Today we’ll talk about life, stars, music, art & cancer. I’ll play two songs. Then we’ll talk about them. Keep in mind that discussion is encouraged; in other words, disagreements are allowed. The first song is called Solstice. From the album Biophilia (Björk, 2011):
What is a star? Why did the ancients thought of them as musical entities, responsible for time, life & death? Now we know that Sol–our star–is not unique. And it can be the size of an atom, compared to other stars:
Right to left: VY Canis Majoris compared to Betelgeuse, Rho Cassiopeiae, the Pistol Star, and the Sun (too small to be visible in this thumbnail). The orbits of Jupiter and Neptune are also shown.
The second song is Blackstar. From David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar.
You might be asking yourselves, “What does this song has to do with science? Wasn’t David Bowie the artist that recently died a few days ago?” The aim of this Science Club is to develop scientific literacy, while observing that Science is an interdisciplinary human activity, that accounts for the whole spectrum of the human experience.
This said, I believe that David Robert Jones is a good vehicle to talk about Science. Besides him being one of the most influential artists that has ever existed–a quick Google search will provide a wealth of information on this matter–, he was also a huge Science nerd. His art–which included theater, music and film–was constantly mutating; as if he wanted to escape time itself (Could you think of two topics more related to Science and Art than time and mutations?).
Unfortunately, time and cells behaving badly–aka cancer–caught up to him. He was 69 years old: “A ‘black star’ is a proliferative breast lesion… described as long and thin with radiating radiolucent linear structures, which against a radiolucent fat background gives a black star or dark star appearance”.
Could we as a species win the war against cancer? Or is it something that will forever be a part of our genome? Will Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering, Gene Therapy, etc. cure cancer once and for all? If so, will the 21st century see our favorite artists, our loved ones–pets and family members alike–easily living beyond the age of 100, while looking as young as 60?
“CRISPR has enormous potential application, including altering the germline of humans, animals and other organisms, and manipulating the genes of food crops. By delivering the Cas9 protein and appropriate guide RNAs into a cell, the organism’s genome can be cut at any desired location.CRISPRs have been used in concert with specific endonuclease enzymes for gene editing (adding, disrupting or changing the sequence of specific genes) and gene regulation in species throughout the tree of life. Ethical concerns have been expressed about this nascent biotechnology and the prospect of intentional gene editing by humans.”—Via
Time. Change. Mutations. Stars. Music.
What do these words have in common? How can talking about the largest star ever discovered, and a recently diseased rock star, lead to a discussion about Science?
To put it simply, we are starstuff. And by we, I mean you, me, a plant, a bacterium, etc. The elements of life–SPONCH–were cooked in the piths of ancient stars that spewed their dust on barren celestial bodies. Our planet was one of them. DNA, the language of life, is made from the aforementioned elements. This molecule can make copies of itself, and it can also change. These changes accumulate over billions of years, resulting in what we know as evolution. Sometimes, though, these mutations lead to what we know as cancer.
The very nature of our universe–which is chaotic, leading to disorder, according to entropy–is written in our cells; cells that have information in them, which can lead to cancer, making us face death. But, if enough of these changes are preserved, allowing for brains to get big, and hands develop thumbs, and weird and wonderful animal can get eyes, and those eyes can look at the night sky and hear music, then we have humans: animals aware of their existence; beings that know that one day they’ll return home–to the stars.