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August 3rd, 2009
06:36 PM ET

Dispatches from the field: Virus hunting in Cameroon

Program Note: Today, a report about the discovery of the origin of Malaria was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Dr. Nathan Wolfe, an epidemiologist, authored the report. Wolfe leads the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI), which has been working with the  Cameroon government, Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund/Ape Action Africa to learn more about common diseases of wild animals and to explore the origins of human diseases in order to predict and prevent them. Read these dispatches from members of Wolfe's research team in Cameroon. And tune in tonight to hear from Dr. Wolfe – a so-called virus hunter – and to learn more about the discovery. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Much of the research performed by GVFI takes place in a Chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon.

Much of the research performed by GVFI takes place in a Chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon.
Anderson and virus hunter Dr. Nathan Wolfe in Cameroon.

Anderson and virus hunter Dr. Nathan Wolfe in Cameroon.

From cattle ranching to the frontlines of research

Ahmadou Nana
Vet, Global Viral Forecasting Initiative – Cameroon

I grew up in a family of cattle ranchers. This probably explains my choice of career as a vet. The love I have for my profession has led me to work in veterinary clinics where I have worked with pets, in commercial animal production and also in the wildlife sanctuaries managed by Ape Action Africa/CWAF and Limbe Wildlife Centre where I currently work with GVFI.

The thing that worries me most since I entered the world of research is the permanent need for us to avoid zoonotic epidemics and pandemics, especially as many of our populations depend on hunting and raising of animals and don’t know the risks that they face in handling animals without precautions.

My daily routine involves collaborating with the sanctuaries who collect blood samples and feces from the animals. I then bring them to the lab for processing and testing. I also head to forest areas to collect samples from animals hunted in villages in the hope of making discoveries that could save human or animal lives. I have much hope and am convinced of what I do because one day I know I will have participated in saving many lives.

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New solutions to old problems

Joseph Le Doux Diffo
Rural Site Researcher, GVFI – Cameroon

I began working on wildlife years ago when I was doing my masters at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon in 1999.

I did research on the intestinal parasites of wild and pet monkeys of Cameroon and identified numerous parasites apparently similar to those found in humans. I also worked on reptiles, studying the fauna of Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon.

After meeting Dr Nathan Wolfe from GVFI I started work on lizard malaria and this was the beginning of a long period of interesting research including a trip to the Malaria Diagnostics Centre of Excellence in Kisumu, Kenya.

Working with wildlife sanctuaries and with hunters in remote forest areas of Cameroon was the next step. Collaboration with sanctuaries includes collecting blood and feces from primates to search for malaria and viruses. I now share my working time in the field and in the lab doing sample processing and primate blood slide readings.

FULL POST

August 3rd, 2009
06:34 PM ET

'Humanity's Burden': Malaria's global journey

Mosquitoes, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, may transmit malaria to humans.

Mosquitoes, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, may transmit malaria to humans.

James L. A. Webb, Jr
Professor, Colby College

Malaria is the oldest of the human infectious diseases. Over tens of thousands of years, as early humanity expanded in tropical Africa and across tropical Eurasia, malaria parasites took advantage of our human propensity to migrate and our social need to congregate.

Malaria traveled with infected hunters and adventurers across mountain ranges and deserts, and after the domestication of animals, malaria traveled more quickly, galloping across grasslands and plains. It became the principal disease burden of Eurasia as well as tropical Africa. And much, much later, thanks to the technological ingenuity of human beings, malaria sailed with infected passengers on shipboard across the oceans, rode the rails across the continents, and then flew aboard aircraft from one hemisphere to the other. It became a global disease.

Malaria has etched highly varied patterns into human history. In some times and places malaria has appeared as a seasonal affliction and in others as a year-round burden. It has been a debilitator of general populations and a killer that targets young children and non-immunes. For these reasons, our cultural assessments of malaria's significance have been highly diverse, and different societies have 'known' malaria in very different ways.

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August 3rd, 2009
06:32 PM ET

Researcher says he found malaria's origin: in chimps

Researchers compared malaria DNA from infected chimps in Cameroon and Ivory Coast with human malaria.

