Arquivo da tag: Interdisciplinaridade

Interdisciplinary approach yields new insights into human evolution (Vanderbilt University)


Vanderbilt biologist Nicole Creanza Nicole Creanza takes interdisciplinary approach to human evolution as guest editor of Royal Society journal

The evolution of human biology should be considered part and parcel with the evolution of humanity itself, proposes Nicole Creanza, assistant professor of biological sciences. She is the guest editor of a new themed issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the oldest scientific journal in the world, that focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to human evolution.

Stanford professor Marc Feldman and Stanford postdoc Oren Kolodny collaborated with Creanza on the special issue.

“Within the blink of an eye on a geological timescale, humans advanced from using basic stone tools to examining the rocks on Mars; however, our exact evolutionary path and the relative importance of genetic and cultural evolution remain a mystery,” said Creanza, who specializes in the application of computational and theoretical approaches to human and cultural evolution, particularly language development. “Our cultural capacities-to create new ideas, to communicate and learn from one another, and to form vast social networks-together make us uniquely human, but the origins, the mechanisms, and the evolutionary impact of these capacities remain unknown.”

The special issue brings together researchers in biology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, psychology, computer science and more to explore the cultural forces affecting human evolution from a wider perspective than is usually taken.

“Researchers have begun to recognize that understanding non-genetic inheritance, including culture, ecology, the microbiome, and regulation of gene expression, is fundamental to fully comprehending evolution,” said Creanza. “It is essential to understand the dynamics of cultural inheritance at different temporal and spatial scales, to uncover the underlying mechanisms that drive these dynamics, and to shed light on their implications for our current theory of evolution as well as for our interpretation and predictions regarding human behavior.”

In addition to an essay discussing the need for an interdisciplinary approach to human evolution, Creanza included an interdisciplinary study of her own, examining the origins of English’s contribution to Sranan, a creole that emerged in Suriname following an influx of indentured servants from England in the 17th century.

Creanza, along with linguists Andre Sherriah and Hubert Devonish of the University of the West Indes and psychologist Ewart Thomas from Stanford, sought to determine the geographic origins of the English speakers whose regional dialects formed the backbone of Sranan. Their work combined linguistic, historical and genetic approaches to determine that the English speakers who influenced Sranan the most originated largely from two counties on opposite sides of southern England: Bristol, in the west, and Essex, in the east.

“Thus, analyzing the features of modern-day languages might give us new information about events in human history that left few other traces,” Creanza said.


Time for the social sciences (Nature)

Governments that want the natural sciences to deliver more for society need to show greater commitment towards the social sciences and humanities.

30 December 2014

Nature 517, 5 (01 January 2015) doi:10.1038/517005a

Physics, chemistry, biology and the environmental sciences can deliver wonderful solutions to some of the challenges facing individuals and societies, but whether those solutions will gain traction depends on factors beyond their discoverers’ ken. That is sometimes true even when the researchers are aiming directly at the challenge. If social, economic and/or cultural factors are not included in the framing of the questions, a great deal of creativity can be wasted.

This message is not new. Yet it gets painfully learned over and over again, as funders and researchers hoping to make a difference to humanity watch projects fail to do so. This applies as much to business as to philanthropy (ask manufacturers of innovative crops).

All credit, therefore, to those who establish multidisciplinary projects — for example, towards enhancing access to food and water, in adaptation to climate change, or in tackling illness — and who integrate natural sciences, social sciences and humanities from the outset. The mutual framing of challenges is the surest way to overcome the conceptual diversities and gulfs that can make such collaborations a challenge.

All credit, too, to leading figures in policy who demonstrate their commitment to this multidimensional agenda. And all the more reason for concern when governments show none of the same comprehension.

Such is the case in the United Kingdom. Research-wise, the country is in a state that deserves a bit of attention from others and certainly merits some concern from its own citizens. Its university funders last month announced the results of a unique exercise in nationwide research assessment — the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will have a major impact on the direction of university funding. Almost simultaneously, its government released a strategy document: ‘Our plan for growth: science and innovation’. And in November, its government’s chief science adviser published a wide-ranging annual report that reflects the spirit of inclusiveness mentioned above. Unfortunately, the government’s strategy does not.

The importance of inclusivity

Whatever the discipline, a sensible research-assessment policy puts a high explicit value both on outstanding discovery and scholarship, and on making a positive impact beyond academia. In that spirit, the REF ( aggregatedthree discretely documented aspects of the research of each university department: the quality and importance of the department’s academic output, given a 65% weighting in the overall grade; the quality of the research environment (15%); and the reach and significance of its impact beyond academia (20%).

