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Microbe Hunter to Receive Roy Chapman Andrews Society Award

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at dickinsonh@beloit.edu or 608-363-2849

The world’s foremost hunter of dangerous microbes will visit Beloit early next year to receive the Roy Chapman Andrews Society’s Distinguished Explorer Award.

Dr. Nathan Wolfe, founder and CEO of Global Viral Forecasting, will discuss his globetrotting research and discoveries during the award presentation on Friday, February 3, 2012, at 4:30 p.m. in Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus. The program will be free and open to the public. Earlier that day, Dr. Wolfe will discuss his work with area youth in an assembly at Beloit Memorial High School.

Microbes – tiny viruses and germs – are everywhere. But the truly harmful ones, like those that cause AIDS and bird flu, can be difficult to find. New viruses that cause disease outbreaks can emerge almost anywhere in the world. That’s why Dr. Wolfe has set up research and monitoring programs in 23 countries, collected more than 100,000 specimens, and identified numerous previously unknown microbes.

Dr. Wolfe explores for harmful viruses in remote places and uses his field sites around the world as “listening posts” to try to intercept viruses before they spread widely. Many viruses, like HIV and influenza, jumped from animals to humans, so Dr. Wolfe works in villages whose inhabitants rely on wild game, or bushmeat, for protein. When hunters contact animal fluids during butchering, it makes them especially vulnerable to hosting new microbes. By collecting thousands of blood samples, hunters are important allies for studying emerging diseases.

In his new book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, Dr. Wolfe draws on firsthand knowledge from over a decade of virus hunting. Viruses may emerge from far-flung places, but Dr. Wolfe also shows that modern transportation networks help microbes spread faster than ever. There is hope, though: Dr. Wolfe envisions predicting and preventing future outbreaks by combining technology with boots-on-the-ground natural science, aiming to catch viruses before they become world travelers. For that reason, Dr. Wolfe says The Viral Storm is written for anyone who “kisses their children goodbye on their way off to school.”

Dr. Wolfe has degrees in human biology, biological anthropology, and immunology and infectious disease from Harvard University and Stanford University. He has been a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University and UCLA, and is now a visiting professor of human biology at Stanford in addition to directing Global Virus Forecasting.

The program featuring Dr. Wolfe will be the tenth Distinguished Explorer Award event of the Beloit-based Roy Chapman Andrews Society, in association with Beloit College. Founded in 1998, the Society’s mission is to honor the legacy of one of the most celebrated explorers of the 20th century by educating the public about Andrews’s life, work, and adventures; promoting the value of scientific exploration and discovery; and emphasizing Andrews’s lifetime ties to Beloit. Previous award recipients are:

  • Dr. Michael J. Novacek, leader of the first Western expedition to the Gobi Desert since Andrews’ discovery of the first nest of dinosaur eggs there in 1922
  • Dr. Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist and bio-prospector for new medicines developed from the plants and practices of traditional healers of the Amazon jungle
  • Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the RMS Titanic and founder of the Jason Project, an educational tool enabling students to watch live transmissions from underwater robot explorers
  • Dr. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission whose presentations included live, televised transmissions from Mars
  • Dr. Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson, scientific “ice hunters” who examine the climate and environmental history of the Earth through the analysis of glacial core samples
  • Dr. Mark Moffett, Beloit-bred ecologist, who combines science, exploration, and photography in a unique blend of discovery and story-telling
  • Dr. Paul Sereno, paleontologist, discoverer of “Super-Crocs” and dinosaurs, and co-founder of Project Exploration, engaging inner-city students and teachers in science
  • Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, and former chief scientist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. Steve Lekson, archaeologist, curator and professor at the Museum of Natural History, University of Colorado at Boulder

For information about reserved seating at the award ceremony and tickets for the celebratory dinner, contact the Roy Chapman Andrews Society at (608) 514-1722 or via www.roychapmanandrewssociety.org.

[Story by William Green of Beloit College and Sarah Jane Keller of the Stanford News Service]

 

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