Nathan Wolfe to Speak at Annual Grace A. Tanner Lecture

Published: March 02, 2015 | Author: Alex Homer | Read Time: 3 minutes

Nathan Wolfe, sometimes referred to as the Indiana Jones of virus hunting, is on a lifelong mission to create a world that is entirely resistant to virus pandemics. As the 2015 Grace A. Tanner Lecturer in Human Values at Southern Utah University Wolfe will lead a discussion about his research on Tuesday, March 3 at 11:30 a.m. in the Gilbert Great Hall within SUU’s Hunter Conference Center. Prior to his lecture a discussion in the Charles Hunter Room in the same building will take place from 9:30-10:30 a.m.

Named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2011 and recognized by National Geographic, Wolfe continues to uncover viruses that science has never seen before. But he believes that his biggest accomplishment isn’t what he already completed; it’s what’s ahead.

“We’re not going to solve the problem of epidemics, but if my research career takes me from a point where I was asking basic questions almost 20 years ago about the nature of epidemics, to the point where I have a company that provides a set of analytics and data products that fundamentally help companies and countries become stronger in the face of these risks, that’ll be the kind of achievement that I’m looking for,” he said.

Wolfe founded and is the CEO of Metabiota, a company that specializes in the prevention of pandemics. Through the collection and evaluation of data collected by Metabiota, Wolfe said there seems to be a pattern to pandemics, something he hopes to get across to the SUU community during his visit.

“We spend a lot of time understanding the origins of epidemics and they almost always originate in animals, most of them are in mild mammals,” he said. “There are behaviors that the human population has that facilitate the spillover of these animal viruses into the human population. That’s what we see all the time with HIV, Ebola, influenza, you name it. We’ve been studying these phenomena for nearly 20 years.”

Wolfe has literally traveled the world in an attempt to uncover these viruses before they occur, spending a large amount of time in Sierra Leone, where his company was the first to become aware of the Ebola outbreak.

“It was our lab that first identified not only that there was Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that it was unrelated to the outbreak occurring in West Africa.”

Wolfe grew up in the outskirts of Detroit, always intrigued by the basic living systems and the fundamental idea of evolution. He formalized his education at the University of Stanford, completing his undergraduate degree in biology, before going to Harvard University and completing his doctoral degree focused on immunology and infectious disease in viruses.

His research career as a professor began at John Hopkins University before going to the University of California Los Angeles and returning back to Stanford where he currently resides as the business wire consulting professor in human biology. He is also the chairman of Global Viral, a non-profit organization that promotes understanding, exploration and stewardship of the microbial world.

Wolfe is the author of The Viral Storm, a book that focuses on how our world can reduce the likelihood of pandemics and how society can become more resistant.

There has always been one burning question that has motivated Wolfe to want to uncover more about epidemics.

“Can we really make a global level dent in this risk?” he asked. “I think we have a real shot at doing just that.” 

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