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TED Session 8: Evan Schwartz, Thelma Golden…

The theme is DISCOVER.

1. Evan Schwartz

Who is the wizard in The Wizard of Oz? He thinks it’s a composite of Edison, Rockefeller, Barnum and the Swami.

2. Thelma Golden, Studio Museum in Harlem executive director

Teacher taught her she could travel the world through art in museums without leaving New York City. But really discovered love of art through the game Masterpiece. Game play wasn’t that intersting, but the cards were reproductions from the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection. She hung them up on the wall with thumbtack — her first exhibition. Her work is about artists. First inspirations were JJ from Good Times — first black artist on TV — and Jean-Michel Basquiat “showed me who and what I was about to enter into.” When she studied art, black art was not in the canon.

Can a museum be a catalyst in a community?

Next step is reimagining cultural discourse in an international context.

3. Jennifer Mather, psychologist

Octopuses evolved separately from us. So if we look at their intelligence we know it is not our intelligence.

Cephalopods — exquisite senses, very good brains. Focus on one of these: octopuses.

Octopuses have personalities. Octopuses play. Octopuses solve problems.

Octopuses have a big brain, but not a centralized nervous system. They are very quick to learn, but also quick to forget (but they only live about a year). Sexuality only at the end of their lifespan.

Will they compete with us? No. Confined to ocean by physiology, and most are pretty small.

4. Nalini Nadarni, tree researcher

Studying treetops, canopies. Forming ICAN, international canopy network, talking about ecological importance and deforestation.

Figuring out ways to relate to people to make ecological issues important to them.

They buy used Barbies and dress them in helmet, rope, vest, et cetera, and redistributed them as “Canopy Barbie” with information packet.

Involved people in prison to grow mosses, because moss use in the floral industry is unsustainable. No green where they are, they have time and space, no sharp implements involved — has been very successful.

Very cool talk.

5. Bonnie Bassler, molecular biologist (preceded by a little talk by Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis about somehow binding antibodies to molecules so they can fend off diseases which was cool but I missed part of)

100 times more bacterial genes on you than the 30,000 genes you have that are you. You may think of yourselves as human, but I think of you as 90-95 percent bacterial. They do vital stuff in addition to making you sick, but that’s just a small minority.

But how can they do anything at all? They’re incredibly small, all they do is grow and divide, have always been considered asocial.

But how can they have such a big impact if they’re always acting as individuals?

Bioluminescence — bacteria have signal producing protein and signal receptor protein. That leads to group behavior. Not an anomaly — all bacteria have systems like this — they use chemical words. We call this “quorum sensing.”

You’re enormous — a couple bacteria could hardly affect you. But bacteria realize that onlyy once they have critical mass that they can overcome you — they use quorum sensing to tell when they have enough.

Are there multilingual bacteria? (to count how many of other types of bacteria are present). Yes — the universal communication molecule — every single bacteria has the same enzyme and makes same molecule — we call it Esperanto.

Antibiotics select for resistant mutants. So what if we could make it so bacteria can’t count each other, so they can’t launch virulence?

We think this is the next generation of antibiotics, and it will get us around this process of resistance.

We think bacteria invented this, but this is how all your body’s cells and organs work. We’ve also made pro-quorum sensing molecules to make this work better, since many bacteria live as mutualists and make you healthy.

Thanks her students — says all these discoveries made by 20-30-year-olds in her group.

Big standing ovation.

6. Nathan Wolfe, virus hunter

Health prevention research in Cameroon over the last 10 years. A number of discoveries — it’s not easy to do this, but if you look in the right place, you can monitor the flow of viruses into human population. Seeing new retroviruses like HIV. Trying to phase this from research to a global monitoring effort. Started Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. Monitoring thousands of individuals.

Now he’s looking to invertebrates to try to prevent pandemics…and trying to discover alien life on our own planet — now we finally have the tools to explore and understand.

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