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The Symbiotic Podcast

Author: The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

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Evolution is about more than survival of the fittest. It's also about the survival of the most cooperative. Join us as we explore the collaborative side of life sciences research and work to consciously evolve science itself. This podcast is a production of Penn State University's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. Watch the video versions, complete with cool animations at
23 Episodes
The field of stem cell research has progressed immensely since its high-profile politicization in the early 2000s, with researchers now able to harvest cells from uncontroversial sources and manipulate them with ever-increasing accuracy and efficiency. Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Engineering Lance Lian talks about his key role in advancing our understanding and mastery of stem cells and the incredible medical applications they promise.
Sally Mackenzie is one of the world’s foremost experts on epigenetics, the study of how environmental changes affect the way genes are expressed. In this conversation we cover an epigenetic techniques she’s patented, the biotech company she founded, and the potential role that epigenetics could play in human health.Relevant LinksMackenzie Laboratory WebsiteEpicrop Technologies Inc.Trailblazers: Sally Mackenzie’s Vision for the Future of PlantsFeatured GuestSally MackenzieDirector of the Plant Institute; Huck Chair of Functional Genomics; Professor of Biology and of Plant Science
Laura Weyrich leads efforts to better understand the impact of diet on the communities of microorganisms residing in our mouths, and their influence on human health. In this livestreamed conversation, she talks about her work with Neanderthal teeth, the ethics of dealing with human remains, and shifts in human activity that have changed the makeup of our microbiomes.Relevant LinksMicroARCH Lab Website"The woman who loves the gunk on Neanderthal teeth." Cosmos Magazine, December 14, 2017Laura S. Weyrich Google Scholar ProfileFeatured GuestLaura WeyrichAssociate Professor of Anthropology
Dr. Steven Schiff has spent much of his career fighting the scourge of infant infection, especially in low and middle-income countries with minimal healthcare infrastructure. In this livestreamed conversation, he explains the difficulties of working in places like Mbale, Uganda and Hanoi, Vietnam; shares hard-won victories in treatment and prevention; and forecasts future possibilities.Relevant Links:Steven J. Schiff, MD, PhD — Engineering Science and Mechanics Wiki PageFeatured Guest:Dr. Steven SchiffDirector of the Center for Neural Engineering; Brush Chair Professor of Engineering; Professor of Neurosurgery; Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics
Nita Bharti is an expert on the interplay of population movement and disease and a pioneer in the use of unorthodox data sources to better inform public health decisions. In this livestreamed conversation, she shares her open-minded, intellectually curious approach to epidemiology on multiple continents, working with people, animals, and spillover events between the two.Relevant LinksThe Bharti Lab of Human Infectious DiseasesCenter for Infectious Disease DynamicsFeatured GuestNita BhartiHuck Early Career Professor; Assistant Professor of Biology
David Hughes has won a number of accolades, both from the academic world and in the mainstream media, for his work with PlantVillage. In this livestreamed opening episode of season three, Hughes talks about the factors in his life and career that have made him so effective and iconoclastic.Relevant LinksPlantVillageDonate to PlantVillageFast Company: How one scientist is saving crops around the world via AI-enabled appsDavid Hughes makes Newsweek’s inaugural list of 'America’s Greatest Disruptors'Penn State awarded nearly $39M for global research on threats to cropsFeatured GuestDavid HughesHuck Chair in Global Food Security; Professor of Entomology and Biology
On November 11, 2020, we hosted three members of Penn State’s Center for Disease Dynamics, all of whom all of them are deeply involved in ongoing international efforts to piece together a bigger picture of how and why new viruses like SARVS-CoV-2 emerge and spill over from other species to our own.Related Links:“How We Know The Coronavirus Wasn’t Made In A Lab” (Science Insider video)Researchers identify evolutionary origins of SARS-CoV-2Boni LabRISK Lab (Sagan Friant’s) Peter Hudson’s Google Scholar pagePenn State’s Center for Infectious Disease DynamicsGuests: Maciej Boni is an Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State. He analyzes the epidemiology and evolution of both human and avian influenza, and evaluates strategies to treat and prevent diseases, particularly in southern Vietnam. Sagan Friant is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Penn State. Her works focuses on the evolutionary anthropology of human health, disease ecology, nutrition, socio-ecological systems, and bushmeat hunting, through field research in Nigeria.  Peter Hudson is Willaman Professor of Biology at Penn State, and former director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. Much of Hudson’s work has implications for the control of wildlife diseases and emerging zoonotic disease across the globe. 
