A new series asks University scientists in bio-based fields to talk about probable challenges we face and possible advances that could have a profound impact on the future.
Humans impact the planet at every scale from the composition of microbes in our soil to the function of entire ecosystems. Some suggest the current geological era should be called the Anthropocene in recognition of the outsized role we play in shaping the world around us. Our ability to understand how things work and, potentially, how to make them work for us to address pressing issues has never been greater. Given the rapid pace of discovery, what would it look like if we could time travel into the not-too-distant future. Eight investigators talk about the probable challenges we face and the possible developments that could shape the future in profound ways.
MAY 13 Could microbes form the basis for new and novel treatments and even be cures for a variety of diseases? Christine Salomon and Mike Sadowsky will take you on a whirlwind tour of the state of the science and look to a future in which microbes may provide a pathway to health. Dr. Christine Salomon, an associate professor at the University's Center for Drug Design, will share insights about microbes' incredibly complex and biologically active metabolites and what their vast untapped metabolic potential to make many more compounds could mean for drug discovery. Dr. Mike Sadowsky, head of the BioTechnology Institute, will discuss the potential of a new microbe-based approach called microbiota therapeutics to treat diseases including Clostridium difficile (C. diff) as well as recent successes in treating symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder. MAY 20 As glaciers recede, ice cover declines and rainfall patterns become less predictable, landscapes, livelihoods and ways of life are changing, too. Lesley Knoll and Daniel Stanton will explore the implications for the planet and the people who live on it. Seasonal ice cover duration has been declining over the past 150 years for Northern Hemisphere lakes and rivers, but we still know relatively little about how inland ice loss directly affects humans. Dr. Lesley Knoll , a limnologist and station biologist at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, will explore cultural ecosystem services (e.g., sense of place, cultural identity) that are supported by lake and river ice. Water availability is expected to change considerably in the future. How this impacts vegetation will depend a lot on how plants respond and use remaining water. Dr. Daniel Stanton, an assistant professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, will discuss how plant interactions with climate at small and regional scales could lead to a range of outcomes, and where some of the large knowledge gaps and uncertainties remain.
MAY 27 Imagine a world in which sustainable products and socially-conscious investing were the norm. Emerging technologies are making it possible to track environmental responsibility in real-time and manufacture next-generation renewable materials. Jessica Hellmann and David Bengston are at the vanguard of these developments and will share their insights.
Socially-conscious investors are driving a transformation in the environmental responsibility of corporations, but they're just a small portion of the financial market.
Dr. Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment, sees a sea-change coming with the advent of remote sensing and the ready availability of independent and verifiable data to track environmental responsibility in real-time and report that information to investors. Dr. David Bengston, an environmental futurist with the Strategic Foresight Group of the Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, sees a forest-based bioeconomy on the horizon as new technologies enable production of high-tech, wood-based materials that could replace many nonrenewable and carbon-intensive materials. He will explore how a new “age of wood” may be dawning in which an ancient and renewable material takes center stage.
Organized by the College of Biological Sciences and the Bell Museum.