A pseudo-random walk from new worlds to diabetes

Julien de Wit, Nicolas Wieder
MIT Earth And Planetary Sciences, Greka Lab
A pseudo-random walk from new worlds to diabetes

Abstract:   For centuries, our understanding of planetary systems has been based on observations of a unique sample, the Solar System. Similarly, our perspective on Life and habitats has remained Earth-centric, leaving millennia-old questions such as "Are we alone? Where/How/When did Life emerge?" unanswered. Two decades ago, the first planet orbiting another star than ours—a.k.a. an exoplanet—was discovered, opening a new chapter of space exploration. Since then, over 3,500 exoplanets have been found in over 2,500 other systems; a sample size increase of three orders of magnitude that has already yielded profound changes in our understanding of planetary systems. Similar changes await our perspective on Life and habitats within the next generation. During this talk, a “Searching for New Worlds 101” will be provided to introduce the TRAPPIST – 1 system, exploring our recent discovery of Earth-sized planets that are both potentially habitable and amenable for in-depth studies with upcoming observatories, and the first insights into their atmospheres, as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

At the other end of the scale, biology focuses on chemical processes within cells rather than within atmospheres. A fundamental—and yet mostly overlooked—set of cellular processes gravitates around transient calcium signals. The availability of fast fluorescent calcium indicators allows for the measurements of intracellular calcium and thus provides direct observables of pathological and physiological calcium fluctuations. Calcium signals thereby offer new perspectives to approach a variety of diseases, from diabetes and metabolic disease to Alzheimer's disease.

Interestingly, these seemingly diverse fields of biology and planetary sciences share a common cornerstone: (Spectro)Photometric time series. With the arrival of high throughput facilities (e.g. TESS for exoplanetary sciences; FLIPR for biology), the need for standardized data acquisition/processing tools has emerged. The inherent similarity between these fields, in terms of multidisciplinarity and datatype, allows for mutually-beneficial collaborations that need to be leveraged to support the optimal sampling of yet unexplored parameter spaces, and their unbiased interpretation.