Program Note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril examines the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Virus hunter Nathan Wolfe was featured in the 2008 Planet in Peril: Battle Lines and showed us how he intends to outwit pandemics by discovering new, deadly viruses when they first emerge. Learn more about Nathan Wolfe's work here.
Virus hunter Nathan Wolfe has been called the "Indiana Jones of epidemiology." He's outwitting the next pandemic by staying two steps ahead: discovering new, deadly viruses when they first emerge - passing from animals to humans among poor subsistence hunters in central Africa - and stopping them before they infect millions of people.
On Friday, the short powerful talk Nathan Wolfe delivered at this year's TED Conference (to an audience that included Bill Gates and Al Gore, among others) will be made available online. (Watch it here) In this pithy, passionate talk, he explains the issues he and his team grapple with, in their work outwitting the next AIDS.
He begins with a shot of Magic Johnson, explaining that while most of us think of AIDS as starting in the 1980s, it actually passed to humans from apes many decades earlier, and that there were likely 10,000+ cases even in the 1920s in Congo.
Wolfe asks people to consider how the world might have been different had we been paying attention then. He goes on to explain that most human diseases have animal origins, and that his work aims to find - and stop - these viruses early, right at the moment they cross into humans.
He shows photos and footage from the field, explains many of the (sometimes humorous) challenges they overcame (giving a lot of credit to the African members of his team), and also their results The team discovered several new viruses - including retroviruses; and documented viral leaps from animals to humans and amassed one of the world's largest blood sample collections.
He also delivers a very soulful soliloquy on the problem of bush meat, and how it cannot be blamed on the hunters, who are just trying to find something to eat.
Wolfe's presentation ends on an upbeat note, reflecting on the wonder and opportunity of this moment in time, when the vast majority of microbial life on this planet has yet to be discovered and we finally have the tools to make this happen.
Don't miss his presentation. You can see it starting Friday, March 27 at this link.
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