Everything we touch, touches us back: Culture, Biology, and Health


Thursday, May 21, 2020, 11:00am to 12:00pm

The recording of this event can be found here.

Speaker: Brian D. Farrell, Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America; Professor of Biology; Curator of Entomology, Museum of Comparative Zoology; Director, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Faculty Dean, Leverett House of Harvard College

Introduction by Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography; Chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Associate Faculty of the Harvard University Center for the Environment; Co-chair, Brazil Studies Program Faculty Committee

We are shaped by an immensely long evolutionary history living in nature as a social species, a million years of days spent with family and clan in a struggle against the weather, predators, hunger and enemies. Even our values of good and evil, including the Golden Rule, may have been shaped by how we treat others and our environment.

Medical science now shows that our attitudes and interactions touch us in ways that were once thought unmeasurable. We will discuss the medical, behavioral and archeological evidence of the impact of our relationships with nature and with each other on our immune systems and health.

Because present health, environmental, and political challenges could turn the planet towards irreversible change, this is the moment to embrace the inescapable interconnections of our history and our actions on our future. The good news is that we now know the biological basis for the ancient wisdom that the sources of greatest human strength come from touching the earth and each other.

Brian D. Farrell is the Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Curator in Entomology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Professor Farrell is an authority on coevolution between insects and plants. His studies have shown that some of their associations have coevolved since before dinosaurs up to today, and produced the most diverse groups of species in modern biomes. His lab has new projects aimed at the coevolution of mosquitoes, their hosts and the pathogens that connect them. Professor Farrell is the author of many dozens of scientific papers and book chapters on the evolution of ecological interactions in the tropics and temperate zones. For over twenty years, Professor Farrell has also spearheaded initiatives to digitize scientific specimens in museums for free sharing via the internet, and is involved in educational projects that use these images. In 2011-2012, he was a Fulbright Scholar to the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Professor Farrell received a BA degree in Zoology and Botany from the University of Vermont, and MS and PhD degrees from the University of Maryland.

Presented in collaboration with Leverett House and Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology

See also: Virtual