I found out about SARS-CoV-2 on Twitter, like many of my colleagues. We had been reading reports out of Wuhan that a strange contagious respiratory virus was taking a big toll. Richard Ebright, with whom I had once interviewed for a job at Waksman Institute at Rutgers, reported that he had colleagues working in Wuhan. I learned a bit later that Ian Lipkin of Columbia was actually in Wuhan about February.
I immediately got in touch with Joe DeRisi who flipped me off (more about that later). I asked Cori Bargmann to communicate my interest in working on the infection to Joe. By then, he had given a talk at UCSF attended by Jordan Shlain, MD, in which Joe extolled the virtues of “herd immunity”. I felt ill. I knew that the worst would happen from that day, and it has.
I had invited Joe to give a talk at NIH/Frederick, just after he had discovered the SARS virus using a very fancy computational microarray that he had constructed. A day or two after I invited Joe, he won the MacArthur prize. I was king for a day at NCI for having invited Joe there. That night, Joe, Stephen J. O’Brien, Mike Dean and I dined in a fancy restaurant in Frederick. The waitress had some kind of crush on me (I had never seen her before or since), but I realized I was not wearing my wedding ring, because gloves in the lab. I lost one ring that way and I was never going to make that mistake again!
Joe had told us he was interested in so much more than SARS. That he was investigating perfect pitch. He told us of many other interests, and I confessed my interest in a virus that had been implicated in Prostate Cancer. That is the beginning of a sad saga that I will write about some other time, when I am older and crustier than I am now. For now, let’s stick with SARS-CoV-2.
Richard Ebright reminded me that Bats had a big reservoir of Zoonotic viruses that were able to leap species bounds. The viruses had adapted to the habit of Bats to feed on blood, including human blood. Emma Teeling, in Bill Murphy’s group, part of the greater NIH Kingdom of Stephen J. O’Brien, had reinforced for me this negative aspect of Bat’s lives. On the other hand, for Emma, they were cute little things, weren’t they?