Kyoto Laureate Dan Janzen at Kyocera House Nov. 12

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A master class on the long-term global impact of the Kyoto Prizes was given November 12 by 1997 Basic Sciences Laureate Daniel Janzen at the Kyocera House in La Jolla. Invited to speak by his long-time student, Bradley Zlotnick, MD, Janzen told the audience of 70 that the Kyoto Prize award for his biodiversity conservation work “is the biggest single donation we’ve ever received … and provided new impetus to raise more money to do more things.”

Janie DeCelles, Advisor to the Hattie Ettinger Conservation Fund, attended Dr. Janzen’s lecture and shares these impressions.

It was fascinating for me to listen to Dr. Janzen talk at the Kyocera House about his “clients”:  the birds, butterflies and other creatures of the Guanacaste region.  His talk helped explain the importance of tracking and measuring the biodiversity through DNA barcoding in this incredibly diverse area in Costa Rica.   Dan and Winnie’s work has changed lives and created a whole new generation of local Costa Ricans who have learned to understand and thus treasure their unique environment.  It’s a model which is replicable anywhere there is a passion for conservation – or someone to spark the passion!

In addressing an audience with many biotech and tech-savvy folks, Dan challenged those who were gadget makers to come up with an inexpensive pocket device – not unlike a smart phone – to allow his parataxonomists in Costa Rica, or people anywhere, to measure biodiversity in real time.  It’s clear to him that this is not a far-fetched dream; all it takes is keen minds to focus on the challenge.

The subtle differences which distinguish one species from another and are invisible to the eye were highlighted by some of Dr. Janzen’s slides.  One which remains vivid in my mind showed 14 butterflies which all appeared to be basically the same.  Yet, he revealed that there were actually 12 different species represented.  The message is profound on many levels:  You can’t just take appearances for granted, and you need to know what you’re talking about before you make any grand conclusions or sweeping generalities.  The message applies to a lot more than just science!

As a business person and non-scientist, I probably have a different take-away from the talk than others. I do know that I was enriched and am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with this amazing couple.  They are making a positive difference in our world!