Jessica Green: We’re covered in germs. Let’s design for that.

Our bodies and homes are covered in microbes — some good for us, some bad for us. As we learn more about the germs and microbes who share our living spaces, TED Fellow Jessica Green asks: Can we design buildings that encourage happy, healthy microbial environments?

Jessica Green wants people to understand the important role microbes play in every facet of our lives: climate change, building ecosystems, human health, even roller derby — using nontraditional tools like art, animation and film to help people visualize the invisible world.

Jessica Green, a TED2010 Fellow and TED2011 Senior Fellow, is an engineer and ecologist who specializes in biodiversity theory and microbial systems. As a professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, she is the founding director of the innovative Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center that bridges biology and architecture.

Green envisions a future with genomic-driven approaches to architectural design that promote sustainability, human health and well-being. She is spearheading efforts to model buildings as complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment. This framework uses next-generation sequencing technology to characterize the “built environment microbiome” and will offer site-specific design solutions to minimize the spread of infectious disease and maximize building energy efficiency.

Quotes by Jessica Green
  • “Humans in the developed world spend more than 90 percent of their lives indoors, where they breathe in and come into contact with trillions of life forms invisible to the naked eye: microorganisms.”

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  • “Our bodies are home to trillions of microbes, and these creatures define who we are.”

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Your brain is more than a bag of chemicals!

Speakers David Anderson: Neurobiologist


Modern psychiatric drugs treat the chemistry of the whole brain, but neurobiologist David Anderson believes in a more nuanced view of how the brain functions. He illuminates new research that could lead to targeted psychiatric medications — that work better and avoid side effects. How’s he doing it? For a start, by making a bunch of fruit flies angry.

Through his lab at the California Institute of Technology, David Anderson seeks to find the neural underpinnings of emotions like fear, anxiety and anger.

Through his lab at the California Institute of Technology, David Anderson seeks to find the neural underpinnings of emotions like fear, anxiety and anger.

Why you should listen to him:

How is emotional behavior encoded in the brain? And what parts of the brain are affected by depression, ADHD and anxiety? This is what neurobiologist David Anderson researches in his lab at the California Institute for Technology by studying the brains of lab mice and fruit flies. By looking at how neural circuits give rise to emotions, Anderson hopes to advance a more nuanced view of psychiatric disorders — that they aren’t the result of a simple “chemical imbalance,” but of a chemical imbalance at a specific site that has a specific emotional consequences. By researching these cause-and-effect relationships, Anderson hopes to pave the way for the development of new treatments for psychiatric disorders that are far more targeted and have far fewer side effects.

Trained by two Nobel laureates, Gunter Blobel and Richard Axel, Anderson is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“You are at a picnic and a wasp is circling. You swat it away, but it buzzes back again and again, more persistent each time. The wasp seems angry. Or is it? Can insects be ‘angry’? David J. Anderson believes that what we perceive as insect anger may share a foundation with human frustration or aggression. ”

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Quotes by David Anderson
  • “[Psychiatric] drugs have so many side effects because using them to treat a complex psychiatric disorder is a bit like trying to change your engine oil by opening a can and pouring it all over the engine block. Some of it will dribble into the right place, but a lot of it will do more harm than good.”

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  • “The brain is not a bag of chemical soup, and it’s a mistake to try to treat complex psychiatric disorders just by changing the flavor.”

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