#80: Mosquitoes. The Serial Killers of Nature. Should We Make Them Go Away? (transcript)


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Quinn:                                  Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:                                    And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn:                                  This is the podcast where we try to bend the motherfucking arc of history towards a more livable planet for you, for me, and everybody else.

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Quinn:                                  This week's episode is, talking about my wife's least favorite thing and that's not a meta way of saying this episode's about me. No. We're talking about mosquitoes.

Brian:                                    Mosquitoes.

Quinn:                                  Just the worst.

Brian:                                    I hate them. Our guest, Dr. Natalie Kofler and boy, does she put up with a lot in this conversation.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. I mean, I feel like that's the baseline for anybody who talks with us, but this was a good one. I mean for us. She's probably out in nature, disconnecting from everything at this point. In all seriousness, as is usual, Brian, with just about, I mean, everyone of the women we've had the actual privilege to talk with, I am so thankful for the conversation, I'm so glad that she will one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, be Co... Oh, was it president empress? Whatever the thing is, forever leader, with all the rest of them, because Dr. Kofler's level of deep technical understanding of things that I couldn't even begin to comprehend. At one point she had to take a deep breath before she explained something to us, because you could tell in her head, she was like, "These idiots. There's no chance."

Brian:                                    Yeah, at one point.

Quinn:                                  She's like, "Can I draw them a picture or something?" Yeah. Right. At one point. Anyways, but she pairs it with so much compassion and nuance. It is something to behold. It's impressive.

Brian:                                    Yeah, that's like the whole problem, I think, is the people that don't have that and don't do that.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, but she leads by example, so, if you're out there, take note kids. This is a good one.

Brian:                                    This is a really good one. Plus, she's a cat lover.

Quinn:                                  Oh. Time to go.

Brian:                                    All right.

Quinn:                                  Let's go talk to Natalie. All right.

                                                Our guest today is Dr. Natalie Kofler and together we're going to discuss, mosquitoes have apparently killed half of everyone who've ever lived.

Brian:                                    Insane.

Quinn:                                  Should we make them go away forever? Dr. Kofler, welcome.

Natalie Kofler:                   Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Quinn:                                  For sure.

Brian:                                    We are, honestly-

Quinn:                                  Thanks for sticking with us. Five minutes into making fun of each other.

Brian:                                    Are we recording? Did you say we're recording? Okay. We're very happy to have you. This is personally, a super interesting topic to me, so I'm very excited to talk about it.

Quinn:                                  Why is it so personally interesting? Are you-

Brian:                                    I just-

Quinn:                                  .... dabbling in CRISPR at home?

Brian:                                    No, I just, CRISPR's amazing, and I hate mosquitoes, and I can't believe that they've killed half... It's just, the facts are just nuts so.

Quinn:                                  But, you kind of can believe it when you think of-

Brian:                                    Well, I can but-

Quinn:                                  Anyways.

Brian:                                    Okay.

Natalie Kofler:                   Can I make a clarifying point before we begin?

Brian:                                    Yes. Yes.

Quinn:                                  Immediately. Please.

Brian:                                    Right off the bat.

Quinn:                                  Shut down.

Natalie Kofler:                   I think it is important to remember that the mosquitoes themselves are not killing anyone.

Brian:                                    Right.

Natalie Kofler:                   It's the viruses and parasites that they carry. So, let's just put that out there, up front and center. That we're clear on that.

Brian:                                    Sorry. That was unclear. Yeah.

Quinn:                                  Way to go, Brian.

Natalie Kofler:                   I know they're not a very charismatic species but we do have to remember their needs.

Brian:                                    It is true. They're indirectly murdering everyone.

Quinn:                                  Everybody brings a friend.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yes.

Quinn:                                  Indirectly largest mass murderers of all time. Please, continue Brian.

Brian:                                    By the way, can I call you Doctor? Or, what would you be like to referred to this whole conversation?

Natalie Kofler:                   You can call me Natalie, please.

Brian:                                    Natalie's okay? Okay.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah.

Brian:                                    Natalie, if you could get us going by letting everybody know just who you are and what you're up to.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah, so I founded and direct an initiative called Editing Nature, and it's goal is to really think about how to steer genetic technologies and their applications in the environment responsibly and ethically with also a really large lens of justice. And, I am a molecular biologist by training so I get the science but now I really work outside the lab and, again, thinking more about the ethical implications of these new very transformative genetic technologies.

Quinn:                                  Wow.

Brian:                                    So awesome.

Quinn:                                  Wow. It just wasn't enough. Was it?

Natalie Kofler:                   I was kidding a little.

Quinn:                                  It's never enough.

Brian:                                    Yeah. Well, that sounds awesome. Okay. So, thank you. And again, welcome and thank you for being here. Quick reminder to everyone, and just so that you know, our goal here is to provide some context for our topic today, and then we'll dig into some specifically action-oriented questions that get to the heart of why we should all give a shit about you and what you do and what we can all do about it. Sound good?

Natalie Kofler:                   Sounds great.

Quinn:                                  Awesome. So Natalie, I know you said you cheated a little bit and did some research, which again, she's still here. That's really just shocking at this point, but we'd like to start with one important question that we ask everybody. Set the tone a little bit. Instead of saying tell us your life story, Natalie, we like to ask, why are you vital to the survival of the species? I like how every other thing she says, she just cackles at us.

Brian:                                    It's not the first time we've been laughed at.

Natalie Kofler:                   So, just [Crosstalk 00:05:54]-

Quinn:                                  So, I want you to be bold. Be honest.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. Well, okay. I think-

Quinn:                                  Oh, I should clarify. I mean human species, not mosquitoes.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Natalie Kofler:                   Oh no. I'd like to-

Quinn:                                  We'll get to the survival of them... those guys later.

Natalie Kofler:                   I would like to do a caveat there. Like, include a caveat where I really think why I may be vital to both human and non-human species on this planet, is... I'm really trying to integrate, which tend to be separate worlds. So, thinking about how can we feel deep connection and kinship with other humans and other non-humans species, while also think really seriousbly about how technologies could be used to create a more healthy future for all of us who share this planet. A friend of mine uses the term edge walker, which I think resonates, which is really trying to be in the middle and create common language between what are often separate conversations, i.e. science vs ethics, or the environment vs humans, and trying to create the middle ground that allows us to come up with more effective solutions.

Quinn:                                  Wow. Did you just literally come up with that?

Brian:                                    That was a good answer.

Natalie Kofler:                   Thanks guys.

Quinn:                                  Good lord.

Brian:                                    Wow.

Natalie Kofler:                   I'm speaking from my heart.

Quinn:                                  No. That was incredible. I'm just ... I didn't bring tissues today. It's a whole thing.

