Terry Yates, (505) 277-6681
Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821
October 24, 2001
UNMS HANTAVIRUS RESEARCH NAMED TO NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATIONS NIFTY-50
Research conducted by University of New Mexico biologists has been chosen
by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as one of the 50 discoveries made with
NSF funding that have had the most influence or biggest impact on the lives
Highlighted in an NSF publication titled, Nifty 50, the discoveries
were chosen from 10s of thousands of NSF funded projects since its inception
The research, originally funded by the NSF in 1988 as part of UNMs Sevilleta
Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project, helped make possible the rapid
discovery of the cause of an outbreak of a deadly new virus that resulted in
death in nearly half of the people who contracted it.
Sevilleta researchers Terry Yates and Robert Parmenter were able to suggest
a possible reason for the outbreak based on information learned from research
on small mammals and climate change not related at all to infectious disease.
This represents a classic case for the importance of basic research in
helping to solve real societal problems, said Vice Provost for Research
and Professor of Biology and Pathology Terry Yates.
Yates and collaborators at the Center for Disease Control, working in NSF-supported
research collections at UNMs Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB), were
able to confirm the existence of the deadly virus in tissues archived in the
museums collections prior to the original outbreak in 1993, proving the
new virus had been present in New Mexico probably for millions of
years and was just now being discovered.
The research helped track the killer virus to the deer mouse, a common rodent
found throughout much of North America. The outbreak was centered in the American
southwest, but human cases have now been confirmed in 30 states and three Canadian
provinces. The new hantavirus is apparently transferred directly from rodents
to humans by inhalation of contaminated dust particles.
Additionally, biologists at the NSF-funded Sevilleta LTER site in central New
Mexico, were able to show rodent populations increased in the region dramatically
in 1993 following a series of wetter and milder winters associated with the
El Nino Southern Oscillation. Sevilleta researchers were also able to demonstrate
an association with this weather pattern and increased cases of human plague.
Other NSF researchers have found similar biologically complex interactions
among rodent populations, moths, oaks and climate to help explain the cycling
of Lyme Disease in New York.
The NSF is the only federal agency devoted to supporting basic research in science, mathematics and engineering across all fields of math and science education at all levels.
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