Armed with blood samples, high-tech tools and a small army of fieldworkers, Nathan Wolfe hopes to re-invent pandemic control -- and reveal hidden secrets of the planet's dominant lifeform: the virus.
Using genetic sequencing, needle-haystack research, and dogged persistence (crucial to getting spoilage-susceptible samples through the jungle and to the lab), Nathan Wolfe has proven what was science-fiction conjecture only a few decades ago -- not only do viruses jump from animals to humans, but they do so all the time. Along the way Wolfe has discovered several new viruses, and is poised to discover many more.
Wolfe's research has turned the field of epidemiology on its head, and attracted interest from philanthropists at Google.org and the Skoll foundation. Better still, the research opens the door to preventing epidemics before they happen, sidelining them via early-warning systems and alleviating the poverty from which easy transmission emerges.
“Many people on our planet right now despair; they think we’ve reached a point where we’ve discovered most of the things. I’m going tell you right now: Please don’t despair.”
“It was little over 100 years ago that Beijerinck discovered viruses. We had automobiles, but we were unaware of the forms of life that make up most of the genetic information on our planet.”
“About 20 percent of the genetic information in your nose doesn't match anything that we've ever seen before.”
“Don't assume that what we currently think is out there is the full story. Go after the dark matter, in whatever field you choose to explore.”
“We may have charted all the continents on the planet, and we may have discovered all the mammals, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing left to explore on Earth.”
“As we explore these strings of A's, C's, T's and G's, we may uncover a completely new class of life that will fundamentally change the way that we think about the nature of biology.”