Brian:                                    That's wonderful.

Quinn:                                  Wow, that was awesome. So, further question then, because it does seem like, again, you're speaking from your heart to a fairly impromptu, ridiculous question. It seems as if, and because of the pivot you made from the... or I guess, adapting to bringing on more of the ethical side onto your technical knowledge and work. It seems like your moral code is fairly ingrained in your work and is clearly setting the tone for discussions that could honestly lead to paradigm shifts in society and humanity and things like that. So, I'm curious. Is there a specific relationship you can point to that was a catalyst to get you to where you are today, I guess, professionally but also, philosophically? What made you you? What made you go this way?

Natalie Kofler:                   Oh, gosh. Well, I think one really, leading principle of mine is, and something I didn't actually realize I was so impassioned about until maybe the last few years, is issues of justice. And when I look back it's like, I can't watch movies that are depicting huge injustices. I'm really sensitive to seeing serious injustice. And I think, so that's been a guiding principle of mine, that I think really leads my work and how I move through the world. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure where it came from. It feels like it's just been in me. Maybe a past life. Who knows?

                                                But, another more really informative relationship for me is my relationship with nature, non-human nature. And I think I've spent a lot of time in the woods and by the lake growing up and throughout my whole life, and I think, that's been a really important relationship for me because it's broadened my ideas of who we consider when we think about justice and equity and fairness and really also thinking about how can we give voice to either those who haven't had a voice historically or those that don't even have voice in these sorts of issues. I think that's been a really, probably one of the most important relationships of my life to shape the work that I do now.

Quinn:                                  Where did you grow up that nature became so impactful on you? Now, I'm just asking about your life story so I'm fucking-

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. No. Well, my life story, it's a little bit zig-zaggy. I was born in actually Houston, Texas. Both of my parents. My father's Austrian, my mother is from Southern Illinois, and they went to the University of Houston. That's where they had me. My parents divorced when I was quite young and when my mother married my stepdad who is Canadian, when I was about four, and we moved to Canada when I was seven.

Quinn:                                  Oh, wow.

Natalie Kofler:                   And so, I really grew up in-

Quinn:                                  Similar to Houston.

Natalie Kofler:                   ... Houston. I grew up just outside Toronto, and we had a family cottage that my grandparents on my stepdad's side had bought in the early 80s about three hours north of Toronto. I spent a lot of time up there in the summer. I also spent a lot of time with my grandfather who was a huge nature enthusiast and I think also, as I look back after he passed recently, had a really strong sense of justice as well. And I think that also helped inform me, but a little caveat too is that my father returned to Austria shortly after I moved to Canada so I also spent a lot of time in Austria and in the mountains there.

Brian:                                    Oh, wow.

Natalie Kofler:                   So, I've had quite a few interactions with different areas and nature.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  Interesting.

Natalie Kofler:                   I have a lot of favorite trees all over.

Brian:                                    Really?

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah.

Quinn:                                  I love it. One of those nerds. I'm into it. I've downloaded like 12 of the artificial intelligence... I mean just sending my images to trying to clearly take a picture of the plant and it tells you what it is apps.

Brian:                                    Cool.

Natalie Kofler:                   Okay. Yeah.

Quinn:                                  They seem great. What I'm saying is I'm trying to figure out what my favorite trees actually are besides looking at them. Where you have knowledge of what they are, I have to use an app.

Natalie Kofler:                   Well, I don't really have knowledge as I'm not really a biologist. Like that hardcore of a plant biologist. I've had to learn all their names, and I think that something that we forget as humans is that we have all these living beings around us all the time. And very few of them we can even put a name to and so, why protect... You don't protect things that you can't name and love, so I think that's the important thing to remember.

Quinn:                                  It does seem like that. I'm not going to say that it's the root of our problems but it's certainly not helpful.

Natalie Kofler:                   Not helpful.

Quinn:                                  Okay, so let's knock out a little context on this. I feel like this is one where I'm going to get corrected a lot. I'm pretty excited about that. Please jump in or hang up, whichever you prefer.

Brian:                                    No.

Quinn:                                  You can just call Brian if you'd like. Whatever's easier. So just, again, we've talked... Our people have a pretty good idea of what CRISPR is, somewhat, but to revisit a little bit. It was CRISPR's... I think it was patented in 2012 and is more or less... So, it's fairly new, and it's more or less a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. And then after we find it, that's where the editing comes into play and we alter that piece of DNA. To be painfully simplistic, the thing that everybody uses is it's scissors for DNA. How is that so far?

Natalie Kofler:                   That's okay. Moving in the right direction.

Quinn:                                  Perfect. You know what? That's about my college grades right there.

Brian:                                    It's okay.

Natalie Kofler:                   That's okay.

Quinn:                                  But we've adapted it to do other things. We can turn genes on and off without altering their sequence. We've been able to edit genes in plants and animals for a long time but it used to be super hard and super-duper expensive. Is that correct?

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah, and I think the other thing is it was really clunky. It was a clunky process, right? So, when we wanted to make changes to the DNA of, say, a plant or some bacterial cell normally a huge-

Brian:                                    Shark.

Natalie Kofler:                   Maybe a shark if that's your thing. Huge swaths of DNA would be changed when that was happening what CRISPR is is, yes, it's more inexpensive and it's much easier to use but it's also so much more precise in that you can literally make just a tiny change to a single base pair of the genetic code and the base pair is the most smallest unit of the genetic code. Literally to the letter, that just gives a lot more precision and specificity on how you make alterations to genomes.

Quinn:                                  And it feels like if one were to find themselves altering a genome on a nice Saturday afternoon, you would not want the process to be quote, unquote clunky?

Brian:                                    Clunky.

Natalie Kofler:                   No. No.

Quinn:                                  So, I mean look, CRISPR's been so hyped, and we've learned so much. We've had setbacks and all this. Can it change the world? For sure. Again, have we learned a ton and have so much more to learn? For sure. Do we have the potential as a species to make some very wrong decisions along the way? Yes. We're humans. That's what we do, but some of the bigger questions... Again, like we were saying, I'm excited because this feels like it's going to be a hybrid technical ethical chat, is how do we measure right and wrong and who gets to measure right and wrong, besides the scientific, immediate impact of what we're looking at? So, we have talked to... if folks are interested in this and you missed it or you're new, we've talked about CRISPR once before. I think it was episode 51 with Dr. Brandon Ogbunu. I believe he's at Brown. Is that right, Brian?

Brian:                                    I think so.

