Ancient Genes and Trust in New Tech

Genes from millions of years ago that cause and prevent disease, and signs that humans regard data from other humans as more trustworthy than cues from a computer...
11 April 2023
Presented by Chris Smith
Production by Chris Smith.


The DNA code


This month, the genetic variants inherited from millions of years back that protect from disease but can cause illnesses; also, signs that we trust human-sourced information more than what a computer might say, how the whiff of a female can make some mice live longer, what bird's eggs can tell us about dinosaurs, and how taking a leaf out of "doughnut economics" can help academics combat the climate crisis...

In this episode

Early human ancestor

00:37 - Ancient gene variations at play today

Genetic alleles from millions of years back remain in the gene pool today as balanced polymorphisms linked to preventing and causing some diseases...

Ancient gene variations at play today
Omer Gokcumen, The University at Buffalo

Time and again we see evidence that genetic diversity is crucial for the success and survival of populations. In some cases, there are many different forms or versions, called alleles, of the same gene. Each does broadly the same job, but different variants of the gene might do that job in slightly different ways, or have additional functions alongside their main role. But, when it comes to humans, what no one knew was how far back in history those variations can be traced and what sorts of contributions they make to both health and ill-health. Now, as he explains to Chris Smith, by comparing genetic sequences from ancient human ancestors with biobank data, Omer Gokcumen, from the University at Buffalo, can tell us that in some cases these gene variants have been around for millions of years…

Omer - We thought that if we can find really, really old variation, that actually dates back not to our ancestors as modern humans, but to ancestors that are Homo erectus or even Homo habilis like millions of years ago. If there are variations that are being maintained this long, this cannot be a coincidence.

Chris - So something is artificially holding them in the population. So I mean, the example which we are always force fed when I went to medical school was "sickle cell anaemia". On the one hand, very bad for you. On the other hand, if you live in the right geography, it will protect you and perhaps save your life from malaria. So the price paid to keep that gene in circulation is defense against malaria.

Omer - That's a very similar idea. However, that is actually interesting because that particular allele is relatively recent because it's all about farming and human modification of the landscape that leads to these bigger populations facing the malaria problem. But I tried to identify similar types of alleles indeed, but much older.

Chris - How do you know that they're disease-linked first?

Omer - Okay. So we didn't actually know. We actually start from the scratch. We take all the variations in the human genome and ask which are the oldest ones. Then we actually go back and see if these really, really old ones happens to be associated with different diseases based on previous studies and previous databases. Yeah.

Chris - Did you delve into the Neanderthal genome then? Is that how you got back to the point where we've got a common ancestor with Neanderthal and so we're going back, you know, half a million years almost to find out what our genome is doing then?

Omer - That's exactly right. So we actually find these variations we share within Neanderthals because the ancestors to Neanderthals and modern humans happens to have those variations already in their genomes. This is one way to anchor in time when these variations evolved: it has to be more than 700,000 years old, and we find some of them with other methods, even older, like, you know, two, 3 million years old.

Chris - So you find these variations and you can find ones which appear to be conserved in the population. So what did you do next with that information?

Omer - The next step is to look if these variations are hitting important parts of the genome. We also look at these huge databases, including UK Biobank, this huge genomic database where people actually try to connect correlate genetic variation with known diseases and traits like height or diabetes or obesity. And then we actually looked if there's something particular about these ancient variations, and we find that there's indeed something particular they're different from the modern variants.

Chris - And your conclusion is what? That they've been held in the genome, held in the population, in the gene pool because under certain circumstances they confer some kind of survival advantage, which when things flip the other way, they might be deleterious, but they're there in hot large numbers because they saved the day previously?

