Eric Green: The Audacity of Solving Grand Challenges

Eric Green:  So the idea of completely reading out the letters of the human genome which basically meant decoding our blueprint came to sort of crystallization in the late 1980s.  And the reason for that was the recognition that if we could get foundational information about our blueprint it would set up a series of studies that would help us better understand human biology and eventually human diseases that might lead to our ability to improve human health.  But that was an audacious task.  It would require an industrialization, if you will, a scallop of a scientific effort that was really unusual for biomedical research.

You know, biomedical researchers traditionally they have laboratories of, you know, six or ten people.  They work on profoundly difficult problems and they like to explore.  They like to sort of ask big questions.  This was very different.  This was a very focused effort.  A very defined agenda.  Sequence the human genome.  To do that was gonna require multiple countries.  It was gonna require thousands of scientists and it was gonna require a number of years – originally slated for 15 years and it ended up taking 13 years.  That is why the analogy to putting the man on the moon has often come in because the idea that was a very focused goal.  We are going to do something.  It’s gonna be a grandly large project requiring many people but a very defined goal.  We’re gonna put a person on the moon.

And so that was something that biomedical researchers looked at and said, “Wow, we never do anything like that.”  Until the Human Genome Project.  And I think that’s really the first example in biomedicine of a defined large scale project.  I would say in hindsight now looking back on it ten years ago when we finished the project, I think biomedical researchers have gotten much more comfortable with doing these large science endeavors, recognizing that we still need lots and lots of individual scientists working around the country and around the world pursuing important biomedical research problems.  But at the same time when you have a big, big question or a big, big problem putting together a consortium of scientists in a very organized way is something we’ve gotten much more comfortable with, especially in genomics.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

 

In the Human Genome Project, multiple countries and thousands of scholars proved how a "grandly large project" could be completed if it has "a very defined goal."

Permafrost is melting 70 years earlier than expected in Arctic Canada

It's a "canary in the coalmine," said one climate scientist.


MARK RALSTON/Contributor
Surprising Science
  • A team of researchers discovered that permafrost in Northern Canada is melting at unusually fast rates.
  • This could causes dangerous and costly erosion, and it's likely speeding up climate change because thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere.
  • This week, Canada's House of Commons declared a national climate emergency.
Keep reading Show less

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
Keep reading Show less

Watch scientists melt a satellite part to save us from space junk

Not every part of a satellite burns up in reentry. Considering the growing number of satellites in orbital space, that's a big problem.

Technology & Innovation
  • Earth's orbital space is getting more crowded by the day.
  • The more satellites and space junk we put into orbit, the greater a risk that there could be a collision.
  • Not all materials burn up during reentry; that's why scientists need to stress test satellite parts to ensure that they won't become deadly falling objects.
Keep reading Show less