Nina Fedoroff: A secret weapon against Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases
Nina Fedoroff - Molecular biologist
Nina Fedoroff writes and lectures about the history and science of genetically modified organisms. Full bio
it's a relatively mild disease --
joint pain, maybe a rash.
don't even know they've had it.
about the Zika virus
have noticed an uptick
syndrome in recent outbreaks.
attacks your nerve cells
or even totally paralyze you.
and most people recover.
when you're infected
with what's called microcephaly.
in northeastern Brazil
after a Zika outbreak,
in the incidence of microcephaly.
by the Zika virus,
the evidence" type,
and how did it get here?
it came out of Africa,
Yellow Fever Research Institute
in a monkey in the Zika forest
Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia.
and, of course, mosquitoes.
it was first identified in 1947 and 2007
of human Zika fever.
on the tiny Micronesian Yap islands.
fully 75 percent of the population.
commercial airline passengers.
fly halfway around the world
if they develop symptoms at all.
begin to bite them and spread the fever.
in 2013 in French Polynesia.
transmitted locally by the mosquitoes.
almost 30,000 people were affected.
Islands, in New Caledonia,
of South America and Easter Island.
of a dengue-like syndrome
in northeastern Brazil.
and it spread rapidly --
center, soon became the epicenter.
2014 World Cup soccer fans
it was Pacific Islanders
that brought it in.
Central America, Mexico
thousands of cases
were contracted elsewhere.
transmitted locally in Miami.
or about eliminating the mosquitoes.
and apply insect repellent.
because there isn't a vaccine yet
for a couple of years.
a foolproof protection either
it can be sexually transmitted.
insect repellent does work ...
and here's how we control them now:
because these are toxic chemicals
to kill a person than to kill a bug.
Brazil and Nicaragua.
insecticides from planes.
in Dorchester County, South Carolina,
as recommended by the manufacturer.
like it had been nuked.
but spraying continued.
in the number of Zika fever cases.
aren't very effective.
perhaps more effective than spraying
than toxic chemicals?
author of "Silent Spring,"
the environmental movement.
as an example,
pest of livestock
extraordinary story today.
when we were writing an editorial
retold that story.
that's the immature form of the insect --
grown to adulthood
all over the Southwest,
and into Central America
from little airplanes,
that terrible insect pest
to how we can do that today --
but with our knowledge of genetics.
vector of diseases,
Chikungunya, West Nile virus
that does the dirty work.
to feed her offspring.
have the mouth parts to bite.
genetically modified that mosquito
its eggs don't develop to adulthood.
when the male mates with the wild female
just diagrammatically how they do it.
of a mosquito cell,
represents its genome,
by this orange ball
to keep cranking out more of that protein.
go and gum up the mosquitoes' genes,
they use a compound called tetracycline.
and allows normal development.
so that they could study what happens.
that makes the insect glow under UV light
they could follow exactly how far it went
and all of the kinds of data
and at this stage
into the males and the females
to grow to adulthood.
that males don't bite.
and drive around the city,
releasing the first batch
this is an American city, but it's not.
of dengue by 91 percent.
spraying can do.
biological control in the US?
a genetically modified organism.
if the FDA would let them
when Zika arrives.
of GM regulation in the US
regulate genetically modified organisms:
to decide that it would be the FDA
if that makes any sense.
and forth and back and forth
that this would not harm people,
permission to run a little test
when they Keys had an outbreak of dengue.
mosquitoes tested in their community
the internet with this cuddly logo,
some 160,000 signatures
in just a couple of weeks
would be permitted at all.
these better ways of controlling insects.
of more than 60 legislators
expedite access for Florida
very much more environmentally friendly
which are toxic chemicals.
time; it's true today.
enormously more information
to use that information
is aroused your curiosity enough
not into just GM mosquitoes
organisms that are so controversial today.
through all of the misinformation,
and the Greenpeaces
the accurate science,
About the Speaker:Nina Fedoroff - Molecular biologist
Nina Fedoroff writes and lectures about the history and science of genetically modified organisms.
Why you should listen
Nina Fedoroff serves as science adviser to several organizations, including OFW Law and the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) in Washington, DC and the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, NM. With former Secretary of Agriculture Jack Block, she recently published a New York Times editorial titled "Mosquito vs. Mosquito in the Battle Over the Zika Virus."
Fedoroff was trained as a molecular biologist and geneticist at the Rockefeller University in New York City. The university awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2008 as one of its most distinguished alumni on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
Fedoroff's early scientific accomplishments include analyzing a curious enzyme that replicates the RNA genome of a tiny RNA virus and sequencing of one the first genes ever to be sequenced. On the strength of this work, she was appointed a member of the scientific staff of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Embryology. Her most important contributions began when she met the legendary biologist Barbara McClintock in 1978. She was intrigued by McClintock’s pioneering work on transposable elements, commonly known as "jumping genes," in corn plants.
McClintock's work was purely genetic, hence Fedoroff set out to study her jumping genes at the molecular level. That meant figuring out how to clone plant genes, none of which had yet been cloned. In fact, people had begun to wonder whether plant genes could be cloned at all. Solving the technical problems, Fedoroff and her students unraveled the molecular details of how these mobile DNA sequences move and how the plants exert epigenetic control of their movement. This work led to her election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990. Her capstone book on transposable elements entitled Plant Transposons and Genome Dynamics in Evolution ,was published in 2013.
Fedoroff moved the Penn State University in 1995 as the Director of the Biotechnology Institute and Vern M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences. Here she organized a multidisciplinary graduate and research program now known as the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences. Her laboratory research shifted to understanding how plants respond to stress and how they process small regulatory RNAs from larger precursors. She also began to dance Argentine tango. And she wrote a book with science writer Nancy Marie Brown titled Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods.
The year 2007 was marked by two extraordinary events in Fedoroff's life. She was named a National Medal of Science laureate for 2006 and she was appointed as the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The science advisory position gave her an unexpected bully pulpit to talk about the importance of science in diplomacy, about which she was interviewed by Claudia Dreifus of the New York Times. It also gave her many opportunities to talk about genetic modification and GMOs all over the world. Realizing that development efforts would benefit from increased involvement of scientists, she organized the GKI, an NGO that builds collaborative networks around problems requiring scientific and technological input.
Completing her advisory work at the State Department in 2010, Fedoroff was recruited to the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) as a Distinguished Professor of the Life Sciences. At KAUST, Fedoroff organized a Center for Desert Agriculture, seeking to address the difficulties facing agriculture in increasingly populous dryland areas.
Today Fedoroff continues write and lecture internationally, most recently keynoting the 2017 Mantua Food and Science Festival in Mantua, Italy. She continues to dance tango, traveling to Buenos Aires each of the past couple of years.
Nina Fedoroff | Speaker | TED.com