SU Faculty Finds: What We’re Buzzing About

Tiffany Vora
Dec 30, 2019

The SU Faculty continually encounter fascinating developments, stories, and news items that prompt stimulating discussions and learnings among ourselves and with those of you who attend our programs. Here’s a look at what we’ve been chatting about this month.

The Anti-Vax Movement Causes An Epidemic in Samoa

A dreadful—and entirely preventable—tragedy has been playing out in the Pacific island of Samoa, with at least 4,800 cases of measles and 70 deaths reported. Most of the victims are children. How could this have happened in 2019? This Economist article highlights just a few of the issues at play: low vaccination rates, community mistrust due to a terrible accident last year, and false information spread by the anti-vaccination movement. Along with other high-profile measles outbreaks around the world, this outbreak underscores that it’s not enough to share data to hammer home the overall safety and urgency of vaccination. Trust is critical. And its absence can lead to scenes like those in Samoa, with a country-wide shutdown to enact a mass vaccination campaign and red cloths marking the houses of the unvaccinated.

How Far Are We From (Accurately And Safely) Editing Human Embryos?

The title of Shelly Fan’s recent article in Singularity Hub nails the million-dollar question dogging human genome editing today. CRISPR baby scandal aside, we keep hearing about the phenomenal medical promise of genome editing—as well as the staggering ethical and moral quandaries associated with it. But what about plain old technical issues? Fan neatly summarizes some of the basic research needed before we understand how to edit embryos confidently. And in case you’re thinking what I’m thinking: yes, it’s possible to edit sperm or eggs instead. While that may be technically different from editing an embryo (Fan discusses a few reasons why), is it really that different according to moral or ethical perspectives? Clearly there’s a long road ahead as we come to grips with applying this powerful tool while still honoring our human values.

Anatomy And Resilience Of the Global Production Ecosystem

I was enthralled by this recent Nature Perspective about the global network of living things that underpins a vast array of sectors and is subject to drivers such as technology and finance. Authors from the Stockholm Resilience Center pithily expose the interdependency of the ecosystems that mankind has built to produce food, fuel, and fiber. They also sound the alarm about how these rich connections lead to fragility: change one driver such as climate, and shocks reverberate not just through one network, but potentially through all of them. This dense read is a must for anyone looking to future-proof their business, their industry, or themselves. Also be sure to check out the other fabulous offerings in this 150th anniversary issue of Nature, including a stunning immersive visualization of the network of science, the stories of some of the most important scientific papers, and deep dives into battery technology, carbon utilization and storage, epidemic responses, and sex and gender in science and engineering.

Bonus: Holiday Gift List

Looking for a holiday gift for that growth-minded leader (or future leader)? Check out these offerings from some of my dear friends and colleagues.Unlearn, by Barry O’ReillyTransforming Legacy Corporations, by Kris ØstergaardWhat’s Your Moonshot, by John SaneiMoments of Impact, by Lisa Kay Solomon