Omer - That's exactly right. I think they saved the day sometimes multiple times, but occasionally they're bad for you. A good example would be this one deletion that we found that is 2 million years old. And if you have that deletion, you actually are much more prone to developing psoriasis. But at the same time, it seems that it is protecting you from skin infections, including potentially leprosy. So you have this like balance. If the infection rates are very high, then you don't really care about the autoimmunity that much because you don't wanna die from an infection. But if the you know, leprosy is not an issue, for example, then it becomes detrimental. You have other things like a growth hormone receptor happens to have two types. These two types goes all the way to one and a half million years. And it seems that one type is good in the times of starvation, but if there's starvation is not an issue, then it's not that great for you. So both types have kept in the population for a long time because on occasion we needed them.

Chris - How susceptible is your analysis to the problem of bottlenecking and, and founder effects, where if you get a very limited population for a while because times get really so bad, you might have an overrepresentation of the genes that help people under those circumstances, but won't you lose a whole heap of gene variants that might have helped them under other circumstances? So we're only seeing a sort of thin slice of the possibilities that were there or might have come since?

Omer - This is a wonderful question, and I think indeed we are finding only a smaller portion of what existed among our ancestors, and we may have lost amazing alleles that may have helped us because of all these bottlenecks and founder effects. But there's still, we find much one of, this is one of the findings of the paper, that we find these really old variants, much more than expected by chance, by these, you know, these bottlenecks and founder effects should have eliminated a lot of them. But they survived. The adaptation was strong enough that it was survived. So off the common variation, maybe 13% almost 15% of them are ancient according to our findings. And it is something that we all share.

Chris - To what extent are some of them convergences where because they're so useful, they've appeared, disappeared and reappeared again at different points in history?

Omer - Great question too! We eliminated all of the recurrent ones by mathematical and genomic techniques, like from our analysis.

Chris - So what really is your take home message then? I mean, apart from the fact that it, it does confirm to us what many suspected, but couldn't really explain very well, but now we've got some objective evidence for it. What's your take home message from, we've done this study and this is what we, we feel we now understand better?

Omer - I think that that if there's a single sentence that I have to utter it has to be that common variation affecting diseases are there for a reason that I don't think, like, you know, we can basically say, oh, like this is a disease allele and it's always bad. But I think from an evolutionary perspective, the things that remain in the population may actually have an adaptive reason for being here.


08:05 - Whom do we trust more, computers or people?

Data provided by a person is regarded as less uncertain than cues that come from a computer...

Whom do we trust more, computers or people?
Marco Wittman, UCL

In the last month, Italy has banned the ChatGPT chatbot on data security grounds, and 2000 technologists and researchers, entrepreneur Elon Musk among them, have signed an open letter calling for a temporary halt to the development of advanced AI platforms while the world - including regulators - catch up with the field. But alongside regulations, another key question is, how do we, as humans, relate and react to information presented to us by non-human sources? Do we trust it to a greater or lesser degree than the same information presented to us by another human being? Speaking with Chris Smith, UCL’s Marco Wittman has been probing some aspects of this by brain scanning volunteers being guided - by either human or inanimate cues -  to find a hidden target. Teachers will be reassured to hear that the uncertainty we place on non-human sourced information appears to be greater than when a person tells us something…

Marco - We were looking at a advice taking scenario where another person might give you a cue about how to solve a problem. And in our case we had like a very neutral circle with a dot on it, but you couldn't understand where the dot is unless you take the advice of another person who tells you about the location of that dot. We basically ran the same experiment twice, and in one case they were told that the cue about where the target is comes from a person, and in the other case it was a neutral image that told them that information.

Chris - So effectively it's a bit like I could go and look at a map on a wall or I could ask a person in the street, "how do I get to Hamley's in London?" Either way, I'm gonna get the same information, but it's whether or not I treat it differently when it comes from the person versus the map on the wall?

Marco - Yeah, that is right. So we had participants come in to do the experiment in an MRI scanner. They saw the same person or the same neutral object repeatedly. That personal object always gives them a clue about where on the map something was, was hidden. And then we, we checked how people behave in the experiment and how much they take that advice on board over time.

Chris - How does reliability factor into this? Because if mm-hmm <affirmative>, I interact with a human and I know that they're a pathological liar, I'm more likely actually to trust the map! On the other hand. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if I know that person's dead rock solid, reliable, and my map reading skills aren't up to scratch, I might make the opposite decision. So how do you control for that?