The influences of the data and panel processes that went into the REF results will not be analysed publicly until March. The signs are that the impacts component of assessment has allowed some universities to rise higher up the rankings than they would otherwise. But the full benefits and perverse incentives of the system will take deeper analysis to resolve.

“If you want science to deliver for society, you need to support a capacity to understand that society.”

A remarkable and contentious aspect of UK science policy is the extent to which the REF rankings will determine funding. The trend has been for such exercises to concentrate funding sharply towards the upper tiers of the rankings.

Most important in the current context is whether an over-dependence on funding formulae will undermine the nation’s abilities to meet its future needs. A preliminary analysis by a policy magazine, Research Fortnight, reaches a pessimistic conclusion for those who believe that the social sciences are strategically important: given the REF results, the social sciences will gain a smaller slice of the pie than the size of the community might have suggested. If that reflects underperformance in social science at a national scale, and given the strategic importance of these disciplines, a national ambition in, for example, sociology, anthropology and psychology that reaches beyond the funding formula needs to be energized.

A reader of the government’s science and innovation strategy ( might reach the same conclusion. Its fundamental message is to be welcomed: understandably focusing on enhancing economic growth, it highlights the need for support of fundamental research, open information, strategic technologies and stimuli for business engagement and investment. But there is just one sentence that deals with the social sciences and humanities: a passing mention in the introduction that they are included whenever the word ‘science’ is used.

Credit to both chief science adviser Mark Walport and his predecessor, John Beddington, for their explicit and proactive engagement with the social sciences. This year’s report, ‘Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it’ (see, demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity: it is a compendium of opinion and reflection from experts in psychology, behavioural science, statistics, risk, sociology, law, communication and public engagement, as well as natural sciences.

An example of the report’s inclusive merits can be found in the sections on uncertainty, communication, conversations and language, in which heavyweight academics highlight key considerations in dealing with contentious and risk-laden areas of innovation. Case studies relating to nuclear submarines, fracking and flood planning are supplied by professionals and advocates directly involved in the debates. This is complemented by discussions of the human element in estimating risk from the government’s behavioural insights team, as well as discussions of how the contexts of risk-laden decisions play a part. Anyone who has a stake in science or technology that is in the slightest bit publicly contentious will find these sections salutary.

The report’s key message should be salutary for policy-makers worldwide. If you want science to deliver for society, through commerce, government or philanthropy, you need to support a capacity to understand that society that is as deep as your capacity to understand the science. And your policy statements need to show that you believe in that necessity.

Mais Espaço para Ciências Sociais e Humanas (Jornal da Ciência)

Artigo de José Monserrat Filho* comenta editorial publicado na revista Nature

“Olhem para as estrelas e aprendam com elas.”

Albert Einstein

Se os governos desejam que as ciências exatas e naturais levem mais benefícios à sociedade, eles precisam se comprometer mais com as ciências sociais e humanas. Há que integrar todas essas áreas para que as ciências exatas e naturais ofereçam soluções ainda mais abrangentes e completas. Essa, em suma, é a visão defendida pela Nature, renomada revista científica inglesa, em seu editorial Tempo para as Ciências Sociais, de 30 de dezembro de 2014.

Para a Naturea física, a química, a biologia e as ciências ambientais podem oferecer soluções maravilhosas a alguns dos desafios que as pessoas e as sociedades enfrentam, mas para que ganhem força, tais soluções dependem de fatores que vão além do conhecimento de seus descobridores. A publicação argumenta que “se fatores sociais, econômicos e culturais não são incluídos na formulação das questões, grande dose de criatividade pode ser desperdiçada.

Quer dizer, quando não se presta a devida atenção às ciências sociais, corre-se o risco de perder em criatividade (campos e elementos que alimentam a imaginação, a busca de melhores e mais amplas soluções), o que nas atividades cientificas é grave insuficiência.

Nature pede total apoio “a quem cria projetos multidisciplinares – por exemplo, para aumentar o acesso aos alimentos e à água, fazer adaptações às mudanças climáticas, ou tratar de doenças –  integrando, desde o início, as ciências naturais e as ciências sociais e humanas”.

Total apoio também é solicitado “às figuras de proa na política que demonstram seu compromisso com esta agenda multidimensional” e expressam “toda uma série de preocupações quando os governos não manifestam a mesma compreensão”.

A revista elogia Mark Walport, o principal assessor científico do governo inglês, e seu antecessor, John Beddington, por estarem comprometidos com relação as ciências sociais. O relatório do Reino Unido de 2014, sob o título de “Inovação: gestão de risco sem evitá-lo”, reúne opiniões e reflexões de especialistas em psicologia, ciência do comportamento, estatística, estudos de risco, sociologia, direito, comunicação e política pública, bem como em ciências naturais.
O documento inclui temas como incerteza, comunicação, conversações e linguagem, com cientistas reconhecidos tecendo considerações cruciais sobre inovação em áreas controversas e cheias de dúvidas. Cientistas e juristas trabalham juntos, por exemplo, nos estudos de caso sobre submarinos nucleares e sobre previsões de inundação e infiltrações.

