I have to share two amazing science presentations with you.
Both featured at TEDxAdelaide yesterday.
Alan Cooper from Adelaide University’s Centre for Ancient DNA is interested in your microbiome – the natural and ‘good’ bacteria which live in and on your body. Bacteria and people have co-evolved over millions of years, and we need each other for good health.
Alan’s particular interest is studying bacteria on fossilised teeth. Because bacteria become calcified into tooth tartar, they can remain fixed in place with bones and other hard structures over thousands and thousands of years.
Alan showed us evidence that when humans shifted from a hunter-gatherer existence to a less nomadic lifestyle with reliance on agriculture as a primary source of food, we rapidly changed the health of our mouths. We began to eat more grains, more sugar – and we started suffering from gum disease, cavities and tartar buildup. Mouth bacteria became out of whack with what evolution had set up previously.
These days, we compound this further with the overuse of antibiotics, buying antibacterial wipes, and overzealous cleaning and sanitation of our homes. We’ve messed up our microbiomes and our health is suffering – not just in terms of tooth decay but possibly also autism, obesity and other diseases.
Mike Lee from the University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum blew our minds with evolution.
Although life on Earth has been evolving for millions and millions of years, it’s not been at a constant rate. Early life forms stayed virtually the same for eons. Slowly, slowly…unicellular life became multicellular, then complexity gradually began to increase. During the cambrian explosion about 500 million years ago, most of the life forms we see on Earth today first appeared and continued to evolve at faste and faster rates. Life went beserk.
Mike then convinced us that like evolution of life, evolution of technology has similarly undergone an explosion. Right now we live in a time when technology is changing at such a rapid rate that if we were picked up and planted back on Earth in 100 years there’s a good chance we might not even recognise the gadgets people use.
And then he talked about aliens.
Because complexity in life and complexity in technology vary so hugely over time, and we can only assume that the same rules would apply on another planet as they do on Earth, we could find aliens at either extreme of the two curves. They could consist of single-celled life floating about in a primordial soup. Or they could be super-technified human-like creatures which we would struggle to understand and match.
I know which one I’d prefer….
[image taken by Josh Inglis]