Marco - That's a very good point. And these are indeed sort of follow up questions. In our case where we're cuing there basically they're neutral intuitions about a human advisor by not giving them any specific information about the identity of that person. So you were just told the information comes from a person, but you were not told a about what that person is like.

Chris - And how do the two scenarios differ? Do people treat the information completely impartially - person versus inanimate object - or do they show a bias in favour of one or the other?

Marco - They do show a bias. To stick with the map example, imagine that you repeatedly get advice from the personal, the non-social cue about the location on, on the map. That advice will always be off to a certain degree. You know that the advisors never perfect, at least not in our experiment. So what people should do is basically they should draw a circle around the suggested location and say, this is how much I trust the advice. And so we found that if the advice comes from a person, that degree of trust is more stable. So it changes less over the course of the experiment.

Chris - Whereas if it comes from an inanimate object, what the degree of uncertainty that the participant applies is greater?

Marco - Yeah, that's exactly right. So that means that sometimes with the inanimate object you will trust it more: draw very small circle than you would trust less and draw a very big circle. So it is as if, as you say, you're just a bit more uncertain in how good the advice is when it comes from the non-social cue compared to the person.

Chris - And what's going on in the brain that makes them behave differently - the participants - like this?

Marco - We were looking specifically at parts of the brain that are part of the mentalising network. These brain regions really have to do with figuring out someone else's beliefs and intentions. So we were looking at how they, the neural representation of the advisor was over over time. So whether brain activity in those regions looked very similar when they saw the same advisor, whether they looked very different, if they saw different advisors. And overall we found that for human advisor, um, the patterns were more stable than for the inanimate objects in this brain network.

Chris - What are the implications of this? The world's been awash with headlines about AI and AI chatbots and inherent trust or distrust of those sorts of things among users. Is that why you were interested in exploring this sort of direction? That increasingly as we become more closely aligned with what machines are doing and we make them more part of our day-to-day life and communication that we need to know how people treat and regard information coming from a machine?

Marco - That's definitely one of the implications that we're now thinking about. Um, but actually when setting up that study, we were influenced by how humans tick and that we might be better in learning from another person compared to learning from direct experience. That might be something that explains how humans work because you know, we rarely learn stuff from scratch like maths in school. You know, it would take all of us many years to figure that out on our own. Instead, we often learn from other people about the world. So there's um, really the question, if there's some sort of brain mechanisms that enable us to do that particularly well to learn from other humans as compared to direct experience,

Chris - Would it be then that you take what you've identified as the ideal outcome in the brain when you learn or take information from a human and try to make computer interfaces that get the same reaction in a subject so that people inherently trust and react best to that source? Or is it that more fundamentally this says humans make the best teachers and all these efforts to do digital education and self-help courses are probably gonna be less effective in the long run than if there's a person interacting with that person?

Marco - I think it does say that if you believe that something's coming from a person, you approach the information with a different attitude and that's not quite there in the same way for a chatbot. That being said, it would be interesting to repeat the experiment and to look at exactly those questions, how you can sort of modify the non-social information source and give it different identities and that could then make how you learn from it more similar or more dissimilar compared to how you learn from other humans.

A mouse.

16:13 - Smells of other females make mice live longer

Odours of other animals alter rates of sexual maturity in female mice, and even make them live longer...

Smells of other females make mice live longer
Mike Garratt, University of Otago

Exposing young mice to the smells of other mice can affect their rate of sexual maturation. And in an extraordinary set of experiments, as he explains to Chris Smith, Mike Garratt, who’s at the University of Otago, has found that it also affects how long the animals live…

Mike - It's been known for a long time that in rodents, if you expose a female mouse to smells of a male, she will become sexually mature very fast, or faster. Probably because she perceives that there's mates in her environment. Similarly, if you expose a female mouse to smells from other females, she will slow down her rate of sexual development, presumably because there might be other competitors in her environment. So we are really interested in this idea of smells of other individuals that we know influences sexual development and whether that could influence the aging process also.