Quinn:                                  We talked mostly there about... his background is mathematical modeling in computational biology and disease and using CRISPR now and in the future to make those changes and looking at it from that perspective. But again, we did get into, whether we should make those changes. Who should decide? Who does it really affect down the line? Second generation, third generation, and I'm excited to get into that a little more today with Dr. Kofler. So, the question is, if mosquitoes have indirectly killed many, many, many, many, many people, we seem to have some superpower now, is it time to hop into our CRISPR X-wing fighters and strike back?

Brian:                                    Such a nerd.

Quinn:                                  Just let me talk. So, look, Dr. Kofler, Natalie, I'm a firm believer that every... We look at what Facebook has done to society and it really feels like all these tech net companies, all of these startups, should have a chief ethical officer, right? Much less, ones that are companies that are able to edit genes and germ lines. Why are we having this conversation now for this one? It's interesting to me we've actually stopped to have this conversation seeing that we have this complete inability to grasp the implications of other big decisions we make and other things we give power to, right?

                                                In some cases we do grasp something like this but even, in a lot of ways, most well-intentioned folk still put their head in the sand for a variety of reasons, right? They buy oil stocks, or they keep driving a car, which is very complicated, right? But, it's a ridiculous analogy, but I was thinking about this last night, how relatively easy and cheap and scientifically democratic it is to learn and use CRISPR versus the old methods. And I think about how easy and cheap it is to burn fossil fuels or own a gun or to smoke or cause secondhand smoke, and yet we still do a lot of those things and people avoid those conversations, or they fight back against them. Why is CRISPR different? Why are we seemingly somewhat ahead of it despite what's happened in China? Despite its potential power and accessibility?

Natalie Kofler:                   Well, I think one reason is that the technologists that were involved in creating it were pretty adamant about including ethical conversations very early on. That was, I think, a really important move particularly by Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues at Berkeley to really elevate the ethical and societal implications, I think that helps set the tone for CRISPR. And also, made it a more transparent space where people were invited into the conversation. Perhaps more so than what we've seen in Big Data or even AI.

                                                I think on another level too. I think there's something about... And this is just something I think about, I'm not sure if this is real or not, but I think there's something about the fact that we're meddling with DNA, with a very, sort of, building block of life. That somehow that feels like a much more necessary and even easeful conversation to enter in because we're just really talking about, what it is to be human and how humans are going to interact in the world. In a way, that's a little bit maybe more grounded than when we talk about artificial intelligence that's going to surpass human intelligence and things like that. That feels like outside of ourselves when this is very much at the core of every human and every being on this planet.

Quinn:                                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Natalie Kofler:                   What makes CRISPR also, this is the things I think a lot about too. Obviously, CRISPR is really transformative and how it might have implications in human health and changing how humans are in the world. But what CRISPR is also allowed for is, the construction of what are called CRISPR based gene drives. And that's what's allowed CRISPR to enter into the environment in new ways with people thinking about how we can use CRISPR to change wild species, non-human wild species.

Quinn:                                  I have a vague idea of what a CRISPR gene drive is, but it looks... the more I think about it, the further I go down like a star Trek, perspective. So if you could just correct us and tell everybody what a CRISPR gene drive is, we would be greatly appreciative.

Natalie Kofler:                   So it's not the most easy thing to describe, but I'm going to do my best, particularly when I don't have little, charts and diagrams to help me. But basically, as we know-

Quinn:                                  Dumb it down as much as you need to.

Natalie Kofler:                   Well, I'll just make it approachable. It doesn't have to be dumber. Basically what CRISPR is allowed for, is that... CRISPR as, you've already talked about, right, is it's at its most basic level, these two components. It's the guide RNA, which is what allows the CRISPR tool to know where to change the DNA. And then there's the enzyme normally Cas9, which makes the cut in that DNA. And then if you have a particular template, you can then add new information into the genetic sequence or change the genetic sequence, right? So, that's basically how CRISPR works.

                                                If you were to release a mosquito that was CRISPR gene edited to say, reduce its fidelity to carry malaria and just release that mosquito in the wild, very quickly, that mosquito would mate with wild mosquitoes and eventually just get pushed out of the population through natural selection because, only 50% of its genes would be inherited by its offspring and eventually that would dilute out. You wouldn't really be able to have a very large impact on a wild population. So, a mosquito that expresses a CRISPR gene drive, expresses the gene edit you want, like maybe the inability to transmit malaria parasite as well as the guide RNA, the Cas9 and all the templates that you need to make that very same change in any of its offspring. So that, when they-

Brian:                                    I mean that sounds amazing.

Natalie Kofler:                   It's insane, right? So they go mate with the wild mosquito and that of course if they didn't have that gene drive, the children of that, of that mating... offspring of that mating as the more appropriate term I guess, when we talk about mosquitoes, would only have... half of them would only have the gene edited. But basically what the gene drive does, is it then makes that gene edit and any of the wild genes that the offspring inherits, so that 100% of the offspring have the gene edit and they have it in both sets of their genes. Because as we know, everything has two copies of every gene. In that way, when you were at least a gene drive mosquito into the wild, you can then spread that gene edit through a population really quickly and pretty broadly.

                                                And particularly because mosquitoes have a reproduction cycle of like five weeks. So they're having babies and dying and living every five weeks. And basically you can push that through super fast because they were produced so quickly and their lives are so short. That's like the real game changer because that now means that as humans, we can impact wild species in a very different way than we have in the past.

Quinn:                                  So, that's really compelling. Because I guess in all of my talking about this, and maybe we... I figured this out with... when talking to Dr. Ogbunu, but I didn't realize that the turnaround was so quick there.

Natalie Kofler:                   Well it depends on the reproductive cycle of the species in question.

Brian:                                    Of [crosstalk 00:22:41].

Quinn:                                  Yeah but with mosquitoes I was in gen- I mean, I can see, I talk to my children all the time about, everything has its lifetime animals, plants in this. I just didn't realize that mosquitoes was so quick. Yeah. Should over a year.

Natalie Kofler:                   And also oddly we don't really know why but mosquitoes seem to be really easy to gene edit and really easy to use gene drives in, other than as compared to like other insects. So they're kind of the low hanging fruit in this case.

Brian:                                    Are we doing this? Is this being implemented?

Natalie Kofler:                   Oh yeah. This is like full on happening. So basically, the Gates Foundation is the primary backer of this organization called, Target Malaria. And they have developed gene drive mosquitoes using CRISPR that can push through a gene that causes basically lethality or infertility so that it can suppress the population of mosquitoes. So that then you can just... basically the offspring don't live and you eventually just can get rid of the populations in the wild. They have those mosquitoes in labs where they can basically suppress an entire lab, a population of mosquitoes in as little as I think 11 generations. And now they're moving to have more kind of contained trials, which are like these... they have this whole facility in Italy, which recreate the ecosystems that they intend to release in, they're doing trials there to see how they work in that setting.

