WHAT FLATWORMS TEACH US
Stetten Lecturer Urges Science ‘Go Out, Discover New Biology’

Dr. Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado
Dr. Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado

At first glance, the planarian flatworm isn’t much to see. But its body—often a dull, mottled gray, vaguely arrow-shaped 15-millimeter squiggle, topped with two eyes that frequently appear crossed—holds a super power any other organism would envy. Planarians can regrow themselves, wholly or in part. Sliced in half, in quarters. Diced, even—same story. The loose fragments will each regenerate any of its missing elements—head, tail and any organ or system in between—and be completely like new, only multiplied.

It’s that capability that fascinates HHMI investigator Dr. Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado and his team at Stowers Institute for Medical Research. An NIGMS grantee since 1998, when he established his lab, Sánchez Alvarado discussed “Understanding the Source of Regenerative Ability in Animals,” the 2018 Dewitt Stetten Jr. Lecture on Oct. 10 at NIH.

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‘Blind’ Man Gazes into Future

Dr. Alan Kay at NLM
Dr. Alan Kay at NLM

The most reliable assurance of a successful, and healthy, future is to send emissaries—our children—to that far-off place who are armed with education, grounded in reality and disciplined enough to work toward the brighter angels of their imaginations.

So argued one of the people responsible for our current reality, at least as far as technology is concerned: Dr. Alan Kay, one of the pioneers of graphical user interfaces and modern computing. An original member of the Xerox-PARC group and a Turing Award winner, he addressed the topic, “Is it too late to invent a healthy future?”

Early in his presentation of the National Library of Medicine’s annual Lindberg-King Lecture recently, Kay, who is now president of the Viewpoints Research Institute and adjunct professor of computer science at UCLA, called computing, his field of technology, “almost blind—it relies on little to no human context or history.”

Not only is it blind to the world in which it is pursued, but also it may be an example of what Kay called “inverse vandalism—making things just because you can” borne of “a misplaced desire to make things.
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