O principal recado do relatório vale para os responsáveis pela formulação de políticas de C&T em qualquer país: Se você deseja que a ciência leve benefícios à sociedade, por meio do comércio, do governo ou da filantropia, você precisa apoiar os meios de capacitação para se entender a sociedade, o que é tão profundo quanto a capacidade de entender a ciência. E quando fizer declarações políticas precisa deixar claro que você acredita nessa necessidade.

Será que tudo isso é válido também para a ciência e a tecnologia espaciais?

As atividades espaciais, embora efetuadas com base em conhecimentos científicos e tecnológicos, envolvem interesses sociais, econômicos, políticos, jurídicos e culturais de enorme relevância. O mundo inteiro depende hoje do espaço em sua vida cotidiana. Isso gera um caudal de problemas em todas as áreas. Política e Direito Espaciais são campos estratégicos da política internacional. As ações militares no solo, nos mares e no espaço aéreo são todas comandadas através do espaço, e já se planeja até instalar armas em órbitas da Terra, o que poderá convertê-las em teatro de guerra. Enquanto isso, as Nações Unidas avançam na elaboração das diretrizes para  garantir a “Sustentabilidade a Longo Prazo das Atividades Espaciais”, que também enfrentam o perigo crescente do lixo espacial. Em debate, igualmente, está o desafio de criar um sistema global de gestão do tráfico espacial para garantir maior segurança e proteção de todos os voos e objetos espaciais. Mais que nunca é essencial o maior conhecimento possível de tudo o que se passa e se faz no espaço, perto e longe da Terra. Medidas de transparência e fomento à confiança no espaço são propostas pela Assembleia Geral das Nações Unidas. E quem senão as ciências sociais para refletir sobre o futuro da civilização humana no espaço?

* Vice-Presidente da Associação Brasileira de Direito Aeronáutico e Espacial (SBDA), Diretor Honorário do Instituto Internacional de Direito Espacial, Membro Pleno da Academia Internacional de Astronáutica e Chefe da Assessoria de Cooperação Internacional da Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB).

New application of physics tools used in biology (Science Daily)


February 7, 2014

Source: DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Summary: A physicist and his colleagues have found a new application for the tools and mathematics typically used in physics to help solve problems in biology.

This DNA molecule is wrapped twice around a histone octamer, the major structural protein of chromosomes. New studies show they play a role in preserving biological memory when cells divide. Image courtesy of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist and his colleagues have found a new application for the tools and mathematics typically used in physics to help solve problems in biology.

Specifically, the team used statistical mechanics and mathematical modeling to shed light on something known as epigenetic memory — how an organism can create a biological memory of some variable condition, such as quality of nutrition or temperature.

“The work highlights the interdisciplinary nature of modern molecular biology, in particular, how the tools and models from mathematics and physics can help clarify problems in biology,” said Ken Kim, a LLNL physicist and one of the authors of a paper appearing in the Feb. 7 issue ofPhysical Review Letters.

Not all characteristics of living organisms can be explained by their genes alone. Epigenetic processes react with great sensitivity to genes’ immediate biochemical surroundings — and further, they pass those reactions on to the next generation.

The team’s work on the dynamics of histone protein modification is central to epigenetics. Like genetic changes, epigenetic changes are preserved when a cell divides. Histone proteins were once thought to be static, structural components in chromosomes, but recent studies have shown that histones play an important dynamical role in the machinery responsible for epigenetic regulation.

When histones undergo chemical alterations (histone modification) as a result of some external stimulus, they trigger short-term biological memory of that stimulus within a cell, which can be passed down to its daughter cells. This memory also can be reversed after a few cell division cycles.

Epigenetic modifications are essential in the development and function of cells, but also play a key role in cancer, according to Jianhua Xing, a former LLNL postdoc and current professor at Virginia Tech. “For example, changes in the epigenome can lead to the activation or deactivation of signaling pathways that can lead to tumor formation,” Xing added.

The molecular mechanism underlying epigenetic memory involves complex interactions between histones, DNA and enzymes, which produce modification patterns that are recognized by the cell. To gain insight into such complex systems, the team constructed a mathematical model that captures the essential features of the histone-induced epigenetic memory. The model highlights the “engineering” challenge a cell must constantly face during molecular recognition. It is analogous to restoring a picture with missing parts. The molecular properties of a species have been evolutionarily selected to allow them to “reason” what the missing parts are based on incomplete information pattern inherited from the mother cell.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The original article was written by Anne M Stark. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.