On October 26, 2020, we teamed up with the hosts of the Podward State podcast to interview two members of Penn State’s coronavirus task force. Both have spent countless hours since that start of the pandemic doing all they can to help protect students, faculty, staff, and local community members in an ever-changing, endlessly challenging, and highly contentious environment.Relevant Links:Penn State COVID-19 DashboardHuck Institutes of the Life SciencesHershey Medical CenterPodward StateGuests:Catharine Paules, MD - Practicing physician in the infectious disease department, Penn State Hershey Medical CenterAndrew Read - Director of Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and former Director of Huck’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics
On October 19, 2020, we teamed up with the hosts of Podward State – a Penn State student-produced podcast, to interview researchers working on a profoundly collaborative project designed to measure multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents and students in Centre County, PA.Relevant Links:Data 4 Action sign-up page  Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences  Social Science Research InstituteClinical and Translational Sciences Institute Podward State Guests:Meg Small - Research Associate in the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State and Director of the Health and Human Development Design for Innovation Lab  Connie Rogers - Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State and Associate Director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences 
On August 20, 2020, we spoke to an interdisciplinary team of scientists collaborating at the intersection of physics, engineering, materials science, epidemiology, and information technology. Their work holds the promise of new rapid identification diagnostics for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses through enhanced Raman spectroscopy. Relevant Links: Understanding Virus Evolution Through Deep Raman SpectroscopyNSF Convergence Grant to Study Virus EvolutionLasers Could Speed Up Coronavirus DiagnosticsSeed-Funded Coronavirus Research at Penn StateGuests:Maricio Terrones - Verne M. Willaman Professor of Physics and Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Penn StateElodie Ghedin - Professor of Epidemiology at NYU’s School of Global Public HealthTim Yeh - Assistant research professor of Physics at Penn StateShengxi Huang - Assistant professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering at Penn StateSharon Huang - Associate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State
On June 8, 2020, we spoke to Riane Eisler and David Loye, two veteran systems scientists who have collaborated for more than 40 years as both researchers and marriage partners. In this wrap-up of a 2-part conversation, we explore the promise of partnership and perils of domination on the road to conscious social evolution.Relevant Links:DavidLoye.comRediscovering Darwin by David LoyeComplete List of Books on Darwin by David LoyeRianeEisler.comThe Chalice & the Blade by Riane EislerNurturing Our Humanity by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. FryWhat are Social Wealth Economic Indicators?The Social Wealth IndexGuests:Riane EislerSystems Scientist, Cultural Historian, Attorney, Social Activist, AuthorDavid LoyePsychologist, Evolutionary Systems Scientist, Author
On June 8, 2020, we spoke to Riane Eisler and David Loye, two veteran systems scientists who have collaborated for more than 40 years as both researchers and marriage partners. In this first of a 2-part conversation, we unpack lost insights of Darwin and explore the basics of cultural transformation theory as a tool to evolve society.Relevant Links:DavidLoye.comRediscovering Darwin by David LoyeComplete List of Books on Darwin by David LoyeRianeEisler.comThe Chalice & the Blade by Riane EislerNurturing Our Humanity by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. FryWhat are Social Wealth Economic Indicators?The Social Wealth IndexGuests:Riane EislerSystems Scientist, Cultural Historian, Attorney, Social Activist, AuthorDavid LoyePsychologist, Evolutionary Systems Scientist, Author
Aiming to better understand the efficacy of public health messaging in a pandemic, a team of Penn State researchers designed and deployed an unusually open-ended survey that has been translated into 23 languages and reached more than 73 countries. This episode recorded via Zoom on May 20, 2020.Relevant Links:Penn State College of Medicine COVID-19 SurveyThe College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME)CDC Coronavirus ResourcesGuests:Robert P. Lennon, MD, JD – Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine; Associate Professor, Penn State LawLauren J. Van Scoy, MD – Associate Professor, Department of Medicine Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine; Associate Professor, Department of Humanities; Associate Professor, Department of Public Health SciencesCletis Earle, MS, CHCIO – Chief Information Officer, Penn State HealthRussell Branzell, CHCIO, FCHIME, FACHE, FHIMSS – Chief Executive Officer and President, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME)
In this episode, recorded via Zoom on May 11, 2020, we talked to Penn State personnel about their involvement with the Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 Project, or MASC. We discussed how University staff and researchers used their resources and expertise to produce and extend the effective life of personal protection equipment needed by medical providers during the pandemic.Relevant LinksManufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 (MASC) InitiativeMedRxivBioRxivPrusa Face ShieldEva J. Pell ABSL3 Laboratory for Advanced Biological ResearchCDC: Recognizing the Biosafety LevelsN95DECON.orgNetflix Docuseries Pandemic: How to Prevent an OutbreakGuests:Moriah Szpara – Associate Professor of Biology, Biochemistry, and Molecular BiologyTimothy Simpson – Paul Morrow Professor in Engineering Design and ManufacturingMelissa James – Facilities Coordinator, Eva J. Pell Laboratory for Advanced Biological Research
