On Human Origins and the Future of Humanity

April 18-19, 2024

Lund University | Lund, Sweden

The symposium On Human Origins and the Future of Humanity will take place April 18-19, 2024, in the 50th year of the discovery of Lucy by Prof. Donald Johanson who will be one of a number of keynote speakers. Johanson’s discovery forever changed mankind’s view of ourselves. The program will delve into the origin of life itself and will highlight further and recent developments in the understanding of our genetic heritage, evaluating how mankind has evolved and what new scientific discoveries and technologies will mean for human life going forward. The program will consider where humankind is potentially headed given new scientific understanding and discoveries, that offer the abilities to extend life and human capabilities. We will look at our place as a species, in terms of time, our role in nature, in tangent with the many challenges and opportunities that lay before us, such as ecological instability, species extinction and procurement and allocation of dwindling resources.

Conference Speakers

* denotes a Nobel Laureate

"Evolution for Chemical Innovation"

Prof. Frances H. Arnold*

Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, California Institute of Technology

Frances Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. In 2018, Arnold received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for pioneering directed evolution methods used to make enzymes for applications in sustainable chemistry across medicine, consumer products, agriculture, fuels and chemicals. In 2021, she was appointed Co-Chair of the Presidential Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) by President Biden. She cofounded three companies in sustainable fuels and chemicals and serves on the boards of Alphabet, Illumina and several private companies. Arnold has been elected to the US National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican. Arnold received her B.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
"CRISPR-Cas: The Power of Microbiology for A Transformative Genomic Engineering Technology"

Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier*

Honorary Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin

"Exploring Molecular Signatures of Life"

Prof. Ben L. Feringa*

Academy Professor, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences

Ben L. Feringa obtained his PhD degree at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands under the guidance of Professor Hans Wynberg. After working as a research scientist at Shell in the Netherlands and the UK, he was appointed lecturer and in 1988 full professor at the University of Groningen and named the Jacobus H. van't Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Sciences in 2004. He was elected Foreign Honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. In 2008 he was appointed Academy Professor and he was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands. Feringa’s research has been recognized with numerous awards including the Körber European Science Award (2003), the Spinoza Award (2004), the Prelog gold medal (2005), the Norrish Award of the ACS (2007), the Paracelsus medal (2008), the Chirality medal (2009), the RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award (2011), the Humboldt award (2012), the Nagoya gold medal (2013), the ACS Cope Scholar Award (2015), the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize (2015), the August-Wilhelm-von-Hoffman Medal (2016), The 2016 Nobel prize in Chemistry, the Tetrahedron Prize (2017) and the European Chemistry Gold Medal (2018). In 2019 he was elected as a member of the European Research Council. Feringa’s research interest includes stereochemistry, organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, molecular switches and motors, self-assembly, molecular nanosystems and photopharmacology.
"Spaceflight: Past, Current and Future"

Prof. Christer Fuglesang

Director, KTH Space Center, Professor in Space Travel, The European Space Agency

Arne Christer Fuglesang is a Swedish physicist and an ESA astronaut. He was first launched aboard the STS-116 Space Shuttle mission on 10 December 2006, making him the first Swedish citizen in space. Fuglesang was a Fellow at CERN and taught mathematics at the Royal Institute of Technology before being selected to join the European Astronaut Corps in 1992. He has participated in two Space Shuttle missions and five spacewalks, and is the first person outside of the United States or Russian space programs to participate in more than three spacewalks. Fuglesang graduated from the Bromma Gymnasium, Stockholm in 1975, earned a master's degree in engineering physics from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), in Stockholm in 1981, and received a doctorate in experimental particle physics from Stockholm University in 1987. He became an associate professor
(docent) of particle physics at Stockholm University in 1991. In 2012, Fuglesang received the Royal Institute of Technology 2012 Alumni of the Year award.
"Pain and Suffering: The Agony of Not Knowing"

