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Undisciplined: The Forest Biotechnologist And The Evolutionary Psychologist

Steve Strauss,

When we told psychologist Joshua Jackson that we were going to ask him to have a discussion with an expert in tree genetics, he wasn’t sure how it would go. But after the conversation, Jackson marvelled at just how interconnected their two worlds of research were. 

We think you will, too.

This week on the program, we’re talking about how to use genetics to reduce pollution. Then we’re going to talk about how words that convey emotion overlap and diverge as they evolve in different languages. And then, as we’re wont to do, we’re going to bring these two very different areas of research together.  

Joining us on the line from Corvallis, Oregon, is Steve Strauss. He is a professor of forest biotechnology in the department of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University, and his genetic transformation lab has produced thousands of transgenic trees. He last joined us to talk about how genetic engineering can be used to keep trees from growing where they’re not supposed to grow, and he’s back today to talk about a recent study that demonstrates that poplar trees can be genetically modified to reduce negative impacts on air quality. 

And also with us on the line from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is Joshua Jackson. He was the first author on a study, recently published in the journal Science, that shows the impact of culture on the way we describe emotion.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.