Genomic medication pioneer and chief Claire M. Fraser, PhD, director of the Institute for Genome Sciences and the Dean’s Endowed Professor on the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), not too long ago concluded her yr as president of the American Affiliation for the Development of Science (AAAS) with a stirring lecture on the group’s annual assembly.
Within the handle, she referred to as for profound adjustments that may go away the U.S., and the world at massive, higher ready for the subsequent international pandemic. Such adjustments, she stated, embrace the necessity to handle the systemic racism and well being disparities that led to increased COVID-19 hospitalization charges and demise charges in Black communities. Her forceful name for change additionally included a reframing of local weather change insurance policies to assist the general public perceive the fast and long-term well being advantages of decrease carbon emissions, together with cleaner air and potential safety in opposition to future epidemics.
With a lot of her tenure specializing in the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide upheaval it prompted, Fraser determined to focus her lecture on “Classes from the COVID-19 Pandemic in an Interconnected World”. She delivered the plenary lecture Feb. eight on the 2021 Annual Assembly, which she chaired. All the handle will be seen here on YouTube.
This yr’s assembly was digital, with on-line lectures and periods to debate the newest analysis. With 120,000 members from greater than 91 nations, AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and the writer of the well-respected Science household of journals.
Fraser opened her remarks by explaining the theme of the annual assembly, “Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems,” which she selected earlier than COVID-19 to deal with the advanced networks that we examine, and people during which we reside and work.
“To me, probably the most fascinating attributes of ecosystems is that of emergent properties – a time period that has been utilized in science, methods concept, philosophy, city research, and even artwork,” Fraser stated in her opening remarks. “After we speak about emergent properties, we discuss with these properties which are solely surprising, based mostly on our understanding of the person parts of any given ecosystem – the properties that come up from the collaborative capabilities throughout scales.”
Evolution of Her 25 Years of Analysis
Fraser went on to spotlight the evolution of her personal analysis over the previous 25 years that led her to embrace – certainly, to require, an ecosystems perspective. In 1995, she and her colleagues had been the primary to use the instruments of the genomics revolution to sequence the primary full genome of a free-living organism, Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium chargeable for meningitis, ear infections, and different respiratory illnesses, primarily in kids. This achievement came about on the Institute for Genomic Analysis, the place Fraser served as director from 1998 till 2007.
In her lecture, Fraser stated she and her colleagues had been shocked to find the huge variety of genes that had been dedicated to coding for hypothetical proteins whose perform was unknown. This primary genome sequencing challenge ceaselessly modified microbiology and launched a brand new area of examine—microbial genomics.
“As our understanding of the human microbiome will increase, it’s requiring us to suppose very otherwise about well being and illness – not simply from the angle of particular person organ methods, however as a substitute from an appreciation that we, as people, are a posh ecosystem embedded in a bigger planetary ecosystem,” stated Fraser throughout her lecture. “Solely a tiny fraction of the viruses that encompass us pose any risk to people, however given the staggering numbers of viruses, it ought to then come as no shock that SARS-CoV-2 emerged with pandemic potential. To many who examine viral range and evolution, it was only a matter of time.”
In an editorial entitled “A genome to celebrate” printed within the Feb. 5, 2021 challenge of Science, Fraser famous that one of many enduring legacies of those early genome efforts is the analysis ecosystem that was created for tackling advanced, technology- pushed, and data-intensive multidisciplinary initiatives that has successfully been leveraged for different large-scale efforts that embrace the 1000 Genomes Mission, the Most cancers Genome Atlas, the Human Microbiome Mission, and the Human Mind Mission.
Throughout her time on the Institute for Genomic Analysis, Fraser and her workforce additionally sequenced the micro organism behind syphilis and Lyme illness, adopted by the primary plant genome and the primary human-pathogenic parasite. She and her colleagues additionally helped to establish the potential supply of a lethal 2001 anthrax assault in one of many largest investigations performed by U.S. legislation enforcement. In 2007, Fraser launched the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) at UMSOM.
Hyperlink Between Local weather Change and World Pandemics
Fraser additionally highlighted in her lecture the significance of local weather change as a part of the frequently evolving COVID-19 pandemic. “Historical past has proven us that disasters can usually be the time of largest change,” she stated. “A primary lesson we hopefully have realized from the previous yr is that when needed, we are able to actually mobilize on a worldwide scale to get issues carried out.”
She steered consultants strategize on how one can make new local weather insurance policies extra interesting to the general public. Quite than focusing not on specifics of emissions reductions, they need to as a substitute focus on the financial, social, and well being advantages of recent local weather insurance policies.
“Every of us should play a extra energetic position in partaking with the general public in significant methods – getting out into our respective communities to work with civic leaders, and native and state coverage makers to deal with a variety of points that they deem to be related to them,” Fraser stated throughout her lecture.
She identified that simply because the COVID pandemic has disproportionately burdened the economically deprived, local weather change and its mitigation insurance policies can even disproportionately have an effect on the poor. The burden of accelerating temperatures and lack of jobs within the fossil gasoline trade will take a higher toll on them.
“This inequality have to be acknowledged as a part of the massive image now, and no matter our local weather polices appear like, this actuality must be taken under consideration as a part of any last answer,” she stated. “Local weather change poses an existential risk to our pure world and the material of society – and we should do not forget that this isn’t an us vs. them state of affairs. We should showcase profitable bipartisan motion, at any time when attainable, to scale back polarization.”
Must Reverse Systemic Racism
Fraser underscored the necessity to handle the systemic racism that exists within the sciences, quoting a Science editorial written final yr that pointed to racial biases and structural racism embedded in tutorial establishments. “We can pay a considerable value if we don’t sort out systemic racism now,” she stated. “Not solely is it morally unsuitable, however we have to get everyone on board if we’re to completely leverage science to sort out the largest points confronting our world at this time, and sooner or later.”
She closed her remarks by specializing in the crucial position science has to play in setting insurance policies that may assist fight globally disruptive threats sooner or later. “As we noticed with COVID-19, information could also be contradictory at occasions, and numerous views could emerge, and these will must be refined and mentioned as extra information accumulate,” she stated. “What we all know, and what we don’t but know, must be frequently summarized and mentioned in a number of open, clear venues, and we want guard in opposition to the propagation of misinformation. We can not vilify those that don’t agree with us – as a substitute, we profit by listening with open minds.”
Fraser emphasised that if any lesson will be realized from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we have to totally embrace “a science of preparedness,” understanding that our actions have penalties and that our world holds the capability for transformative motion.
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