Researchers compared malaria DNA from infected chimps in Cameroon and Ivory Coast with human malaria.

Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

Nathan Wolfe is a hunter, but he doesn't carry a gun. His prey are invisible to the naked eye.

Wolfe leads expeditions into the mysterious world of viruses and pathogens.

"They are everywhere," said Wolfe, a microbiologist who speaks of his targets - infectious organisms - with the giddy lilt of a teenager on a first date. "We have the potential to explore a completely new biological world and go out and really find new things all the time."

One bug has been Wolfe's singular obsession for more than a decade, arguably the biggest menace to humans: malaria.

"If you think about HIV virus as a singular hurricane event, malaria is like the hurricane that's been hitting for thousands of years - constantly," said Wolfe, who heads a research institute called the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative.

Keep reading...

August 3rd, 2009
04:37 PM ET

Video: How viruses spread

Program Note: Tonight, Dr. Nathan Wolfe joins us on AC360º at 10 P.M. ET to discuss his remarkable findings on the origins of malaria.

July 28th, 2009
12:31 PM ET

Green jobs: hope or hype?

The green job sector may not be big enough to jumpstart the employment.

The green job sector may not be big enough to jumpstart the employment.

Samuel Sherraden
Special to CNN

After the release of a miserable June jobs report, President Obama stood with a group of green company CEOs and told reporters that "men and women like these will help lead us out of this recession and into a better future."

But if the White House puts too many eggs in the green recovery basket, we may all be disappointed. The green sector is simply not large enough or competitive enough to be a major engine of job creation.

The CEOs who stood with Obama lead smart, innovative and, in many cases, rapidly growing firms. But green firms in the United States are small and employ relatively few people.

Applied Materials, one of the larger companies at the meeting and a producer of solar cells, employs 13,000 people worldwide and only 6,000 in the United States. Hara, a smaller company at the table, uses computer models to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Hara employs 30 people in the United States.

Keep reading...


Filed under: Economy • Planet in Peril
July 17th, 2009
11:16 PM ET

What trees give us – and how we can give back

In addition to being the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones for the last 27 years, Chuck Leavell writes that he is 'passionate about what trees and forests do for us.'

In addition to being the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones for the last 27 years, Chuck Leavell writes that he is 'passionate about what trees and forests do for us.'

Chuck Leavell
Environmentalist, Author and Musician

In an age where we often hear about the alarming worldwide effects of climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases, it is easy to forget that some solutions lie within our grasp.

Trees, particularly in urban areas, provide numerous benefits. They improve air and water quality, conserve water and reduce storm runoff, help reduce heat caused by buildings and pavement, and absorb carbon. It is up to us to ensure these trees are providing the maximum benefit and that we do our part to keep them healthy.

That's where research comes in. On July 19, America's largest fundraiser for tree research, the STIHL Tour des Trees, will kick off from New York City. Cyclists from across the world gather each year to travel more than 500 miles across different routes through the United States to benefit the Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund and to raise awareness for the need for research to keep urban trees and forests healthy.

I am passionate about what trees and forests do for us. My wife, Rose Lane, and I are tree farmers in Georgia, carrying on a tradition of good stewardship of the land that her grandparents passed down to us and that was begun by earlier generations of the family more than 100 years ago. We do our best to care for the land in a responsible way, to set an example for our two daughters and two grandsons about caring for the earth.
FULL POST

June 8th, 2009
10:21 AM ET

World's biggest fish are dying

Ted Danson says a closed sign on a beach led him on a 20-year quest to save the world's oceans.

Ted Danson says a closed sign on a beach led him on a 20-year quest to save the world's oceans.

Ted Danson
Special to CNN

Today, Monday, June 8, we recognize the first U.N.-sanctioned World Oceans Day. The event comes after years of pressure from conservation groups and thousands of activists who clamored for everyone to know and understand what's happening in our oceans.

I became an ocean activist in 1987. It was the fifth year of "Cheers" and my family moved into a neighborhood that was on the water, in Santa Monica, California. One day I took my daughters to the beach to go swimming, but it was "closed" and I couldn't answer my daughter's question why.

