Joe DeRisi hunts for the genes that make us sick. At his lab, he works to understand the genome of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest form of malaria.

Why you should listen

Joseph DeRisi is a molecular biologist and biochemist, on the hunt for the genomic basis of illness. His lab at UCSF is focused on the cause of malaria, and he's also poked into SARS, avian flu and other new diseases as they crop up. His approach combines scientific rigor with a nerd's boundary-breaking enthusiasm for new techniques -- one of the qualities that helped him win a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004. A self-confessed computer geek, DeRisi designed and programmed a groundbreaking tool for finding (and fighting) viruses -- the ViroChip, a DNA microarray that test for the presence of all known viruses in one step.

In 2008, DeRisi won the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment.

What others say

“From now on, I don’t think there is going to be any new viral epidemic that we will not be able to identify within a few days. It doesn’t mean you’ll find a cure right away. But you will be able to separate people who have it from those who don’t. You can stop it from spreading, if you have a diagnostic.” — Joe DeRisi in the New York Times

Joe DeRisi’s TED talk