For this special collaborative episode recorded via Zoom on May 6, 2020, we partnered with the Democracy Works podcast to explore the dynamic and sometimes tense relationship between peer-reviewed scientific research and public policy decision-making. And we discuss how these tensions have been brought to the forefront by the coronavirus pandemic. Our discussion focuses on the work of our guest Taylor Scott, Associate Director of the Research-to-Policy Collaboration at Penn State and Primary Investigator on a Huck-funded research project titled "Rapid Translation of Research into Coronavirus Policy Response." We are also joined by Michael Berkman, Director of The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and Jenna Spinelle, host of the Democracy Works podcast.Relevant Links:Rapid Translation of Research into Coronavirus Policy ResponseResearch-to-Policy CollaborationChild Maltreatment Solutions NetworkDemocracy Works Episode ft. Frances E. Lee: Does Congress Promote Partisan Gridlock?Guests:Taylor Scott – Associate Director, Research-to-Policy Collaboration; Research Assistant Professor, Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research CenterMichael Berkman – Director, McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Professor of Political ScienceJenna Spinelle – Communications Specialist, McCourtney Institute for Democracy; Host, Democracy Works Podcast
In this brief “special announcement” episode, Symbiotic Podcast host Cole Hons lays out the new direction and format for Season 2, a series of COVID-19 Research Briefs that explore radically open and transparent efforts currently underway worldwide to address the COVID-19 pandemic.Relevant Links:Season 01, Episode 06: Confronting Global OutbreaksHuck Institutes of the Life Sciences COVID-19 Research (Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics)
In this episode, recorded in-person on February 4, 2020, we talked to a team of Penn State researchers and about the stunning advancements made in recent years in the field of electron microscopy. Up for discussion was a short history of electron microscopy, including how the addition of cryogenics has enabled new materials and structures to be imaged, and how breakthroughs in certain scientific fields have enabled advances in some very different disciplines. We also talked about how Penn State has robustly supported the development of cryo-EM and leveraged its advantage to create a world-class instrumentation facility.Relevant Links:Kelly LabCryo-Electron Microscopy Facility at Penn StateGuests:Deb Kelly is Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Center for Structural Oncology at Penn State. Her research involves the innovative use of cryoelectron microscopy and in situ transmission electron microscopy to deeply investigate the tiniest of biological structures. Dr. Kelly's mission is to engineer new molecular paradigms to create a world without cancer.Jennifer Gray is an assistant research professor and staff scientist at Penn State's Materials Research Institute, specializing in transmission electron microscopy and cryoelectron microscopy. As a highly specialized technologist working at the convergence of materials and life sciences, Gray helps researchers from both camps to benefit from the breakthroughs made by the other. Cameron Varano is Assistant Research Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Penn State. Her research in structural biology involves prolific use of cryoelectron microscopy to examine and categorize exosomes involved in the development of metastatic cancer.
On February 4, 2020 as the COVID-19 virus began to go global, Cole spoke with three scientists from the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics to hear their perspective on the outbreak. The resulting conversation uncovers aspects of humanity’s complex relationship with viruses that don’t often reach the mainstream media.  Relevant Links:Center for Infectious Disease DynamicsMcGraw Lab (Vector Biology Group)Matt Ferrari LabThe Bharti LabGuests:Beth McGraw is Professor and Huck Scholar in Entomology, and directs Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. Her research focuses on dengue virus transmission by mosquitoes. McGraw is currently investigating evidence that mosquito and virus genotypes affect patterns of human disease. She is also interested in the use of a bacterium called Wolbachia for biocontrol.Matt Ferarri is Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State. He uses the mathematical and statistical tools of computational biology to understand patterns of disease incidence, and the effects of heterogeneity across time and space. Ferarri currently collaborates with Doctors Without Borders to track incidence of measles in sub-Saharan Africa. Nita Bharti is Lloyd Huck Early Career Professor and Assistant Professor of Biology at Penn State. She investigates the interactions between behavior and biology to inform public health intervention strategies. Using satellite data, Bharti has pioneered new methods to track seasonal movements of the human population, with profound implications for improving vaccination campaigns.
In this episode, Cole and his guests discuss a transdisciplinary effort at Penn State to advance the printing of living tissues, from skin to bone to organs. Combining the efforts of engineers, nanotechnologists, and surgeons, the team has coined a new term – “intraoperative bioprinting” – to describe their approach.Relevant Links:Bioprinting LabMachine sucks up tiny tissue spheroids and prints them preciselyGuests: Ibrahim Ozbolat is Hartz Family Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Penn State. His major research interest is bioprinting and tissue engineering.Daniel Hayes is an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at Penn State, with an emphasis on nanomaterials, macromolecules, and composite structures, for applications ranging from regenerative medicine to lab-on-a-chip technologies.Dino Ravnic is an assistant professor in Penn State’s Department of Surgery. He directs the Plastic Surgery Research Laboratory at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which focuses on the creation of engineered tissue that is suitable for microsurgical implantation.
In this episode, Cole and his guests discuss Penn State’s launch of the world’s first Center for Parasitic and Carnivorous Plants. These fascinatingly strange organisms have much to teach us about the outrageous diversity of life - especially now that we have the capacity to study them at every scale, from the molecular to the ecological. Relevant Links:The Huck Institutes of the Life SciencesGuests:Claude dePamphilis, Professor of Biology at Penn State, studies the genomics, evolution, and functional biology of parasitic plants.Tanya Renner, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Penn State, investigates the evolution of chemical and structural defense, particularly as they relate to carnivorous plants.Tomas Carlo-Joglar, Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State, studies seed dispersal ecology, foraging behavior, and plant ecology, with a focus on parasitic mistletoes.
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