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Nathan Wolfe: Hunting for the Next AIDS

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Virus hunter Nathan Wolfe is outwitting the next pandemic by staying two steps ahead: discovering new, deadly viruses where they first emerge -- passing from animals to humans among poor subsistence hunters in Africa -- before they claim millions of lives.

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.

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 Google.org 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.