                                                So they have yet to be released into the wild, but the technology is ready. I think that's really important for people to be aware of because we really have a pretty small window of time where we can really think about how to do this ethically and whether we are going to do it. But we get a lot of pushback in this space, particularly from some certain environmental groups about being like, "Don't use the technology at all." And unfortunately, the cat's out of the bag, so to speak. I mean, the technology's there, it's more of a question of how we're going to choose to use it.

Brian:                                    Right.

Quinn:                                  So that's where I want to dig in now. And just so everybody understands, again, a quick little context on mosquitoes, because like you said, mosquitoes are not the killers. They're, the messengers. So we are quite literally killing the messenger.

Brian:                                    That can't be right.

Quinn:                                  You like that?

Natalie Kofler:                   Oh gosh.

Brian:                                    Like [crosstalk 00:25:05] a rule were not supposed to do.

Quinn:                                  Done. I know it seems like that's the beginning of the disaster or that's like Brian, that's like your Jeff Goldblum quote from Jurassic park. "That's the rule we weren't supposed to break." So, there has been this talk recently, right? We have this, whether it's through bed nets or mosquitoes or gene drives, like we have this chance to beat out malaria because like you said, the technology is there to grossly simplify it from my understanding is, a lot of it just comes down to how and funding and logistics. But mosquitoes aren't just malaria, malaria still kills. I think it's like half a million people a year. But depending on your region and again, it's getting hotter everywhere, we're talking Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever, West Nile, I mean the list of stuff goes on and on.

                                                So I understand why people are saying, we need to do this now, but I know that you, Natalie, think about this stuff all the way down the stack per se, that is from international treaties down to how it affects families and specific localities. So, why shouldn't we do this? What are the arguments against it and what holds water and what doesn't. What we always want to do is to really pick... Some of our listeners can to turn to scientists. We've got a lot of awesome young people in high school and college and stuff and some [inaudible 00:26:37] scientists, but a lot of our listeners are Congress people and business leaders or just, regular nerds texting and driving.

                                                But I want to give them the fuller context of not to say both sides, because that's, we can't say that right now. But a more well rounded understanding of why we need to take a step back and think about this thing. So why shouldn't we do, for instance this with mosquitoes?

Natalie Kofler:                   I mean, I think the leading argument right now is, just one main reason people would say no to is that, there's just still a lot of uncertainty on how this would work. I think that's something that does deserve a lot of attention. And when we mean uncertainty, I'm talking about all sorts of levels. So, even at the genetic level, it's still unsure about how a gene drive would work in wild populations. There could be natural resistance that occurs in certain mosquitoes so that the technology doesn't even work as effectively as it should. It could somehow create strange mutations that are unintended. It could create evolutionary pressures that could force malarial parasites to evolve to be carried by a different mosquito vector. Because as I should also note that, there's many different species of mosquitoes. So the mosquito that carries malaria is a different mosquito species that carries Dengue, for example.

                                                And so, that's something to be... When people talk about getting rid of all mosquitoes, that's definitely not what's happening. It's about getting rid of one of, I think, almost 1300 species of mosquitoes. Yeah, let's just be clear there. So, what could happen though is, if you get rid of one of the main carriers of malaria, you could have another mosquito or another insect step in to carry the malarial parasite that might be more difficult to control. 

                                                There's all of these different levels of uncertainty. There's also huge uncertainty of the ecosystems that we'd be dealing with. I really like to think about this sometimes when, if you think about just the trillions and trillions of dollars in energy and intellect that's been put into just trying to understand the human body and disease and how little we still know, like we know nothing when it comes to these ecosystem dynamics. And what happens when you specifically remove a species or you introduce some genetically altered species and how that's going to impact food webs and all sorts of different things that we rely on from these ecosystems. [crosstalk 00:28:55].

Quinn:                                  Like a Tyrannosaurus Rex for example.

Natalie Kofler:                   ... could be detrimental. I think that's the largest... Well, one of the most I think, founded arguments right now, is just how little we know and we're dealing with a lot of black boxes and the question of weighing those risks and benefits because like you said, nearly 500,000 people die every year of malaria, most of whom are children under the age of five. It is what causes a huge amount of suffering. We don't have the... We're not able, I mean we could, but there isn't possibility right now based on the way our systems are designed within this world to give treatment to everyone that suffers from malaria. Insecticide resistance of mosquitoes is on the rise. We're even seeing resistance of malarial infection too to treatments. That is why there is strong argument to use this technology as a way to reduce considerable amount of human suffering.

Quinn:                                  So that's interesting, I mean it doesn't fucking surprise me cause this way everything is going, but it almost seems like besides the mass amount of suffering and death, it seems like there's almost a newer ticking clock there with some of the resistance that's going on. So it's almost a question of like not only do we do this but, hey, we should probably do this soon. Am I understanding that right?

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah, it's a balance, right? Because of course every year that you wait, another half a million people are going to die. If it works the way it's supposed to. Let's just be clear there. Right. So there is that time impetus, but then at the same time, there's also really reasonable calls for being more precautionary and how we move forward with this because there is so much we don't know. And the last thing you want to do is start creating more harm than good by releasing this technology. And we know historically that's always a possibility. I mean, you're kind of getting to the crux of it and it's really where I stay all the time, where it's like, I really feel like this technology is so amazing and it could create just such amazing solution to some of our most pressing, challenges.

                                                But it also scares the shit out of me and it should. And so, it's really kind of, it's creating actually a really... in my mind, an amazing opportunity. Because it's really forcing us to hold the mirror up to ourselves and think about how we're gonna make responsible decisions. And I think more importantly, who gets to make those choices. And that's why the environment's a unique space because, these are shared environments, right? This isn't one patient getting to decide whether or not they want to use CRISPR to treat their disease. This is releasing organisms into the wild, that effect everybody within that environment. In that way, it demands a higher level of attention to justice and who gets to make those choices. And it cannot be made by a few technology developers or a few government officials. That's just quite frankly unfair.

Quinn:                                  Sure. Right. I mean, to be clear, our ethos here is, despite who you're talking to and because of who you're talking to, is that like white guys need to stop making decisions all together. It's been enough. It didn't work that great, but I guess that's where it's different, right? We're not using CRISPR to ease our way into quite broad variety of applications here that CRISPR could potentially work on. But we're not talking about using, one specific instance of CRISPR to take a gene for mo- This is not how it works. A gene from malaria out of one child, we're talking about, like you said, a gene drive, how the discussion between, do we use CRISPR to fix someone who has a disease or do we put into the germline and we get rid of that disease, this genetic disease.

                                                And that's, it seems like where people are thankfully slowing down and going, "Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, hold on." Like in one sentence, that sounds great. However, here are the 62 cascading number of issues that come from that theoretically, possibly, technically.