That's really how it started. That and "Cheers" was paying me a lot of money and I felt I had better be responsible with it. So, I started to get involved.

It turned out in our new neighborhood there was a fight to keep Occidental Petroleum from drilling 60 oil wells on Will Rogers State Beach in Los Angeles. They wanted to slant drill into the Santa Monica Bay. The fight was led by a man named Robert Sulnick and we became great friends and found a way to beat them.

Keep reading

May 21st, 2009
11:45 PM ET

A message of hope from a Planet in Peril

Dr Fred Boltz
Conservation International

Today, Conservation International will present Anderson Cooper with our most prestigious award – the Global Conservation Hero Award – in honor of the entire team responsible for CNN’s Planet in Peril Series.

It’s the first time that we’ve ever given the award for journalism. Previously it has gone to some very powerful people – the former head of the World Bank and to the CEO of Wal-Mart – for the huge strides that they have taken in protecting the environment.

This year’s award reflects the major achievement of Planet in Peril which has fearlessly engaged the American public in issues that the mainstream media had previously been reluctant to cover.

The key to the show’s success – and to the award that we are presenting to the team that made them – is their incredible determination to tackle huge and complex subjects head-on and to make them accessible to ordinary people. Whether it is the spread of diseases from wildlife to humans or the conflicts developing over natural resources that sustain us all, the shows made connections between what is happening in some of the world’s poorest nations and what is happening right here in the US.

And now, more than ever, it is critical that people in this country understand how completely connected the US is to the rest of the world. At the end of this year the governments of the world will meet in Copenhagen to agree a plan for what needs to be done to address climate change, and the US will be one of the most important players in that debate.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • Anderson Cooper • Planet in Peril
April 27th, 2009
02:44 PM ET

Video: How viruses spread

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on how viruses spread from Dr. Nathan Wolfe on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

In this clip from Planet in Peril: Battle Lines, Anderson Cooper talks to Dr. Nathan Wolfe about disease transmission.

April 24th, 2009
11:23 PM ET

Afghanistan’s first national park

Lake Kara is the largest of the six lakes in Band-e-Amir.

Lake Kara is the largest of the six lakes in Band-e-Amir.

Editor’s Note: This week, Afghanistan opened its first official national park. It’s called Band-e-Amir and was officially announced by the country’s National Environmental Protection Agency. This designation affords legal protection to the lakes and surrounding landscape – about 230 square-miles – and ensures its sustainable environmental management. The land is mostly dry grassland and desert highland habitat with six lakes. Estimates suggest approximately 5,000 people live in the 14 villages that make up the region. The Wildlife Conservation Society has been working with local organizations to set up the management of the Band-e-Amir.

Dr. Peter D. Smallwood
Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society-Afghanistan

“You’re working WHERE?” I’m running the Wildlife Conservation Society’s project in Afghanistan.

“But… is there any wildlife LEFT in Afghanistan?”

This is a fairly typical start to conversations I have on my short trips outside of Afghanistan. Even here in Kabul, when I meet up with other NGO workers, they always ask: is there any wildlife left? The answer is yes.

Afghanistan is roughly the size of Texas, but is much more diverse than one would expect for a landlocked country of this size, sandwiched in between Iran and Pakistan. Typically, one thinks of the deserts of Kandahar and Helmand when thinking of Afghanistan, but there’s much more to this country: high mountains and alpine valleys in the north east are home to Marco Polo Sheep (like the American Bighorn sheep, only bigger), Ibex (wild goat), and the illusive, legendary snow leopards hunt them. Great Brown bears roam those mountains too.

There are beautiful forests in the steep eastern mountains: evergreen forests, some with pistachio and old walnut trees mixed in. Markhor goats and Asiatic black bear live here, along with Persian leopards and several other cat and fox species. There is a lot of wildlife left. And much of it is in trouble. It’s the usual trouble: habitat destruction, overhunting, overgrazing of the grasslands, crowding out the wildlife.

FULL POST

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