“In the great scheme of things, I’m very lucky to have a job, when a lot of people are really struggling at the moment,” he said.
Loss of virus code
Holmes is quick to point out that it was his colleague, Professor Yong Chen Zhang at Fudan University in China, who first sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome on January 5.
“I helped him figure out what that meant,” said Professor Holmes.
Professor Holmes said that the Chinese authorities have asked them all not to publish.
“I think they wanted to reduce the panic or wanted to release their own posts first. But we felt strongly that we had an obligation to publish this data as quickly as possible.”
At 8 a.m. the following Saturday, while sitting in his home office, Professor Holmes called Professor Zhang to ask an urgent question: “Should we trigger this sequence?”
He took a moment and called out his Australian colleague.
Professor Holmes said, “He said, ‘Okay, let’s let it go.”
Then he woke up his colleague in Edinburgh, Professor Andrew Rambaut, who runs virological.org.
“I told him we need to get this on the Internet … I was shivering when I hit send, and it’s gone.”
It took 52 minutes from receiving the code from Professor Chang to publication – Professor Holmes timed it. But he forgot to double-check the sequence.
“I could download anything. I thought, Oh my God, what did I do?” I quickly checked the sequence and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Almost immediately people were saying, ‘That’s cool, now we can start doing science.’
He said that the Chinese authorities were not happy.
“We did the right thing and I will do it again with a heartbeat.”
The Chinese government released its data within 36 hours. “I am absolutely convinced they wouldn’t do it if we didn’t … They would have waited maybe a few days or weeks.”
The chief scientist and engineer in New South Wales, Professor Hugh Durant White, said that Professor Holmes’ early identification of the devastating potential of the Corona virus “cannot be overstated.”
An unpredictable pandemic
The emergence of a new Coronavirus in humans was “fully anticipated” by Professor Holmes and colleagues. SARS-CoV-2 is the fifth coronavirus to infect humans in the past 20 years.
But the scale of the epidemic was less predictable.
Professor Holmes initially suspected that this virus would run a similar course to the first SARS outbreak, which led to just over 8,000 cases.
“We did not know that this would be an event that would stop the world,” he said. “It was more contagious than anyone could have imagined.”
He said that New South Wales was one of the true landmarks in the world.
“I thought we’d end up with a very decent epidemic but it was handled… very well.
He said Australia could have done a lot worse.
The contagion effect of conspiracy theories
One of the most important concerns of scholars is the movie ContagionWhich photographed a scientist or two American scientists working almost independently to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of the virus.
But Contagion Professor Holmes said he got a lot right, especially the character played by Jude Law, who embodied the power of social media to sow disinformation, panic and conspiracy.
Professor Holmes has become the target of relentless attacks on the Internet after he co-authored a paper on Nature Medicine Expose the prevailing conspiracy theory that the virus was engineered or escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.
“Our conclusion was no, we could not see anything indicating that this could be anything other than a natural event,” he said.
His work with Chinese scholars and universities reinforced false accusations that he was getting paid from the Communist Party. Last week, he was charged with mass murder for failing to support the laboratory theory.
Professor Holmes said, “It’s ridiculous, but I’m totally used to it. It washes on me now.”
“To sum up, it is very difficult to find the source of this virus. There is a large number of animals in China that can be warehouses and we can look for a specific bat in a specific cave. This is a needle in a haystack that will not be resolved for a long time.”
The next pandemic
Once the autopsy is completed, the world’s many flaws in preparedness and response will be evident, from lack of heedness to early warnings from scientists to the delayed response of many Western governments.
“We have to learn from this. We have to do much better next time, because this could easily happen again,” he said.
What will be the next virus causing the pandemic?
The top three candidates are the Corona virus, influenza, or Hendra-like Paramix virus.
His guess carries more weight than others, being among the world’s leading experts in genetics and evolution, and the origin of many viruses including hepatitis C, HIC, influenza, West Nile, dengue, Zika and Ebola.
Ten researchers, innovators, engineers and other leading educators will be honored at the 2020 Premier’s Science and Engineering Awards.
For the first time in the history of the award, there are more winners than males.
Minister of Planning and Public Spaces, Rob Stokes, said it is a great honor to present to these “unknown heroes” their awards on behalf of Prime Minister Gladys Prejiklian.
“The awards are a reminder of the incredible talent we have here in NSW in the cutting-edge technologies that help protect our future,” said Mr. Stokes.
10 category prize winners will receive $ 5,000 each
Category 1: Excellence in Mathematics, Geosciences, Chemistry and Physics Winner: Distinguished Professor Susan O’Reilly, Macquarie University
Category 2: Excellence in Biological Sciences (Ecology, Environment, Agriculture and Living Organisms) Winner: Professor Ian Wright, Macquarie University
Category 3: Excellence in Biomedical Sciences (Cellular, Molecular, Medical, Veterinary, and Genetics) Joint Winners: Distinguished Professor Antoine Van Uijin, University of Wollongong and Professor Merlin Crossley, University of New South Wales
Category 5: Excellence in Engineering or ICT Winner: Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo, University of Wollongong
Category 6: NSW Early Employment Researcher (Biological Sciences) Winner: Dr Rachel Gallagher, Macquarie University
Category 7: Researcher of the Year in Early Employment in New South Wales (Physical Sciences) Winner: Dr Jelena Renjak Kovacina, University of New South Wales
Category 8: Innovation Leadership in NSW Winner: Professor Iowa Goldies, University of New South Wales
Category 9: Innovation in Public Sector Science and Engineering in NSW Winner: Dr David Hopkins, NSW Department of Primary Industries
Category 10: Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics Teaching in NSW: Winner: Ms Sophie Boiselle, Emmanuel School
Kate Aubison is the health editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
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