Brian:                                    Yeah. It's really wonderful to hear you just say that argument out loud because going into this, you hear... or someone like me here is like, "Oh, we can, we can kill these mosquitoes." And I'm like, "Yes, kill those mosquitoes." I hate them. And really it's just so much bigger than that.

Natalie Kofler:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative) and I think that's what's alarming to me. And something that I'm really trying to push back on is, we're just slipping... The conversation can really easily, quickly slip into this either or. So, and we're seeing this on the global scale too, where it's like, well, if you're not for this technology, it means you're pro 500,000 people dying every year.

Quinn:                                  Right.

Brian:                                    Oh gosh. [crosstalk 00:33:43].

Natalie Kofler:                   Or if you're for this technology, you're like, don't really care about the environment. And it's just like, shut the fuck up and we can hold... no, we can hold both at the same time. Compassion is infinite. You can be compassionate towards the environment and humans at the same time. And there must, I know there are ways that if we approach it within that standpoint, we can come up with a way to use this technology that is to the benefit of both humans and non-humans and in a way that is just and safe and responsible to create, a vision of the future that we all can kind of sign on for.

                                                But it's a hard territory to protect because the conversation is very quickly, again, polarizing into this either or. And that to me is actually the scariest thing that can happen.

Quinn:                                  So, are you a Trekkie, Natalie?

Brian:                                    Why does it always hap- It always-

Natalie Kofler:                   I hope this doesn't disappoint you, but like, no...

Brian:                                    Good. Great.

Quinn:                                  It's fine.

Brian:                                    Thank you for being honest.

Quinn:                                  You know what? I hope you two enjoy your side podcast that whatever the fuck you want to talk about.

Brian:                                    Cats definitely cats.

Quinn:                                  It's great. Great. I cannot wait to not be involved in that one. So you may or may not have heard and don't feel free, like you're not going to disappoint me either. But there's this main thing that is, the best Star Trek comes down to really philosophical questions, right? Like should not, what are we going to do here, but what happens when we do what we are thinking of doing here and why and who does it affect? And the main one it comes down to a lot of times, is this thing they have called the prime directive, which is the opposite of this, which is essentially like, look, turns out there's all these other pla-.

                                                And I mean, it's like, 1000 or 2000 years from now, there's all these other planets and species, prime directive is essentially... it prohibits members of Starfleet, from interfering with the natural development of other civilizations. You guys suck.

Brian:                                    So Sorry. When he said Starfleet. I'm sorry.

Natalie Kofler:                   Okay I mean, I just wanted to say, these are really serious issues. Now we can talk about Starfleet if that makes [crosstalk 00:35:45].

Quinn:                                  No, I'm trying to make a really long metaphor you guys.

Brian:                                    I'm sorry. I'm serious.

Quinn:                                  But it always comes down to this question because you were talking about how it's black and white, right? And there's always much more hawkish people in Star Trek. We were like, wait a minute, why wouldn't we interfere? Why the fuck should these people suffer through all the wrong decisions that humans made? Or they're about to blow themselves up or they have a disease, we can fix it in 10 seconds. Why shouldn't we go do it? And there's other people going like, "Yeah, well there's other implications. They don't learn from their mistakes. They do this, they, they're not ready for the technology, yada, yada."

                                                And, I always have thought about that from the... And I hope that grounded me and clearly you guys don't care, in the sense of, like you said, we can hold more than black or white in our minds. And we need, with the pace of advancement, not just of technology, but also with what's happening with the environment, we have to hold more than black and white in our heads or we're just not suited to deal with any of these issues. I'm done with Star Trek. We can talk about something else.

Natalie Kofler:                   Thank you though. That was helpful.

Quinn:                                  You're welcome.

Natalie Kofler:                   But what I think to add onto that, something that I've become more aware of is, both of those, the hardcore pro and the hardcore anti folks, both are really coming from positions of privilege. And so, I think that's also important to remember that, it is a privileged place to be. We don't need to use this technology because I don't have, children dying of malaria every year and it's not impacting my communities. And so, I can be all like pro environment and not think about the human suffering that's occurring. And then on the other hand, it's like if you're like a hardcore Pro tech person, it's like the world's worked really well for you. You've been able to steer the course of technology or people that look and act like you have been able to steer the course of technology for centuries.

                                                So why would you want to listen to anybody else or change what that system looks like? Right? And so, both are not effective. And the real question is how do we create this middle space, that is humble and is able to hear other points of views and really stick to that gray zone to really steer this technology in the right direction. And that's not only specific to CRISPR based gene drives. I think that's obviously an issue we're seeing across the board in all sorts of different new emerging technologies in other places in society. But, I really think that that's where I start to really push back on is that, those arguments are privileged arguments. And until people realize that, they're not going to change their tune, I don't think.

Brian:                                    Yeah. That's a perfect segue regarding privilege because, sometimes we have these conversations, and I want to make sure that I stop and remind our listeners that this affects you too. It's not like some, specifically a developing world problem though. Malaria obviously feeds primarily on those populations, but it's, everybody, we're all connected. And before we get to specific actions, I wanna talk, the philosophy of engagement. Besides just general altruism, which is of course commendable, why should our US-based listeners care about and even further get involved in these discussions.

Quinn:                                  And I guess to go with what you were saying, but also, get informed but be willing and ready to take a step back, because a lot of the times they aren't about you. And you, it is not your job to decide.

Natalie Kofler:                   I think there're several reasons of why engagement is so important. One is there's actually just the practical side of this thing. These are really complex decisions. They are going to require significant amounts of different kinds of expertise, both traditional kinds of expertise, as well as more grassroots levels of expertise. For that very reason, the more lenses we can shine on this issue, the smaller the blind spots will become. So there's just that practical reason of why there needs to be engagement of all sorts of different folks. There's also another practical slash ethical reason of engagement and that's because whenever we're faced with huge degrees of uncertainty, which is what these gene drives are presenting to us, we engage our value systems to fulfill the decision making process.

                                                So how we feel about technology, what kind of levels of risks we're willing to take, how we feel about nature and whether a human should be interfering, whether humans should stay apart from nature. Those sorts of value bases are gonna strongly inform decision making. There's sociology data that shows that, for example, in this country, white men tend to have the highest risk tolerance over women in other... over men of color. If you have a bunch of white men deciding how technology should be used, there we're going to likely take higher risks with how they use that technology. There's this real need in that way to have as many voices at the table. And then thirdly, just to reiterate, there's a justice argument for this.