Chris - Do we know how those smells are interpreted in the body in, in order to have those effects?

Mike - We know partly they are detected by parts of the olfactory system in the brain, and those smells are capable of altering the hormones that are released from the brain that influence sexual development.

Chris - And so how did you then take that, the step further that you're outlining and ask, does this affect how long an animal will live?

Mike - Well, ultimately, if you want to answer that question, you have to do an experiment and actually study the lifespan of an animal. We set up an experiment where we took male and female mice. We expose them to either the odours of other males or other females early in their development. We checked that this changed their rate of sexual maturity, and then basically we left those animals and we studied how long they lived. The outcome was that female mice who are exposed to female odours show a slowdown in their sexual maturity, but they actually live longer. We found that females who are exposed to males become sexually mature earlier, but this doesn't seem to affect their survival, and we didn't see any effects of these odour cues on male survival. So it really seems to be that if you take female mice and you expose them to female odours, which we know slows down their sexual maturity, this does something to their physiology, which means that they live longer.

Chris - How specific is this to mice? If I took the smell of a female cat, great friend of a mouse <laugh>, and I, and I exposed the mice to it, is there something about females in general that smell a certain way or has it got to be a mouse?

Mike - Yeah, it's, it's a really good question and I would suggest probably it wouldn't affect the survival of a female mouse because we don't know what the pheromones are that are driving this process, but it's probably something specific to mice. However, there are some pheromonal cues that are found across species. So sometimes male sense can be stressful and you can take a male mouse and expose a female mouse or a male mouse and expose them to the center of a male from many different mammal species, and that will cause a stress response.

Chris - When this translates into a difference in life expectancy of, of a mouse exposed in this way, how big is that difference?

Mike - It was about a 9% difference in survival. But that's actually quite large. So I think it was sort of maybe 80 days difference. And the delay in sexual maturity that we see with exposure to female odours is only about five to 10 days. So actually you're getting a much bigger change in survival than you are in sexual maturity. A sort of eight 9% difference in survival in a mouse is equivalent to five to seven or eight years in a human.

Chris - Do you know why this is happening? Because it does seem to be a consistent thing that there's something to do with sexual maturity because we know that dogs that have been castrated tend to live longer than uncastrated animals, even humans that have been castrated - eunuchs - allegedly live longer. So do you have any insights as to why this effect is happening?

Mike - No, I mean, and that's I think gonna be a really big question in general over the next five to 10 years. So you're exactly right. There is this consistent effect of if you withhold reproductive investment, it can extend lifespan. And that's been shown in various different species. If you take away the gonads from an animal, so you completely stop them from being able to reproduce, they live longer. And our and our research shows that actually even if you just sort of tweak the age at which they become sexually mature it influences their survival. These hormones that are produced during sexual maturity have effects on cells that influence the signaling processes that regulate growth, either the growth of cells or the growth of the whole body. And we know that some of these signaling processes themselves can directly influence the lifespan of an animal. So there are certain signaling molecules within cells that detect hormones and regulate cell growth. If you inhibit those with specific drugs, you can also make animals live longer. Like you can make a mouse live 20% longer by treating it with a drug that will impinge on some of those signaling processes. So I suspect there's a connection between the hormones that regulate reproduction and those pathways within the body that influence growth related processes and also aging.

Chris - Did you look at what the mice died of when they either did or didn't live longer to see if there was an excess of, of certain pathologies in those that didn't live as long and those that did?

Mike - No, we, we didn't do that within this study. I kind of wish we had, it's very expensive to do that kind of pathological analysis. We did test the physical function of our mice later in life just to see if there are any changes in their strength or their running ability, and we didn't see any overt differences. It is possible that, you know, you may be seeing changes in pathology in a particular organ or maybe an increased or decreased rate of a certain cancer. That's something we, we haven't explored, but that is something we are planning to do in future experiments where we're looking at the effects of social cues on aging in mice.

Chris - And why just the females?

