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Fall 2014 Series
Beckman Center - Irvine, CA

September 10, 2014
4th Annual Seymour Benzer Lecture
Host-Pathogen Arms Race: A View from the Molecular Battlefield

Arms races are conflicts between two or more parties where the goal of each side is to accumulate superior forces and weapons, resulting in a rapid escalation of technology. Often used to describe conflicts between nations, arms races also occur between species in nature, leading to the rapid evolution of new traits and behaviors. On the molecular level, an arms race is playing out daily within all of our cells as we attempt to fend off parasites such as viruses and microbes. In this talk I will provide examples of biologists taking advantage of molecular arms races to view evolutionary changes in fast-forward. In addition, I will highlight the molecular arms race that I study, which is required to protect our genes and chromosomes from types of parasitic DNA in our own cells called transposable elements.

The annual Seymour Benzer Lecture – which is in the fields of neuroscience or genetics – was established in 2011 through a gift from Sydney Brenner in memory of his friend and colleague, Seymour Benzer.

R. Keith Slotkin, Department of Molecular Genetics and the Center for RNA Biology at The Ohio State University

October 15, 2014
Making One from Two (or More): Mergers, Acquisitions, Downsizing and Innovation in Eukaryotic Cell Evolution

Eukaryotic (nucleus-containing) cells are demonstrably chimeric, with genetic contributions from the prokaryotic domains Bacteria and Archaea, as well as genes specific to the eukaryotic domain (Eucarya).  Processes that characterize the evolution of business and industry —mergers, acquisitions, downsizing and innovation—have their parallels in eukaryotic cell evolution.  Prominent among the cell-cell mergers that have led to the contemporary eukaryotic cell are the bacterial endosymbioses that established the energy-generating subcellular organelles, the mitochondrion and plastid (chloroplast).  As businesses and industries gain competitive advantage and find productive niches through mergers, acquisitions, downsizing and innovation, so have eukaryotic cells and the unicellular and multicellular organisms they comprise. 

Michael W. Gray
, Dalhousie University

A private receptionn for Friends of Distinctive Voices follows the lecture.

October 22, 2014
Bitcoin and Beyond: Cryptocurrencies Explained

Non-state-backed, decentralized “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin have introduced new paradigms for money movement in which transfers are public but the identities of the individuals behind the transfers are masked. This presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, cryptocurrencies have important speed, efficiency and (in some respects) security advantages over traditional approaches. Yet, all mechanisms for moving and storing money—new and old—involve risks and the potential for misuse. This presentation will discuss what bitcoin is, how it works, and the broader implications of systems built on the concept of decentralized trust.

John Villasenor is a professor of electrical engineering and public policy at UCLA and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

October 29, 2014
The Promise of Brain Training Games

Imagine if you could see better, hear better, have improved memory, and even become more intelligent through simple training done on your own computer, smartphone, or tablet. Just as physical fitness underwent a revolution in the 20th century, brain fitness is being transformed through innovations in psychology, neuroscience and computer science. This talk discusses recent research that begins to unlock this potential with a focus on a recent vision training game that improves not only visual performance on eye-charts, but also on-field performance in baseball.

Aaron Seitz, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Riverside

November 12, 2014
Collective Behavior: From Cells to Societies

Joan Strassmann, Washington University in St. Louis


November 19, 2014
Ancient DNA

Beth Shapiro, University of California, Santa Cruz



December 3, 2014
Visualizing Ecology and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Gregory Asner, Carnegie Institution for Science 


December 10, 2014
Kepler-186f – Earth-like planet

Thomas Barclay, NASA Ames Research Center


December 17, 2014
Edible Education: Science and Food

Liz Roth-Johnson, University of California, Los Angeles Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology.



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