                                                Yes, we've been talking about malaria bearing mosquitoes that might be eliminated in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there's also been discussions of releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes into the Florida keys to reduce Zika virus. This is also a domestic issue and it's, only approaching and becoming larger. There's discussions of using gene drives and agriculture to eliminate certain agricultural pests. The Midwest would probably be one of the first places that those might be trialed. There is definitely domestic need of involvement within the U.S in these topics. again, because there's a release into a shared environment, there's a justice issue that people have a right to that process. And the only way that you can really engage in that process is to inform yourselves and try and enter into, conversation.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. I mean, if now isn't really just a shining moment of, white guy's larger risk tolerance and failure to grasp the implications of that, I don't know. I mean it's pretty crystal clear at this point, but so to take a quick step before we do get to the action stuff, again like you just started to hint at, and I feel like we could do a longer discussion clearly we should do more of these. There are a number of other things that people are eager to and are preparing to use CRISPR on. Seemed like for a minute every other headline from new scientist whom I love was like, CRISPR can do this, can also do this [crosstalk 00:42:26]

Brian:                                    Oh, yeah.

Quinn:                                  ... we can also do this and it might cause cancer. Wait, maybe it's okay. With everything we've learned so far, what other issues, diseases, situations are we actually, not like what are the things we can do, what are we actually working out? What are the things we've actually decided to do?

Natalie Kofler:                   Well, there's one thing that's been developing in the agricultural space is using CRISPR in livestock. For example, there's been cattle that a big CRISPR gene edited so that they don't have horns. And what that allows for is that I guess, generally cattle have to be de-horned so that they don't cause damage to other cattle when they're farmed and high density. This would allow for... Which is a painful process as you can imagine. This would allow to not have to de-horn cattle. So they use this, a reduction of suffering argument. Another place that CRISPR is being explored, is for environmental conservation. And I think that's an important thing to remember that there could be, really also special ways that CRISPR could be used to help protect our planet.

                                                And one is that, there is some work being done to start exploring using CRISPR to gene edit coral species, for example, so that they could withstand raising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.

Quinn:                                  That would be amazing.

Brian:                                    Yeah wow.

Natalie Kofler:                   There's also work being done [inaudible 00:43:48]. I mean, and that's where the arguments get really interesting because, we... not to play the alarmist, because I really try not to, but we could be in a situation that, if we don't use something like that, we have to be okay with losing all coral. That could be one way to protect themselves. Again, that's why we really need to think about, not only the risks of these technologies but, the benefits and what the risks might be by not using it. it could be just as risk not to.

Quinn:                                  And that [crosstalk 00:44:20] maybe gets a little black and white at that point, maybe not there yet, but I mean with the way corals are going, we just had an amazing conversation with Dr. Kim Cobb about that. Which is, we just might lose them, which is, like you said, we're not necessarily we have to be okay with, but we have to decide. It's like, some of the discussions of, what cities are we ready to, I hate to use the word abandon, but that's... new Orleans isn't going great, and they don't have the money to try some of the crazy ambitious things in New York is talking about doing. And, we have to at some point have a big boy discussion about this.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. But then of course the other discussion that comes up, at least at the global scale too, is that, again this issue of not wanting the technology to be a band-aid solution or this idea of a silver bullet when we have systems that aren't working right. There's, I think, again, this isn't black or white. We might need to use band-aids to stop the bleeding while we still try to reform the systems that need to be improved. Right?

Brian:                                    Sure.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, sure. I mean, people talk about, like sucking carbon out of the air is that, they're like, "Oh, if we do that, then people just keep getting to burn." We got to do all, we have to do all of the fucking things...

Natalie Kofler:                   I know. All the things.

Brian:                                    Yeah.

Quinn:                                  All the fucking things. Yeah. It's so far beyond that at this point, man.

Brian:                                    Natalie, where do you, and your like-minded colleagues and Editing Nature, where do you run into your biggest obstacles or frustrations?

Natalie Kofler:                   I have to say my biggest frustrations have been, when I've come up against certain environmental groups. In that I'm seeing a trend where at least at the international level where a very small number of people that represent certain Western-based environmental groups, have a very outspoken voice. They claim to speak for what they call vulnerable communities and who are now trying to have their own voice in these discussions. And it doesn't always align. And I've noticed a lot of spread of misinformation and the silencing of voices. And I've actually found that the most challenging experience to deal with.

Quinn:                                  Interesting. Is that pretty pervasive? [crosstalk 00:46:41] No, I noticed that was incredibly taxing.

Brian:                                    Well done.

Natalie Kofler:                   It's pretty pervasive at the UN treaty level, where we're... have these times where you have international meetings where people are coming together to try to negotiate protocols on how these technologies should be overseen. And in those cases you see certain environmental groups having a really dominant presence and a very disruptive presence and that they're not interested in having any conversation. And because of that they use a lot of tactics to shut it down. And again, that scares the shit out of me because what we need to be doing right now is talking about this stuff.

Quinn:                                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. Interesting.

Natalie Kofler:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). I've had my Thesis... I wrote essays that have been denied publication because certain editors didn't agree with environments ethic I was using, that I was too pro-technology. I mean, it's annoying...

Brian:                                    Geez. Yeah. [Crosstalk 00:47:43].

Quinn:                                  Annoying is a very kind word.

Natalie Kofler:                   ... and upsetting, really upsetting.

Quinn:                                  We got the explicit tag. You can throw whatever F-bombs you want out of here.

Brian:                                    Like we mentioned at the beginning Natalie, our goal, is to provide a specific action steps that our listeners can take to support your mission, with their voice, their vote and their dollar. So let's get into that before we let you go. Let's start with their voice. What are the big, actionable and specific questions that we should all be asking of, of our representatives?

Natalie Kofler:                   Well, firstly, I think we need to be asking our representatives to give these technologies a little bit more attention. I think, what I've noticed that it seems like the artificial intelligence seems to get a lot of attention at the governing like governance levels, both at the international level as well as domestically. And I think that these technologies particularly are looking at releasing gene edited organisms into the wild are, are equally, if not more so, more transformative. And not only that, it's happening now. This has a real urgency. I think we really need to be pushing our representatives to educate themselves on these technologies. I think we also need to be pushing our representatives to try and promote the U.S of being a larger player in these discussions.

                                                So, for example, at the UN level, there's the convention of biological diversity, which oversees regulation and protocols on how to use genetic technologies safely in the environment. And the U.S is not a party to that convention. Meaning they're there, but they can't actually participate in negotiations. That's alarming and I think, this has been for some years now. This is the new [inaudible 00:49:42]. But I think we need to really be pushing our representatives to be more engaged in helping to shape these discussions.

Brian:                                    And the next step it'd be vote. How can we, how can we help support you and what you do with our vote?

