There’s Nothing More Personal Than Your Genome – Dawn Berry at TEDxSanDiego 2016

“Let’s not just wait for things to break, especially when those things can be the lives of the people we love,” concluded Dawn Berry at the end of her presentation during the TEDxSanDiego’s 2016 event on Oct. 22 at Copley Symphony Hall.

Berry, vice president, Applied Genomics at Illumina, was referring to the power of sequencing the human genome, which in simple terms she described as a code, or instructions for life – the entire collection of one’s DNA.

“Your genome holds the promise to help predict your health,” said Berry. “Your genome is an instruction manual for you, but it’s not your destiny.”

Certain factors such as lifestyle, environment and nutrition can play a role for or against your genome, but is there a way to do better than just react to such health issues as chemo therapy resistant cancer?

Recent technology developed in San Diego allows for entire genomes – once taking 13 years and $3 billion to complete for a single genome – to be sequenced in one day at a cost of about $1,000.

“There is no question that we have improved patient care and even saved lives based on genomics,” Berry said. “We know the technology works, but we don’t know enough yet for it to be applied preventatively, proactively.”

So what’s holding science back from getting ahead of disease?

Simply put, Berry stated the existing sample size is neither large enough, nor diverse enough to be able to be applied preventatively. By engaging the community, Berry said she believes this could help to put the parts and pieces together.

Why Eyewitnesses Fail – Thomas Albright at TEDxSanDiego 2016

From NPR’s “Serial” podcast to the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” faulty eyewitness testimony has become a recent hot topic in pop culture chatter. While this issue has been around for a long time, recent advances in technology – especially DNA evidence – have resulted in more convictions being overturned.

Along with these shows, which are based on actual cases and include examples of eyewitness testimonies being called into question, the Innocence Project has reported nearly 350 DNA-based exonerations, with 3/4 of those cases counting on eyewitness identification for significant evidence that lead to a conviction.

So why do eyewitnesses identify the wrong people?

“There are insurmountable limits to visual perception and memory that are imposed by our biological nature and the properties of the world that we inhabit,” said Thomas Albright, professor and Conrad T. Prebys chair at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

According to Albright, and various research studies conducted over the past few decades, there are three factors that affect the usefulness of reported experience:

  • Uncertainty
  • Bias
  • Confidence

“Vision in general is far from perfect,” he said.

So, are eyewitnesses who testify in court not telling the truth? Not necessarily, according to Albright. In fact, when witnesses testify in court with confidence their description of the event – which they believe to be true – it’s difficult for the jury to discount their version of what happened.

Organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, are starting to take note of the limitations of human perceptions and memories, especially in the area of eyewitness accounts.

As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing, but neither seeing nor believing is equivalent to truth.”

Wings Are Just a Detail – Lex Gillette at TEDxSanDiego 2016

With your eyes closed, imagine your highest potential. What does that look like? But more importantly, how do you get there?

“Sometimes in life, we’re afraid to take that shot in the dark,” says Lex Gillette.

For Gillette, dark has a different meaning than most. As a young boy he began losing his eyesight at the age of eight, which he eventually lost completely.

Despite this lack of sight, Gillette imagines himself “running, jumping, flying.” He’s holding an American flag on a medal stand where he’s winning gold, silver and bronze medals. He imagines himself “flying as far as (his) mind would carry (him).”

And that’s just what he has done. Gillette is now a four-time Paralympian and medalist who has four silver medals for the long jump, and is the only totally blind athlete to soar more than 22 feet in the long jump.

Gillette regaled the audience with stories of his triumphs at both the Paralympics and World Championships, which he said were a direct result of taking shots in the dark.

“Even in the blackest of blackest nights … never be afraid to take a shot in the dark.”

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