School of Arts and Humanities News

Biology Professor, Sci-fi Author to Discuss Good Viruses


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Dr. Joan Slonczewski, a biology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, will present a lecture on “good viruses” and how they benefit the body Wednesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance Hall.

The Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at UT Dallas will welcome guest speaker Dr. Joan Slonczewski on March 23 to discuss “good viruses” and how they might enhance our health.

Her talk at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Jonsson Performance Hall will dive into reasons why viruses in the blood and gut offer innumerable health benefits that scientists are just beginning to understand.

“Viruses that cause disease are a small fraction of all the viruses in nature,” Slonczewski said. “Some viruses exist normally in our blood. Other viruses became part of our own DNA, where they evolved into essential human genes.”

Slonczewski, who studies the evolution of bacteria and viruses as a biology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, originated the concept of the Mitochondrial Singularity — the idea that humans are gradually becoming “the mitochondria of their own machines.”

She is also a successful science-fiction author, having written novels such as A Door Into Ocean and, most recently, The Highest Frontier. Her work explores microbes, ecological disasters, feminism and genetic engineering, among other topics.

“We’re very pleased to have Joan Slonczewski as our next speaker in our series of lectures on ‘Viruses, Vectors, and Values’,” said Dr. Matthew Brown, director of the Center for Values. “Professor Slonczewski continues the goal of the series, to explore the social values and cultural meanings associated with viruses, disease, epidemics, vaccinations and public health. She brings a unique perspective that comes from her melding of natural science and literature. In her own work, she represents the mixing of the “two cultures” that is central to the mission of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology.”

Her talk is part of the annual lecture series presented by the Center for Values. In April, Maya Goldenberg from the University of Guelph in Ontario will discuss vaccine education and psychology in light of the anti-vaccine movement.

The Center for Values is one of UT Dallas’ more than thirty research centers and promotes public understanding of the role that technology and scientific discovery play in shaping contemporary culture.