Dr. Tim Hunt*

Biochemist, Molecular Physiologist

Science is often called a “knowledge based” business, but to me it’s founded on ignorance. So many things about the world are still mysterious, and it’s those mysteries that lead people to wonder and explore. I will start my talk with an example of my own ignorance, revealed by a curious bedtime question from a then 7-year old daughter: “Daddy, why is the ceiling opaque?” I suddenly realised—I’d been looking at Einstein’s 1905 paper—that I had no idea how light got through glass; specifically, how photons passed through windows. I asked a physicist friend if the photon that came out the other side was the same photon as the one that went in. “Tim” he told me “that is a meaningless question”. I gradually came to realise that simple questions do not necessarily have simple answers, but progress in science depends on questioning; but finding good questions is not a simple matter. During my life we’ve seen astonishing advances in understanding and amazing technological developments, all made possible by curious people doing experiments to find things out. It hurts, not knowing.
"Our Place in the Future: Lessons from a 3-million-year-old ancestor"

Prof. Donald C. Johanson

Founding Director and Virginia M Ullman Chair in Human Origins, Institute of Human Origins; Virginia M Ullman Chair of Human Origins and Founding Director, Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton found in Ethiopia’s Afar Triangle half a century ago, prompted a redrawing of the human family tree, placing her species, Australopithecus afarensis, as the last common ancestor to two evolutionary lineages, one that led to extinction and the other to, Homo sapiens. She reminds us of our ape ancestry and raises questions as to how her species survived for nearly a million years and what climatic changes may have prompted the later diversification of hominin species. She now serves as ambassador to our roots, and inspires a deeper understanding our place in nature and our responsibility as stewards of Planet Earth.
"Future Vaccines and Therapeutics; Approaches to Deliver mRNA and Other Macromolecules"

Prof. Robert S. Langer

American chemical engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, inventor. Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert S. Langer is one of 9 Institute Professors at MIT; being an Institute Professor is the highest honor that can be awarded to a faculty member. Dr. Langer has written more than 1,570 articles. He also has over 1,400 issued and pending patents worldwide. Dr. Langer’s patents have been licensed or sublicensed to over 400 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology and medical device companies. He is the most cited engineer in history (h-index 309 with over 388,000 citations according to Google Scholar). He served as a member of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s SCIENCE Board, the FDA’s highest advisory board, from 1995 — 2002 and as its Chairman from 1999-2002. Dr. Langer has received over 220 major awards. He is one of 3 living individuals to have received both the United States National Medal of Science (2006) and the United States National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011). He also received the 1996 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2002 Charles Stark Draper Prize, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineers, the 2008 Millennium Prize, the world’s largest technology prize, the 2012 Priestley Medal, the highest award of the American Chemical Society, the 2013 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and the 2014 Kyoto Prize. In 2015, Dr. Langer received the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Among numerous other awards Langer has received are the Dickson Prize for Science (2002), the Heinz Award for Technology, Economy and Employment (2003), the Harvey Prize (2003), the John Fritz Award (2003) (given previously to inventors such as Thomas Edison and Orville Wright), the General Motors Kettering Prize for Cancer Research (2004), the Dan David Prize in Materials Science (2005), the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2005), the largest prize in the U.S. for medical research, induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2006), the Max Planck Research Award (2008), the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research (2008), the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (2011), the Terumo International Prize (2012), the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science (2016), the Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine (2017), the Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Science (2019), the Medal of Science (Portugal’s highest honor, 2020), the Maurice-Marie Janot Award (2020), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biology and Biomedicine (2021), the Balzan Prize for Biomaterials for Nanomedicine and Tissue Engineering (2022) and the Springer Nature Nano Research Award. In 1998, he received the Lemelson-MIT prize, the world’s largest prize for invention for being “one of history’s most prolific inventors in medicine.” In 1989 Dr. Langer was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, in 1992 he was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2012 he was elected to the National Academy of Inventors. Forbes Magazine (1999) and Bio World (1990) have named Dr. Langer as one of the 25 most important individuals in biotechnology in the world. Discover Magazine (2002) named him as one of the 20 most important people in this area. Forbes Magazine (2002) selected Dr. Langer as one of the 15 innovators worldwide who will reinvent our future. Time Magazine and CNN (2001) named Dr. Langer as one of the 100 most important people in America and one of the 18 top people in science or medicine in America (America’s Best). Parade Magazine (2004) selected Dr. Langer as one of 6 “Heroes whose research may save your life.” Dr. Langer has received 40 honorary doctorates. They include degrees from Harvard University, the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Yale University, Columbia University, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Gerstner Graduate School, the University of Maryland, the University of Western Ontario (Canada), ETH (Switzerland), the Technion (Israel), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), the Universite Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Willamette University, the University of Liverpool (England), Bates College, the University of Nottingham (England), Albany Medical College, Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University, Uppsala University (Sweden), Tel Aviv University (Israel), Boston University, Ben Gurion University (Israel), the University of Laval (Canada), Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Hanyang University (South Korea), the University of New South Wales (Australia), Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong), the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (Mexico), the University of Limerick (Ireland), the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, Olin College of Engineering, Alfred University, Macau University of Science and Technology, the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Maastricht University, and the University of California – San Francisco Medal. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University in 1970 and his Sc.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, both in Chemical Engineering.
"Steps toward Complex Matter: Chemistry!"

Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn*

Chemist

The evolution of the universe has generated more and more complex forms of matter through self-organization, from particles up to living and thinking matter. Mankind has created science to unravel the ways and means by which matter has become organized up to a thinking organism in particular on our planet earth. Self-organization is the process by which steps towards life and thought have emerged. Animate as well as inanimate matter, living organisms as well as materials, are formed of molecules and of the organized entities resulting from the interaction of molecules with each other. Chemistry provides the bridge and unravels the steps from the molecules of inanimate matter and the highly complex molecular architectures and systems which make up living and thinking organisms. Molecular chemistry has developed very powerful methods for constructing ever more complex molecules from atoms. Supramolecular chemistry seeks to understand and control the formation and behaviour of complex molecular assemblies. The field of chemistry is the universe of all possible structures and transformations of molecular matter, of which those actually realized in nature represent just one world among all the worlds that await to be created. Conceptual considerations on science in general will be presented.
"Molecular Click Adventures – A Leap from the Shoulders of Giants"

Prof. Morten Meldal*

Chemist

The concept of click chemistry matured simultaneously in different laboratories around the world in the 1990’s. There was an urgent need for quantitative chemical reactions to cope with the pressure from combinatorial science to synthesize, screen and identify millions of compounds. We serendipitously discovered the CuAAC click reaction in 2001. The mechanism of the reaction will be discussed, and its applications will be presented, as well as existential aspects of our fundamental understanding of chemistry and the importance of serendipity.
"Planetary Boundaries: A Tool to Guide Management of Human-Earth Interactions"

Prof. Katherine Richardson

Professor, Biological Oceanography, University of Copenhagen; Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre, University of Cambridge

The climate and biodiversity witness that our societies cannot continue to flourish unless we actively manage our relationship with the Earth and its resources. Such management requires guardrails to identify how much perturbation of critical Earth system processes is “too much”. The planetary boundaries framework, first introduced in 2009, and since twice updated, identifies science-based limits for human perturbation of Earth system processes. The most recent update shows that 6 of 9 boundaries are transgressed and that transgression is increasing. It also shows, however, that human perturbation of the ozone layer – a boundary transgressed or nearly transgressed in the 1900s - is now in back within a “safe operating space”. The framework and how it can be used for management of the Human-Earth relationship are presented here.
"The Origin of Life: Not as Hard as it Looks?"