Natalie Kofler:                   I mean, I think what I do is... Obviously I'm focusing on these technologies because I think they're very transformative and important and there needs to be balanced discussion on how we need to move forward. But I feel like on a more metal level, I really am passionate about ensuring that that gray middle zone is protected, where we can take time to see things from both sides and really be, compassionate for other view points, and trying to have humility to hear and see those viewpoints clearly. on a really sort of, not a very clear way of saying this, but I think we need to really expect those things out of our representatives and who we vote for. And we just see the same patterns occurring in all sorts of places and we're seeing it in this technology. We're seeing it obviously in the democratic processes of this nation and really being open about being compassionate and humble and how we approach these uncertainties and who we represent to, who we vote to represent ourselves in those situations.

Quinn:                                  Seems like science fiction, I mean, you guys make fun of my Star Trek but you're over here talking about nuance and respect and compassion.

Natalie Kofler:                   Someone's got to say it. I think that's... There's definitely this rising, I mean there is a rising energy around those ideas that I really feel, I can feel it, and I think, that's what helps me stay hopeful and moving forward. But I think the other issue is like, when you're asking how people can be active and vote in, regards to this technology, I mean it's still pretty new. So it's really about, talk about foundational ways that we can protect those processes. I think we can also be really vocal about ensuring that regulatory processes in this country for example, really carve out and protect space for public engagement. That they hear what the public thinks, so they can introduce non-science inputs into how they make decisions.

                                                This is go so beyond the technical details, we need to be able to incorporate ethical frameworks into our regulatory processes. We need to incorporate different value systems and viewpoints into regulations so that we can really be more transparent. Because at the end of the day there's still values being played out in regulatory processes. It's just that they're a pretty narrow set of values by the people who are in positions of power. how do we incorporate, the values of a more broad, wide public. And I think that's where people can be active and trying to call for more open, transparent and engaged regulatory processes.

Quinn:                                  I think this is one of the things that, and again, no people or segments or populations or generations are perfect, but what is at least in the case of, say, climate change and clean energy is so inspiring about, the lower end of millennials and generation Z is, they're not just like some white people who included some Hispanic people and a few African Americans. I mean the variety of that generation and the inclusiveness of that generation on, again, not perfect but on such a wide spread of viewpoints and perspectives and concerns and needs, is inspiring and hopeful that you hope that, and again, people change and things go more complicated, but when hopefully people like that do get into power or get even old enough just to be considered to be in power, that that kind of consideration will change. Because that has been their MO from early on. At least I hope. That's where I pin a lot of it these days.

Natalie Kofler:                   I do too and that's why I see my role because I'm a bit older than that, is really about what can I do in the time that I have to at least help prepare the way for these generations to come that are going to be thinking about things in a much more inclusive, diverse way. What can I do in the systems to prep the floor for them to take the floor. That's what I think actually really what the goal is here.

Quinn:                                  Awesome. Is there anywhere specific, any awesome organizations, non-profits, things like that, where folks can, can be fiscally supportive of any sort?

Brian:                                    Editing Nature perhaps?

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. Editing Nature is my organization. I need to be clear. It's at this point pretty much a one woman show with some volunteers. It's been really hard...

Quinn:                                  You're among friends.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. It's been hard to gain, financial support just in that it's a pretty, emerging issue. So oftentimes we have to convince people that this is an issue before we can even pitch what our solution is. But the idea really is to build it into a think and do tank where... We had the capacity to bring in really diverse expertise and world views to really think about how to steer this technology responsibly. that's the goal. And I invite, any interested listeners to visit our website at www.editingnature.org. My contact info is there too. So I welcome any, feedback and ways of partnering, and to really try and to create more momentum for what I think is a really important issue.

Brian:                                    Awesome. All right. So, we've obviously kept you for quite some time and we very much appreciate it. Thank you for being here. Who else should we talk to?

Quinn:                                  We'd love to ask our guests because, I always imagined that you guys, all of our guests who are super smart and changing the world are like on an iMessage chat together...

Brian:                                    Yeah. You guys are all slacking each other, right?

Quinn:                                  ... hanging out. "Hey, what did you solve today?" "I solved this one thing."

Brian:                                    Yeah, anybody that you're tight with or-

Quinn:                                  Someone you have a science crush on?

Natalie Kofler:                   You already spoke with one of my favorite people Bina Venkataraman.

Quinn:                                  [crosstalk 00:56:08] Yeah men, so great.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. I'm reading, I think in the particular space of environmental gene editing, it's a bit tough cause most people are kind of falling on one side or the other. It's hard to find the middle ground as much. What have I been reading recently? I've been reading Alondra Nelson's book called The Social Life of DNA. She's this amazing woman who is that on faculty at Columbia university and writes a lot about racial equity and genetic technologies and genetic sequencing. So she's pretty cool. I think people should be looking into her stuff.

                                                From the environmental space, a place that's been really resonant with me is, these new movements around compassionate conservation. So ideas about, if we're gonna think about environmental conservation, how can we do so from a place of compassion. And then one of my favorite, sisters from another mother is, Emma Marris. She is a fantastic writer and thinker who really is able to kind of curve out an argument of being in deep relationship and kinship with nature, but also being open to technology as a way to solve some of our major issues. She has some great Ted talks and she wrote a book several years ago called. Rambunctious Gardens and has many essays and I invite people to Google her.

Brian:                                    Cool.

Quinn:                                  Awesome. Bring it home Brian.

Brian:                                    Okay, Natalie, here's the last few questions that we ask everybody. It is-

Quinn:                                  Just don't even say it. It's not a lightning round. It's not [crosstalk 00:57:40].

Brian:                                    ... It's called, Don't Call It a Lightning Round.

Quinn:                                  Yeah. I'm just going to ask them quickly.

Brian:                                    [crosstalk 00:57:44]. Most of the questions are going to be about Star Trek. Get ready.

Quinn:                                  No. I'm just...

Natalie Kofler:                   Oh, no.

Quinn:                                  I'm done. [crosstalk 00:57:50] Now, you're just mocking me.

Brian:                                    I like you so much, Natalie.

Natalie Kofler:                   Sorry.

Quinn:                                  No, you're not... that's the thing. You're not sorry.

Natalie Kofler:                   I am a little. I would never want to hurt your feelings, but I think you can handle that.

Brian:                                    He can handle it.

Quinn:                                  It's fine. Brian blows in here at 9:07 every Thursday morning and makes fun of my feelings. Natalie, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Natalie Kofler:                   I think I had it in high school and then I think it went away.

Quinn:                                  Okay. Hit me.

Natalie Kofler:                   And then I think it came back about three years ago when I moved out of the lab and started working on, Editing Nature.

Quinn:                                  What happened in high school? Natalie?

