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Get Ready for the Biology Revolution, Distinguished Lecturer Tells Kean Community

The world is entering a time of exponential change and everyone needs to imagine themselves in it, futurist and author Jamie Metzl told a Kean University audience on Monday during a virtual Distinguished Lecture held to kick off the University’s Research Days.

A CNN commentator, World Health Organization advisor and geopolitical expert, Metzl spoke of changes in technology, genetics and biology that are on the way — with some already here — that will alter life as we know it.

“Everyone needs to think like a futurist. Think like a science fiction writer. Use your best analysis,” Metzl said. “Imagine what you think the future may look like, then imagine yourself in that future and chart your path from here to there.”

He also advocated for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine. "You will want to say that it was an incredibly trying time, but in that time ... I realized that I personally had a responsibility to do my bit to make the world a better place," he said.

Metzl, who is also a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, an international think tank, launched Kean’s Research Days, a two-day conference — held virtually for the second year — where more than 1,400 students and faculty will present and discuss their research.

Metzl’s lecture, The Biology Revolution Will Change Everything. Are You Ready? focused on COVID-19, the vaccine and other topics.

“The Distinguished Lecture Series brings some of the brightest minds in the country here to Kean to discuss critical issues,” President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., said in his welcome. “As the world continues to battle COVID-19, I can think of no more appropriate topic.”

Metzl opened the conversation by talking about the pandemic, the “crazy moment that has forced all of us to recognize that something really big is happening around us.”

But worldwide changes are “bigger than the pandemic,” he said.

One example he cited is the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, created by Moderna and Pfizer, that combats the deadly virus by delivering instructions to a person’s genomes. The genomes then create the COVID-19 protein, triggering an immunological response to combat the virus. 

Development of the vaccine shows that humans have the ability to “hack the code of life,” Metzl said.

He predicted that in the future, genomic sequencing will be used to gather individuals’ genetic information and develop personalized medical treatment, such as cancer treatment. 

“At the same time that we recognize we are going through this period of tremendous pain, we also need to be mindful that this is a moment of new opportunities and new beginnings,” he said. “Oftentimes, these moments of pain and these moments of opportunity can go hand in hand. The essential question for each of us is, what role will we each play?”

Kean’s Vice President for University Relations, Karen Smith, was the moderator of the conversation with Metzl, and faculty and six students asked questions ranging from the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines to how people can prepare for the future.

“You’ve mentioned that most businesses and people are not ready for the biology revolution. How can we get ready for this?” asked student Rosalee Lachner, a sophomore majoring in science and technology/biomedicine option.

Education is the answer, Metzl said.

“People say the 19th century was the century of chemistry, and the 20th the century of physics. We are entering the century of biology,” Metzl said. “I think it’s really important to start educating yourselves.

“It’s like, if we’d been having this conversation 25 years ago and I said, ‘Hey everyone, you should learn a little bit of something about computers, about electronic media,” he continued. “I can pretty much guarantee you that the biology revolution is going to touch your life.”