TEDxGhent: Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality

This is a guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. In addition to the main TED event in North America, TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who agrees to follow the TED principles. TED and TEDx events address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. The speakers are given a maximum of 12-18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. TEDxGhent in Ghent, Belgium, has now been organized for five years running. It aims “To bring great ideas from all over the world to Ghent and to present local ideas to a larger audience.”

So I was excited about giving a TEDx talk, knowing it would be very different from a normal scientific talk. I was assigned a mentor, to help me prepare my talk. This was very useful because he advised against some of our hardwired scientific instincts, like resist the urge to explain and be cautious about conclusions, have more pictures than text in the slides, give the talk a more personal angle and include many anecdotes and metaphors.

The event itself last weekend was really interesting, with music, poetry, science, art and comedy. Its 700 tickets were sold out. My talk was entitled “Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality”, and I tried to give an overview of what we know about genes regulating aging and longevity, from genetic manipulations in worms, genetic determinants of human lifespan and genetics of long-lived species like naked mole rats and whales. Feedback after the talk was really good. Even though I have given many talks for general audiences, including in schools, I definitely learned a lot about giving talks to the general public.

The video  of my talk will be available on YouTube in due course [update Aug 2015: now available]. In the meantime, here is a beautiful sketchnote summarizing my talk.