Mike - Yeah, I don't know. In female mice, age at section maturity is quite flexible. And that's quite easy to study in a female mouse, but it's much harder to study in a male mouse. So we don't really know whether age at sexual maturity is as flexible in males as it is in females. So it's possible that males have just evolved to be less flexible in their kind of life history strategies effectively.

The skull of a carnivorous dinosaur.

23:01 - What can bird eggs tells us about dinosaurs?

Birds, the "living dinosaurs", give us clues in their eggshells about their ancient reptilian ancestors...

What can bird eggs tells us about dinosaurs?
David Varricchio, Montana State University

Biologists are fond of referring to birds as “living dinosaurs”; they are, after all, descendents of that lineage and so they share many features in common, like being feathered, flight, being warm blooded and laying eggs. And it’s in this latter respect that, as he explains to Chris Smith, David Varricchio, from Montana State University, has been studying the eggs of one group of birds - the big ones, like ostriches and emus, which belong to a group called the palaeognaths - to explore what the eggs of today can tell us about the eggs - and hence behaviours - of the dinosaur era…

David - Among dinosaurs - so I'm talking about non avian dinosaurs, the ones that want extinct 65 million years ago there is a great diversity in egg form, and especially in the micro structure, the microscopic components of the eggshell. Some of them relate to animals like birds today, and then some are just kind of unique. So a lot of what we want to do is try to understand the functional significance of that microscopic eggshell and also the taxonomic. So who do these eggs belong to? Because for many dinosaur eggs or most dinosaur eggs, we can't really tie them to a specific dinosaur.

Chris - Is this in a way, a bit like we, we know that some birds lay eggs that have cone shaped structures so that the egg ends up lying in a crook of a cliff in the right sort of way and not drowning the chick inside. Is it that kind of thing, interpreting how the animal may have behaved and how it would've reproduced based on egg structures and we are using what we can learn from today to try and apply that in retrospect?

David - Exactly, yeah. One thing we look at is porosity. Some dinosaurs had very porous eggs that likely reflect being buried during incubation; but then, diving in further, it's, it, it's to ask, you know, the crystalline structures, these microscopic structures, do they say something more about the nature of the nests?

Chris - And what eggs can you look at to give you these sorts of clues then?

David - The undertaking of the study was to really look at a group, in this case it's the palaeognath birds, the modern birds that fall under that group and to see if there's patterns there that are, you know, that reflect the evolutionary relationships of the birds and also maybe eventually if they reflect different environments or nesting behaviours of these birds. So palaeognaths, there's sort of two major groups of birds. One is very diverse and that's most birds that you might see in your backyard. And then palaeognaths are the ostriches, emus, rheas, kiwis, so these are all flightless birds, typically fairly large. And then there's another group, the tynimos, which is kind of like a quail like group of birds from South America.

Chris - Why did you look at those groups in particular and not the average birds you find flying around in your garden?

David - Well, in part we wanted to be able to look at the more the entirety of the group, so that was one reason. So they're a relatively small group relative to the other branch, the neognath birds, which is, you know, some 9,000 species. So that was too much for us to do. The other idea was that some of these birds are fairly large like ostriches and emus and cassowaries and produce fairly large eggs with thick eggshell and they're flightless. So maybe there's some connection there in a behavioural sense or a nesting sense with dinosaurs.

Chris - So how did you do the study then? Was it a question of going to these birds and obtaining eggs and then just looking at them?

David - We basically ask around for samples from museums or collections or emu ranchers and things like that and get, get our eggshell samples from that way.

Chris - And how did you interrogate the eggs?

David - So we're really looking at the microscopic aspects of the eggshell making thin sections. So you basically break off a piece of eggshell, cut a very thin slice, and to look at the cross section of the eggshell. And then we use a technique called EBSD - electron back scatter diffraction.

Chris - So having considered this complete group in its entirety, because you could, what has that then enabled you to deduce about dinosaurs that we couldn't have inferred from the fossil record that we already had before?