Natalie Kofler:                   In high school I was very active in making change and helping to create community. And then I think when I went to university, and then also my PhD, you dive so deep into your intellectual pursuits and you're just squeezed into these boxes of what you're supposed to focus on. And I lost it for a little while and that's partly why I started exploring other ideas and issues because I was feeling so unfulfilled in many ways. But now I'm back and ready for action. So...

Quinn:                                  Just in time.

Natalie Kofler:                   Just in time.

Quinn:                                  Just in time. Natalie-

Natalie Kofler:                   I know a lot about genetics and DNA now. So that's helpful.

Brian:                                    Yeah, she's great.

Quinn:                                  No, no, no. Definitely definitely. It's important that you've got the facts. Natalie, who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months? I mean, it's clearly not your cat who's locked outside.

Brian:                                    You can't say Captain Picard.

Natalie Kofler:                   There's been a lot of people where I'm trying to think about. I think what's been a really important impact on me is working with students and younger people and how inspired I've been by their commitment to being inclusive and justice in how we use technologies and being so receptive to some of the ways we're thinking about, creating better platforms for decision making. And I think that's been probably the most important thing just because, like we talked about earlier, it keeps me really hopeful and dedicated to my work.

Brian:                                    Awesome. Answer. The youth, baby. Love it.

Natalie Kofler:                   The youth. And oh, I want to say another thing that's... Sorry. I'm going to do two. I know it's a lightning round, but [crosstalk 01:00:34].

Quinn:                                  No, I mean, it's fine. You've already ruined it. Please continue.

Natalie Kofler:                   I want to plug them also. I had the opportunity to attend, a workshop in New Orleans a few weeks ago called. The Racial Equity Initiative and it's a two day workshop on systemic racism in this country. And to me that's been one of the most transformative events I've ever taken part of as a white woman, really being transformed by the sense of privilege that I get to experience in this country. And I think that that's going to be very transformative in how I approach my work and how I can consider racial equity issues. And when it comes to technology.

Quinn:                                  Awesome.

Brian:                                    Yeah we'll Check them out.

Natalie Kofler:                   Check them out.

Brian:                                    Doctor, what do you do? Sorry. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?

Quinn:                                  What's your self care?

Natalie Kofler:                   I go outside and lean against the tree trunk.

Brian:                                    I was going to guess that [crosstalk 01:01:27].

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah, totally. I basically put my back against it and then just like lean and feel the ground. And I recommend it to everyone if you can access some tree, because all of a sudden, the world just doesn't feel quite so intense and you ground yourself and you realize that there's all of these amazing beings all around us that we forget about and it gives you a lot of perspective.

Quinn:                                  I love that.

Brian:                                    There's a...I mean, growing up in Illinois, there was a certainly a lot of, nature to go run around in and I loved it.

Natalie Kofler:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, growing... Being in Canada for the past summer, there's been some other ways to relax legally, which had been helpful.

Quinn:                                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Whatever works.

Brian:                                    Coming at you from your California, we get loud and clear.

Quinn:                                  Whatever you... Yeah. Exactly.

Natalie Kofler:                   Yeah. You get it.

Quinn:                                  I'm fairly sure everything is legal here at this point.

Brian:                                    Oh, that's... forgot about that. Natalie, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would that be?

Natalie Kofler:                   I don't know if he would be receptive, but I'd have to Amazon Prime-

Brian:                                    Do you know anything about him?

Quinn:                                  Jesus.

Natalie Kofler:                   [inaudible 01:02:36] that's true. Maybe he'd love it. One of the most insightful books I've ever read is this book called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a book I read while I was still in the lab and really gave me the impetus to make change in my life. And she is a botanist at State University of New York in Syracuse as well. She is of native American heritage and she talks a lot about integrating her science and non-scientific wisdom and how she moves to the world. That was very important to me and I think, maybe he'd like it. We could see.

Quinn:                                  We'll take it. Thank you.

Brian:                                    Yeah wow [crosstalk 01:03:16].

Natalie Kofler:                   I [inaudible 01:03:16] anything but we can [crosstalk 01:03:19]

Quinn:                                  Look, look, look, you can't go all the way down that rabbit hole. It's not a pretty place.

Natalie Kofler:                   I know.

Quinn:                                  But we've gotten some great recommendations. We'll add it to the list. That sounds super, super cool. Awesome. Where can our listeners follow you on the internet?

Natalie Kofler:                   Okay, so they can go to www.editingnature.org, that is our website. I'm in the process of developing Nataliekofler.com but it's not up yet, but they could be checking back in a month or so. And then I am on Twitter at well at @natalieKofler. So, that is another way to kind of follow where I'm at.

Brian:                                    Did you say 'at' 'at'?

Quinn:                                  I'm sorry, did you write the word, 'at' in your handle?

Natalie Kofler:                   No, I did not. I'm not a very sophisticated tweeter.

Brian:                                    Got it.

Natalie Kofler:                   But I didn't do that. It is-

Brian:                                    So it's just-

Natalie Kofler:                   ... at sign. nataliekofler.

Brian:                                    Got it.

Quinn:                                  Got it. Okay. Just checking. Well listen, this has been a blast. Your cat, cut your internet line and tried to end the conversation, but you persevered and that's, a real win. So we appreciate that spirit.

Natalie Kofler:                   That's a win for today.

Quinn:                                  Natalie, Dr. Kofler, thank you for your time and putting up with us and I hope you go put your back against the tree and exhale after this ridiculousness. Thank you for all that you do and the deep consideration you bring to all of the things you do because, not only are we glad that you're doing it, but that you're setting an example for other folks to do the same because we are dealing with a lot of shit and some of it's really cool and some of it is not. And that nuance and broad perspective and the ability to take a step back is going to come in handy if we can all subscribe to it or at least most of us. I'm not going to go for all of us, but as many as possible.

Natalie Kofler:                   Well thank you for those words. That means a lot and it was an absolute pleasure and I actually don't feel any need to lean against the tree. I'm feeling great.

Quinn:                                  Well check and see if your cat's alive.

Natalie Kofler:                   And thank you for caring about this issue. I think it's really important. So it means a lot that you can amplify it. I appreciate that.

Quinn:                                  Yeah, absolutely.

Brian:                                    We are happy.

Quinn:                                  It's the least we can do. We're lucky to do what we do. Awesome. Well, Natalie, thank you so much. Enjoy, champagne and we will talk to you soon. Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news, most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:                                    And you can follow us all over the internet and you can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.

Quinn:                                  That's just so weird.

Brian:                                    Also on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal, and please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple podcast. Keep the lights on thanks.

Quinn:                                  Please.

Brian:                                    And you can find the show notes from today, right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:                                  Thanks to the very awesome Tim [Blaine 01:06:38] for our jamming music to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:                                    Thanks guys.