“Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge”. –Stephen Hawking
While sitting in a laboratory meeting as a Ph.D. student, my advisor brought us an image of a virus particle that all of the graduate students recognized as a retrovirus, specifically the genus of retroviruses called “lentiviruses.” We knew this because these viruses plagued veterinary medicine for decades, causing a variety of chronic animal diseases, well known to veterinarians. What surprised us and the world at the time, was that the virus was isolated from patients suffering from a new human epidemic eventually known as AIDS. The world for me changed almost overnight and I dedicated my career to studying these deadly viruses of animals and people.
This past week, one of our research teams lead by Dr. Tracey Goldstein described the discovery of a new strain of Ebola virus from bats in Sierra Leone. As with most scientific investigations, the new virus was discovered by a collaborative team effort that included our One Health Institute, well as colleagues at Columbia University. As I spoke to Dr. Goldstein about the discovery, she became expressive, excited, but restrained at the same time, trying to contain her sense of discovery with her analytical side as a professor whose job it is to identify the origin of viruses like Ebola. Her motivation was in context to the vivid reality that the most recent Ebola outbreak in 2013-2016 killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa. While this new virus may not be the origin of that outbreak, her team’s work provides more evidence that bats are a likely host for these deadly human viruses and opens new questions in their goal to prevent global pandemics.