David - That's a good question. I would say <laugh>, we came to the conclusion that it's still challenging. I guess I would say that, you know, within these modern birds, there's sort of three main types of eggshells that we can kind of broadly define. Two of those show up in in some of these carnivorous dinosaurs. And these three types though aren't unique to one sort of specific group within the paleognaths. These styles of eggshell have evolved multiple times within palaeognaths, so that it tells us that eggshell evolution is complex, similar structures are evolving multiple times among different animals. I guess for me that kind of satisfies my dinosaur self in that we do see some diversity from fairly closely related animals back in the fossil record with our dinosaurs. And that kind of says, oh, that that's okay, that's kind of normal. To see those kind of transitions in, in an evolutionary sense, I think it's also useful in a functional sense to say that these animals in the fossil record had basically the same structures as some of these paleognaths.

Chris - It kind of says nature's a wonderful thing in the sense that it tends to find a solution and, and just use that solution multiple times. If it doesn't hang onto it, it just reinvents it again and again. But that's sort of what you're saying, isn't it, that you're getting convergences with what these birds are doing, but also probably what dinosaurs did?

David - Yes, there's a lot of convergences. I, you know, I think at this point it, it sort of sets us up to then ask further questions and to say, can we tease out additional functional or maybe physiological aspects that are reflected in the eggshell? So for example, ostriches, which have a really big egg, have a very similar microstructure with, with big moas from New Zealand. And so you can ask, well, is there some advantage to those, that structure? And we actually see that structure in true odontid dinosaurs back in the Cretaceous too. So in many ways this study is very observational. We're kind of just sampling a bunch of things and trying to see if there's patterns that we can then address.

A selection of ring doughnuts

29:31 - Doughnut economics approach to climate crisis

Two researchers suggest seven new approaches for rethinking how we should do science and operate universities differently to tackle the climate crisis...

Doughnut economics approach to climate crisis
Clare Kelly, Trinity College Dublin & Anne Urai, Leiden University

“The climate crisis requires radical and urgent action at all levels of society, and universities are ideally positioned to lead such action but are largely failing to do so. At the same time, many academic scientists find their work impeded by bureaucracy, excessive competitiveness, and a loss of academic freedom.” That’s how Anne Urai, from Leiden University, and Clare Kelly, from Trinity College Dublin, open their eLife paper in which they suggest seven new approaches for rethinking how we should do science and operate universities differently. It’s based on the concept of “Doughnut Economics” put forward by Kate Raworth. Speaking with Chris Smith, Clare first…

Clare - Raworth's model, she says that what the economy should aim for is not boundless growth, but instead to be within a donut. So the donut is made out of this inner and outer ring, where the inner ring is a set of social foundations for human wellbeing, the things that we all need, water, food, education, democratic voice, peace. And the outer ring is the ecological boundaries for our planet that we, we cannot overshoot, like climate change and biodiversity loss. And so we adapted Raworth's model to academia. So we imagine, again, a, a social foundation, the things that academics all need in order to thrive: good, safe jobs, academic freedom, and human and planetary ceilings that we shouldn't exceed, fixation on metrics, and emphasis on individualism and competition. And then of course our planetary boundaries.

Chris - And how did you identify those, Anne, in the first place? That list of things that were going to be the parameters, the inner and the outer margins of your doughnut. I think, if we were planetary scientists, we talk about the "goldilock's zone" where the earth sits relative to the sun, wouldn't we?

Anne - Yeah. It was a bit of an iterative process. The ones that we came up with, some of which Clare already mentioned, are by no means fixed or exhaustive, but we think that they represent generally kind of established sense of what a university should be for, and how they can thrive.

Chris - Take us through some of the key ones, Clare, and how they fit this model.

