Infectious diseases have captured the attention of the world, especially with the outbreak of the novel pandemic coronavirus, or COVID-19. One of the nation's prolific researchers recently spoke to Old Dominion University students in the College of Sciences about infectious diseases. Karen Nelson, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (among many other accolades) was the guest lecturer at this year's Daniel E. and Helen N. Sonenshine Endowed Lecture Series on Infectious Diseases, co-sponsored by the College of Science's Distinguished Biomedical Research Lecture series.
"With the new coronavirus outbreak we can find out very quickly what the virus looks like," Nelson said, "so the ability to generate genetics for human health is really allowing us to take our own genetic information into our hands much more than we had been able to do before."
Nelson gave two presentations, a scientific talk about the human microbiome and a public lecture on the human genome.
"Both were very interesting and inspiring for our students and faculty," said Dayle Daines, associate dean for research and faculty affairs in the College of Sciences and organizer for the lecture series.
Hundreds of students, faculty and guests listened to Nelson discuss the new information on human microbiome and genetic sequencing coming out of this ground-breaking field, and how "genomics is not one-size-fits-all."
"There are lots of caveats; not everybody responds the same way to the same drug and a lot of that has to do with our genome and what we inherited from our parents," she said.
Her new pet project is the microbiome.
"I think that we have a great opportunity to take our own health into our own hands," she said.
At the conclusions of both lectures, Nelson answered students' questions.
"The students that I met at ODU were fantastic," she said. "I was just encouraging people to pursue what made them excited and if it was teaching or research or whatever it is, just pursue something they are passionate about."
Which is one of main points of the lecture series, said Professor Emeritus Daniel Sonenshine.
"I was hoping to bring in top-notch scientists who could inspire our students and let them know there's a real world out there for them to explore and to grow into, and that they have a future in biological sciences," he said. "And in my case, especially in the area of infectious diseases, to inspire them through meeting with top-notch scientists who have really made it in the scientific world."