ASU Biodesign Institute mixes food and discussion with ‘A Sip of Science’

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Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute introduces “A Sip of Science,” an event where individuals meet at local restaurants to engage in casual conversation about the world’s most interesting and current science news.

“When I think back to my career in science, some of the best ideas and some of the most interesting conversations had been over meals or having a nice drink together,” Executive Director at the ASU Biodesign Institute Josh LaBaer says. “We thought wouldn’t it be great if we could sort of bring together food and drinks with conversation about interesting scientific topics that are going on right here.”

The discussions cover a broad range of topics. The next event on Feb. 8 will be with the “Penguin Whisperer” and he will talk about how viruses play a role in ecosystems. Next month will have a discussion on what has been discovered regarding brain-related illnesses.

The events cost $15 and will include light appetizers. Happy hour drinks will be available. Proceeds will be used for community science projects. For more information, visit


Josh LaBaer: Thank you it’s nice to be here.

Ted Simons: A sip of science. Where did this all get started?

Josh LaBaer: When I think back to my career in science, some of the best ideas and interesting conversations have been over meals or having a nice drink together. We thought, wouldn't it be great if we could bring together food and drink with a conversation about interesting scientific topics, things going on in our institute that people are doing in terms of research or discovery.

Ted Simons: Would this be a group of people around the table, someone that’s standing in front of a group with a microphone? How does it work?

Josh LaBaer: I think people are gonna stand in front of a group and talk about interesting topics in science that we are working on. It won’t be exactly around the table but it’ll be with food and drink there.

Ted Simons: Food and drink at the ready, huh?

Josh LaBaer: That's right.

Ted Simons: Let’s talk about some of the topics. The Georgian dragon, nice restaurant there it’s on central. The penguin whisperer will be there, who is the penguin whisperer?

Josh LaBaer: That's one of the faculty members in our institute. What he's discovered is that we can learn a lot from looking at penguins and the viruses they get. It turns out some of the penguins on our planet are suffering from a viral outbreak. And we want to understand what's causing it.

Ted Simons: So the penguins are the canaries in the coalmine. Also, micro plastic in your seafood. I have heard about this study, this research. This is important stuff because there is a lot of plastic in the sea.

Josh LaBaer: Yeah there’s a lot of plastic. Small bits of plastic in the sea and a lot of sea creatures are eating it, and it's occupying a good part of what's going on in there systems. It’s preventing them from absorbing nutrients and leading to changes in the ocean and so we have researchers at the institutions looking at that as well.

Ted Simons: It's not going to be at a seafood restaurant, is it?

Josh LaBaer: That’s a good question.

Ted Simons: Better watch out for that…The mysteries of the brain. Holy smokes, you could go on forever with something like that.

Josh LaBaer: We have a couple of researchers who are especially concerned about nutritive germ diseases. Things like Alzheimer disease and Parkinson’s disease and trying to understand both what caused the disease and how can we detect it earlier. These researchers Paul Coleman and Diego Mastroeni have identified some biomarkers that they can detect in the blood that will help.

Ted Simons: We’re gonna talk about Alzheimer's tomorrow a little bit. But it seems as though it's fits and starts when it comes to ground breaking information for Alzheimer's. Is it really mostly fits?

Josh LaBaer: It's a hard disease to understand and manage but we’re making progress. We do understand a lot more about this than we did back when I first went to medical school.

Ted Simons: Another meal and conversation using biology principles for cyber security?

Josh LaBaer: So this definitely forces a brilliant cyber security expert. We all are terrified by the misuse of computers and people who have desires to take our identities or hack our computers. Her understanding is that we are never going to get there by reading through lines of code. She looks at software’s as if it were an organism. She asks, how does biology deal with attacks? We have years of evolution that biology has developed to defend itself and so she looks at software the same way and she’s looking at ways of looking at immune systems and software and how to evolve s software to make it more protective. So that’s what she’ll be talking about.

Ted Simons: The other thing is microbes. Are microbes controlling your mind?

Josh LaBaer: There is a link between our gut and our brain. How does our gut talk to our brain and tell us what to do.

Ted Simons: Wow, finally, you sir. You will be having a conversation regarding cancer and optimism.

Josh LaBaer: Right. My training is, I'm a medical oncologist. That’s my background and so my lab has been doing research in cancer for many years. We’ve learned a lot in the last several decades about what causes cancer and how to defend ourselves against this disease. I would like to talk about reasons why there is cause for optimism.

Ted Simons: Can you do this over dinner and maybe a drink or two? Is it crying out for a PowerPoint? How do you pull this off?

Josh LaBaer: We might actually have some slides. The goal will be not to be highly technical but rather to sort of embrace individuals who are obviously intelligent because they want to hear about these things, but may not know the details and they wanna come to a place where we can have an open conversation and so typically I think we’re all gonna give a little talk. And then open up for questions and have a conversation.

Ted Simons: And six valley restaurants are involved. Was it difficult getting them involved?

Josh LaBaer: I don't think so. I think people were really interested in this idea.

Ted Simons: yeah and 15 bucks I think per event? That includes light appetizers maybe some happy hour prices as well?

Josh LaBaer: I think that’s the idea.

Ted Simons: It sounds fascinating.

Josh LaBaer: It should be fun.

Ted Simons: Is it the first time now this has happened?

Josh LaBaer: We are just introducing it this year and we’ll see how it goes.

Ted Simons: Alright we’ll see how it goes as it goes from there. Thanks for joining us we appreciate it.

Josh LaBaer: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: AND THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," STATE LAWMAKERS PASSED LEGISLATION TARGETING OPIOID ABUSE, BUT WHAT DO MEDICAL WORKERS THINK ABOUT THE NEW LAWS? AND WE'LL HEAR FROM A DOCTOR WHO'S ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE BATTLE. Also, we talk to Matt McLeod, whose father former sons coach John McLeod is battling Alzheimer's. That's Thursday right here on "Arizona horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Josh LaBaer: Executive Director, ASU Biodesign Institute

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