Last night I was able to catch up because O'Brien was in the Royal Irish Academy talking about his life's work. Strictly, he was talking about some fragments of his life's work because we didn't have a two day symposium to hear about the whole 750 paper (so far) opus. But those fragments were woven into a compelling story that started with inbreeding in Cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus and reflecting on how this reduction in genetic diversity laid them open to attack by pathogens. The case study was a devastating epidemic of Feline Immune-deficiency Virus (FIV) at a wild-life park in Oregon. From there we went on a
You can find out whether you have that resistant status by sending $100 to 23andme in California. Their genetic analysis will not only tell you whether you have a touch of the tar brush in your ancestry but will lay out your details for numerous medically relevant gene variants including CCR5-delta32. But before you go off to celebrate your delta32-homozygosity with a spree of unprotected sex in sub-Saharan Africa, you should reflect on what reg'lar CCR5 is doing on the surface of T-cells. It turns out that, among other things, two copies of the delta32 mutation lays you wide open to infection by West Nile Virus. Indeed, as WNV has spread globally (thanks to those Bs Boeing, British Airways and Budget Travel), you can't safely go on your sex-spree aNNywhere. Dang!
That was an evening well spent and tribs to my pal Emma Teeling from UCD's Earth Institute for making it happen. She worked with O'Brien, on SARS and other things, for three years when he has a Big Cat in NIH. It's just wonderful that international networking can pay such dividends for the education of the Plain People of Ireland. And this was the first in a series of talks to launch the new meta-Department, mega-School, so that's a lot to look forward to
But enough already about saving millions of lives in sub-Saharan Africa, what about ME? After the talk I sidled over to the Honored Guest and introduced myself. I could see that he was, with punctilious politeness, only half-listening to my story of having missed meeting him a generation earlier when suddenly he twigged the connexion between me and my Gaffer in Boston and lit up. He said some blushingly complementary things about the tuthree papers we'd written on the population genetics of domestic cats back in another place and another time. So that was an evening really well spent.