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.

Why you should listen

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 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.

What others say

“Wolfe's brand of globe-trotting, open-ended viral discovery echoes an almost Victorian scientific ethic, an expedition to catalog the unseen menagerie of the world.” — Wired

Nathan Wolfe’s TED talks

More news and ideas from Nathan Wolfe


Need to know: The ebola pandemic

August 8, 2014

In Africa, ebola has already killed hundreds and sickened more than a thousand people so far this year -- and the pandemic continues to spread into new countries. When did the current outbreak begin? Why can't it be stopped? How much should you freak out? 3 ideas behind the week's headlines.

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New Edge videos explore the staggering potential of genetics

July 31, 2009

What is life? Can we create it? Customize it? Edge has just published over six hours of video from their new Master Class on the future of biology, which attempts to answer those and other provocative questions. Featuring geneticists George Church and Craig Venter, the set is a a surprising, challenging look at what science […]

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The week in comments

May 3, 2009

This was an especially lively week on the TED commenting front, as our community tackled debates on swine flu, race and politics, and globalization. These amazing discussions can get a little heated — so we appreciate that there always seems to be a voice of reason that emerges from the group to soothe frazzled nerves […]

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