Prof. Dr. Jack W. Szostak*

University Professor and Professor of Chemistry, University of Chicago
Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Dr. Szostak is a University Professor and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Prior to joining the University of Chicago in September 2022, Dr. Szostak was a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, and the Alex Rich Distinguished Investigator in the Dept. of Molecular Biology and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Szostak is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Szostak received his B.Sc. from McGill University in Montreal in 1972, and then conducted his graduate research under the supervision of Prof. Ray Wu at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1977. Dr. Szostak then moved to the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in 1979, and then to Massachusetts General Hospital in 1984. During the 1980s he carried out research on the genetics and biochemistry of DNA recombination, which led to the double-strand-break repair model for meiotic recombination. At the same time Dr.
Szostak made fundamental contributions to our understanding of telomere structure and function, and the role of telomere maintenance in preventing cellular senescence. For this work Dr. Szostak shared, with Drs. Elizabeth
Blackburn and Carol Greider, the 2006 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In the 1990s Dr. Szostak and his colleagues developed in vitro selection as a tool for the isolation of functional RNA, DNA and protein molecules from large pools of random sequences. His laboratory used in vitro selection and
directed evolution to isolate and characterize numerous nucleic acid sequences with specific ligand binding and catalytic properties. For this work, Dr. Szostak was awarded, along with Dr. Gerald Joyce, the 1994 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the 1997 Sigrist Prize from the University of Bern. In 2000, Dr. Szostak was awarded the Medal of the Genetics Society of America, and in 2008 Dr. Szostak received the H.P. Heineken Prize in Biophysics and Biochemistry. From 2000 until the present Dr. Szostak’s research interests have focused on the laboratory synthesis of self-replicating systems and the origin of life. For this work he received the Harold Urey Medal from the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life in 2011, and the Wheland Medal from the University of Chicago in 2018.
"Designing New Life to Recapitulate Evolution"

Prof. Dr. J. Craig Venter

Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, J. Craig Venter Institute

J. Craig Venter, PhD, is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his numerous invaluable contributions to genomic research. Dr. Venter is founder, chairman, and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit, research organization with approximately 120 scientists and staff dedicated to human, microbial, synthetic, and environmental genomic research, and the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics. Dr. Venter began his formal education after a tour of duty as a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. After earning both a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a PhD in physiology and pharmacology from the University of California at San Diego, he was appointed professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In 1984, he moved to the National Institutes of Health campus where he developed expressed sequence tags or ESTs, a revolutionary new strategy for rapid gene discovery. In 1992, Dr. Venter founded The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR, now part of JCVI), a not-for-profit research institute, where in 1995 he and his team decoded the genome of the first free-living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae, using the new whole genome shotgun technique. In 1998, Dr. Venter founded Celera Genomics to sequence the human genome using new tools and techniques he and his team developed. This research culminated with the February 2001 publication of the human genome in the journal, Science. He and his team at Celera also sequenced the fruit fly, mouse, and rat genomes Dr. Venter and his team at JCVI continue to blaze new trails in genomics. They have sequenced and analyzed hundreds of genomes, and have published numerous important papers covering such areas as environmental genomics, the first complete diploid human genome, and the groundbreaking advance in constructing the first self-replicating bacterial cell using synthetic DNA. Dr. Venter is one of the most frequently cited scientists, and the author of more than 280 research articles. He is also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, public honors, and scientific awards, including the 2008 United States National Medal of Science, the 2002 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2001 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, and the King Faisal International Award for Science. Dr. Venter is a member of numerous prestigious scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Society for Microbiology. Dr. Venter is also a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded several companies including Synthetic Genomics, Inc., now Viridos and Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI).
"Molecular Precision for Betterment of Humanity"

Prof. Omar M. Yaghi

James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry,
University of California, Berkeley
Elected member of the US National Academy of Sciences

Yaghi pioneered reticular chemistry, a new field of chemistry concerned with stitching molecular building blocks together by strong bonds to make open frameworks. His most recognizable work is in the design and production of new classes of compounds known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs), and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). MOFs are noted for their extremely high surface areas (5640 m2/g for MOF-177) and very low crystalline densities (0.17 g·cm−3 for COF-108). Yaghi also pioneered molecular weaving, and synthesized the world’s first material woven at the atomic and molecular levels (COF-505). He has been leading the effort in applying these materials in clean energy technologies including hydrogen and methane storage, carbon dioxide capture and storage, as well as harvesting water from desert air. He recently co-founded the Bakar Institute of Digital Materials for the Planet where the vast materials space of reticular chemistry is being explored with artificial intelligence tools to speed up the discovery of materials and their applications in areas such as water, food, healthcare, climate and energy, with the aim of improving the quality of life for everyone.