Law at UC Davis; Heather Dewey-Hagborg, transdisciplinary artist and educator; Dr. Matthew Porteus, Professor of Pediatrics and researcher at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University; Dr. Amy Boddy, human biologist and evolutionary theorist, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara; Andrea Roth, legal expert and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley. 

As genetics and biotechnology continually evolve, surprising scenarios are emerging. The DNA editing technology CRISPR may enable us to fix disease-causing genes in the human body or select particular characteristics in developing babies, raising complex social and ethical questions. A sample of our DNA can tell us about our ancestral past, but it might also reveal things that we’d rather keep private. The BioFutures lecture series will explore how we can make the most of exciting advances, while also defining our ethical boundaries. 

The BioFutures series builds on the institution’s multi-disciplinary efforts to deepen the understanding of genetics and genomics among museum visitors and educators. In October 2019, the Exploratorium opened a new permanent exhibit collection entitled Cells to Self: Exploring the Life Inside You, which allows visitors to consider the nature and functions of cells, as well as how genetics and environmental influences intermingle to form a complete human self. The Exploratorium also recently announced The Phenomenal Genome, a new project funded by the National Institutes of Health and Genentech, aimed at modernizing the teaching and learning of genetics through Informal Science Education programming (ISE).



BioFutures: Growing Brain Organoids in the Lab

A Conversation with Neuroscientist Dr. Alysson Muotri

Thursday, February 6, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

Using stem cells—like those found in our earliest embryonic selves—scientists have learned to grow miniature structures, called brain organoids. How similar are organoids to a real human brain, and what can we do with them? So far, scientists have seen brain organoids send signals in coordinated patterns that look somewhat like the brain waves in a fetus.

Join a conversation with leading organoid researcher Alysson Muotri to explore how brain organoids might help us study human brain disorders and the very earliest stages of brain development.

Alysson Muotri is a Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on modeling neurological diseases, such as autism spectrum disorders. Muotri has received several awards, including the prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and the NIH EUREKA Award.


BioFutures: Exploring Human Microbes Through Big Data

With Computational Biologist Dr. Katherine Pollard

Thursday, March 5, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

The majority of cells in your body are not human; they belong to the trillions of microbes living in your stomach, intestines, on your skin, and in dozens of other organs. How do these microbes and their DNA help keep you alive and healthy, and what's their role in disease? Scientists have just scratched the surface, but the way forward lies not in growing bacteria in an incubator, but in using computers to analyze unfathomable volumes of DNA data. Bioinformatics expert Katherine Pollard will reveal what that data is telling us about the organisms within ourselves.

Katherine Pollard, PhD, is Director of the Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biotechnology, and the director of the Biomedical Informatics Graduate Program at UC San Francisco, as well as an Investigator in the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub.


BioFutures: Hacking the Human Genome

With Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg in Conversation with Legal Scholar Dr. Elizabeth Joh

Thursday, March 19, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

Having your DNA analyzed is now as easy as spitting into a tube, and companies compete to offer genetic revelations about your ancestry and risk of disease. Are there downsides to allowing such easy access to our genetic information? Can our DNA also be translated into new to ways to connect? Transmedia artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s work probes what we can and can’t learn from our DNA, and she balances an optimistic perspective on biotechnology with an honest exploration of its ethical implications. 

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and educator interested in art as research and critical practice. Her work Probably Chelsea—in the Exploratorium’s Cells to Self collection—presents twenty diverse sculptural portraits based on one person’s DNA information. 

Dr. Elizabeth Joh is Professor of Law at UC Davis and an expert on DNA collection in policing.


BioFutures: Curing Disease by Editing Genes?

With Gene Therapy Researcher Matthew Porteus

Thursday, April 2, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

How can recently discovered gene-editing tools help us cure debilitating childhood diseases? The discovery of CRISPR—a tool for precisely editing genes in living cells—has generated immense excitement for its potential to repair disease-causing DNA mutations. Join a conversation with Matthew Porteus, one of the leading researchers in using CRISPR to treat childhood immune system diseases. We'll explore both the promising future and the ethical pitfalls of CRISPR. 

Matthew Porteus, MD, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University. His research focuses on developing homologous recombination-based therapies for genetic and other diseases. Dr. Porteus also attends at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital.


BioFutures: Cells from Another Self

With Biologist Amy Boddy

Thursday, May 7, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

In a mother’s womb, the developing fetus infuses cells into its mother’s body, and they stay there long after the baby is born. Recently, scientists have learned that these cellular remnants—known as michrochimerism—have dramatic effects on the mother’s body and health. UC Santa Barbara researcher Amy Boddy will look at michrochimerism from an evolutionary perspective, asking “why are they there at all?” Might they manipulate the mother’s body to give more resources to the child? Could they affect her disease risk? Her behavior?

Dr. Amy Boddy is a human biologist and evolutionary theorist in the Department of Anthropology and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Co-Leader of the Comparative Oncology Project in the Arizona Cancer and Evolution (ACE) Center. She studies evolution and cancer, comparative oncology, and intragenomic conflict.


BioFutures: Mandatory Genetic Fingerprinting

With Law Professor Andrea Roth

Thursday, June 4, 2020 • 8:00 p.m.

Exploratorium, Kanbar Forum

If someone is arrested for a federal crime, law enforcement officials are allowed to take a sample of their DNA. And last fall, the Justice Department approved the collection of DNA from the tens of thousands of people detained in immigration detention centers. UC Berkeley Law professor Andrea Roth will explore the privacy implications of expanding our federal DNA database. Could DNA fingerprinting be extended even further? What can go wrong when DNA is collected from immigrant families? How might a government DNA database be abused?

Andrea Roth is Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, where she has been on faculty since 2011. Her research focuses on the use of forensic science in criminal trials, and she previously worked as a trial and appellate attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS).

About the Exploratorium

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The Exploratorium is a portal to the astonishing scientific phenomena that animate our world and shape our actions. We create extraordinary learning experiences that ignite curiosity, upend perceptions, and inspire brave leaps forward. Since 1969, the Exploratorium’s museum in San Francisco has been home to a renowned collection of exhibits that draw together science, art, and human perception, and that have changed the way science is taught. Our award-winning programs provide a forum for the public to engage with artists, scientists, policymakers, educators, and tinkerers to explore the world around them. We celebrate diversity of thought, inspired investigation, and collaboration across all boundaries.

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