Clare - The way we approach the doughnut was, we address what we identify as practices within academia that relate to where we are with regard to both the inner - the social foundation - and the ceiling. We talk about changing the goal that rather than understanding the purpose of universities as to kind of generate more and more and more so students as graduates, and more papers, more funding and so on. We talk about how if we can realign our focus towards getting back in the academic doughnut and changing our goals and values and attitudes to respect both our human and planetary boundaries and to establish that foundation that we all need in order for academia to thrive, then we will be in a much better place. And you know, importantly, we, we, we kind of, one of the reasons we, we started thinking about all of this is because both Anna and I were coming from a place where we're both neuroscientists, but we were both increasingly thinking and teaching and working on the climate crisis and really struck by this kind of inertia and what was come, what comes across almost as a lack of concern amongst our institutions and even our colleagues. And recognising that everybody's just so hurried and bogged down in, in the business of the modern university in the business that churning out the more and more and more all the time, hitting our metrics and KPIs, that people simply have no headspace or no energy to think about an act on the climate and biodiversity crisis is the greatest challenge of our time.

Chris - Is this not kind of pulling the rug, Anne, from under the present university business model; because universities are all now based on how many papers people have published, how much grant money is flowing in, how many students paying fees are coming through the door. And if we try to reverse that, then we make it very, very difficult for the practice to continue.

Anne - Yeah, you've just identified exactly right. One of the goals of this piece was to take a step back and to think whether these practices that you're describing are really what the university is for and whether that serves our students the society we're in our planet, our communities, and also academics themselves. So we think that there are many aspects of the way universities currently work that could be reformed for the better. And we also highlights several practices like developments in open science, for instance, that are really alre already leading the way and pointing in a, a direction where universities can be healthier, kinder, and more respectful of the people on the planet.

Chris - Have you shown this, Clare, to anybody who runs a university; taken this to a senior person and said, this is what we would view as the ideal way of running a university academically and economically. How does that sit with you?

Clare - <Laugh>, believe it or not, I've, I've actually had a conversation with our provost, the head of our university, Trinity College, Dublin. Her name is Linda Doyle. And she's an incredibly progressive provost because she was already thinking about these very same ideas even before we wrote our paper. So she's very keen to adapt the idea of Raworth's doughnut to the university and to focus on how we can ensure this social foundation and to work within planetary boundaries. Things can't change overnight. But one of the first steps as we wrote in our paper is visualising and thinking about how we can do things differently. And so I'm really happy to say our provost is, is thinking about that and is grappling with some of those logistical challenges and, and sure, you know, to do with funding streams that pose a real difficulty to making these changes. So for example, the Irish government does not fund our universities anywhere near our running costs - Trinity gets 40% of its running costs, for example, from the Irish government. And so part of what we need to do is campaign for governments to properly fund third level institutions.

Chris - Yeah, I guess that's, that's sort of what I was hinting at with my point that it's incongruous with the present way that universities are funded and run. Also, Anne, many universities are multidisciplinary. They have arts as well as sciences, but climate change action and coming up with ways to address climate change is often regarded as a scientific problem. So how do we make sure that everyone at the university is included in the scope of what you are proposing rather than just being a problem for the scientists?

Anne - I think there is, in the climate movement more generally in increasing awareness of exactly this point, that the problems, but also the solutions have been seen as only technological. Whereas really the rethinking of not only our university microcosm, but how we structure society really requires a lot of creativity and requires artists and social scientists to play their part as well. And that's something that I think is very positive in the last few years, that the conversation has really shifted from only focusing on those technological solutions to including everyone. And I think the university can lead by example, you know, housing all those different people together already kickstarting these interdisciplinary collaborations, which other groups of society can can then hopefully be inspired by

Chris - Claire?

Clare - I think one of the key messages of our piece is that we can't, as academics just wait around for other people to sort this out. So we have to, to play a role. And of course, I mean, it's important to say there's loads of incredible climate scientists and, and researchers out there who are doing amazing work already. So our paper isn't necessarily aimed at those, it's, it's really aimed at the rest of us who have always felt that this isn't our, our responsibility. It's not something we can do. I don't know anything about it. But the problem is so big and, and it's so universal. It's so global that we have huge responsibility to take time, to educate ourselves, to talk with others, to share our concerns, and to take up some of the challenges that we mentioned in the paper to try and dismantle some of these barriers to academics taking action.


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