Life (as we know it on earth today) only comes from preexisting life; we humans always start as fertilized eggs, which come from our parents, who came to be in just the same way; and so on back to the dawn of time. Yet, we all are mortal, and the continuous thread running through this succession is DNA, a self-replicating molecule that stores all the instructions, or perhaps contains all the ingredients, for making a new organism. The DNA molecules, in the form of chromosomes, are stored in cells, and animals and plants are built by cell division followed by cell specialisation. This means that the mechanism and control of cell division is one of the most fundamental aspect of biology. It also, of course, can go wrong with disastrous results, mostly in old age. Neither degeneration nor cancer are welcome. So, what do we know, and what would we like to know?
When singers perform they have to multi task at a super-heroic level. Over years, this develops unusual neural connections. This presentation looks at brain plasticity in singers, a process that is developed in response to patterns of practice and the complex demands of singing on body, mind and imagination. Can this process be speeded up? And if so, what are the implications for medicine? A talk-performance that engages the audience and brings them into the action.
Prof. Cyrus Cooper (Universities of Southampton & Oxford) - “Prevention and treatment of osteoporosis throughout the lifecourse”
Osteoporosis constitutes a major public health problem through its association with age-related fractures. Life expectancy is increasing around the globe. Assuming constant age-specific incidence rates for fracture, the number of hip fractures occurring worldwide among people aged 65 years and over will rise from 1.66 million in 1990 to 6.26 million in 2050. Among current risk factors for low bone density and trauma (low body mass index, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and dietary calcium intake) the trends are best explained by physical inactivity. Debate continues on the role of more aggressive osteoporosis therapeutic strategies; although pharmacologic intervention might be efficacious, only a minority of hip fracture patients remain so treated, and the scope for even greater reductions in incidence remains an enticing prospect.
It is often claimed that the condition now known as Bipolar Affective Disorder is particularly common among creative personalities. Quite a number of classical composers have been said to have suffered from it. But inevitably posthumous diagnoses tend to be rather vague. So which of the classical greats look most likely to have been bipolar? And can their condition be related in any meaningful way to the music they composed? Stephen Johnson (himself a sufferer from bipolar disorder) investigates.
Prof. Myles Allen (University of Oxford) - "Are we living in a new geological era - the 'Anthropocene’?"
Around the turn of the millennium, Eugene Stoermer and Paul Crutzen suggested we are living in a new geological epoch, possibly the first in which a single species, humankind, was reshaping planetary systems on a global scale. When did the 'Anthropocene' begin? When, and how, might it end? Is this really a significant event in Earth history, or is it ridiculously hubristic for us to consider our own influence on the world comparable to the massive and often cataclysmic events that have shaped the planet in the past? I will talk about the evidence for, and against, the notion of an Anthropocene epoch, and what it might mean for us to live on a planet which, for better or for worse, we increasingly control.
Counting stars is one of the oldest of mankind's investigations of our Universe. Every culture developed mythological `explanations' , struggling to break the `What came first?' conundrum. Astrological applications remain popular today. Scientific explanations eluded Newton, but progressed following the scientific application of the telescope by William Herschel, in Slough. Understanding the distribution and motions of stars today remains a state of the art challenge, linking remarkable technology, with the Gaia spacecraft [due for launch in December 2013], elementary particle physics, and challenging our understanding of when and where the chemical elements of which we are made were created, and how our Milky Way came to be what we see today.