The human body is home to all sorts of microbes -- microscopic organisms like fungi, bacteria, and viruses that live in our guts, mouths, lungs, skin, and more. Scientists are beginning to catalog and explore these organisms, looking for clues about human health. Bruce Birren describes these efforts to comprehensively catalog these microbes, decode their genetic information, and examine their roles in disease.
Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin, which is critical for regulating the body's glucose levels. Destruction of beta cells causes type 1 diabetes, a lifelong autoimmune disease that begins in childhood. Beta cells may also be important in type 2 diabetes. Bridget Wagner will discuss these diseases, and scientific efforts to coax the body to replenish missing beta cells, and to protect the few that remain.
Several genes play a critical role in the risk of a heart attack, the leading cause of death worldwide. These genes determine the levels of blood lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, which in turn predict a person's risk of heart disease. Sekar Kathiresan will discuss how uncovering these genes could give researchers the tools they need to improve the care and the prevention of heart disease.
Your brain is a highly "plastic" organ capable of remarkable feats of adaptation. Intricate processes that allow the brain to adapt are essential for maintaining our mental health. Steve Haggarty will discuss how advances in areas of genetics, chemistry, and neuroscience are providing insights into the molecular nature of brain plasticity, and how this information could be used to develop new ways to treat memory and mood disorders.