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CBRC Briefings

Molecules to Spy on Cells - 5/20/09


Dr. Martin Chalfie
Columbia University


Dr. Martin Chalfie’s discussion highlights his ground-breaking research on green flourescent protein (GFP). He and colleagues revolutionized how scientists study the mechanics of cells by getting a visual fix on how organs function. GFP is a small, inert, and relatively nontoxic molecule, easily diffused through living tissue. Researchers now have the ability to follow various cells with the help of GFP. They can study nerve cell damage during Alzheimer's disease, how insulin-producing beta cells are created in the pancreas of a growing embryo, or how cancer cells spread. In one spectacular experiment, researchers succeeded in tagging different nerve cells with a kaleidoscope of colors in the brain of a mouse.

Dr. Chalfie is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where he is also chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. He shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.

New Approaches to Preventing Epidemics Transmitted by Mosquitos - 5/13/09


Dr. Leslie Vosshall
Rockefeller University


Biting insects such as mosquitoes are among the greatest public health scourges on our planet. These small insects transmit deadly diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile encephalitis. They are responsible for over 1 million deaths worldwide annually, mostly from malaria. The mosquito relies primarily on its sense of smell to find humans by cuing in on the characteristic scent of human sweat and the carbon dioxide present in breath. The mosquito is potently attracted to the scent of humans; this behavior is key to its transmission of malaria and other infectious diseases to humans through blood feeding.

Dr. Vosshall’s goal is to develop the next generation of safe and highly effective insect repellents, which may be a new weapon in the fight against infectious diseases transmitted by blood-feeding mosquitoes. By understanding the mechanism by which mosquitoes sniff out our body odor, we can begin screening many hundreds of thousands of chemicals, some of which may inhibit these insect proteins. Dr. Vosshall discusses the public health consequences of mosquitoes, old-fashioned approaches to ward off biting insects, and how modern molecular biology and chemical biology may offer some potent weapons to control mosquito behavior and thereby reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Stalking the Next Pandemic - 4/22/09

Dr. Nathan Wolfe
Global Viral Forecasting Initiative

Current global disease control efforts focus largely on attempting to stop pandemics after they have already emerged. This fire brigade approach, which generally involves drugs, vaccines, and behavioral change, has severe limitations. Just as we discovered in the 1960s that it is better to prevent heart attacks than try to treat them, over the next 50 years we will realize that it is better to stop pandemics before they spread. That effort will increasingly be focused on viral forecasting and pandemic prevention.

Dr. Wolfe discusses how novel viruses enter the human population from animals and go on to become pandemics. He’ll discuss attempts by his own research group to study this process and recent attempts to control viruses. By creating a global network at the interface of humans and animals researchers are working to move viral forecasting from a theoretical possibility to a reality.