Is Mother Nature the Best Bioterrorist?



David Relman, Stanford University

Date and Time

April 16, 2008 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Reuben W. Hills Conference Room

FSI Contact

Justin C. Liszanckie

As we find ourselves at the start of the "biological century" with a wealth of potential benefits to public health, agriculture, and global economies, it is almost deliberately naive to think that the extraordinary growth in the life sciences might not be exploited for nefarious purposes. A report published in 2006 by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Science recognized that the breadth of biological threats is much broader than commonly appreciated and will continue to expand for the foreseeable future. The nature of these threats, and a set of potential approaches with which to mitigate these threats, will be reviewed.

David Relman, MD, is professor of medicine, and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. He is also chief, infectious diseases section, at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California. His research is directed towards the characterization of the human indigenous microbial communities, with emphasis on understanding variation in diversity, succession, the effects of disturbance, and the role of these communities in health and disease.  This work brings together approaches from ecology, population biology, environmental microbiology, genomics and clinical medicine.  In addition, his research explores the classification structure of humans and non-human primates with systemic infectious diseases, based on patterns of genome-wide gene transcript abundance in blood and other tissues. The goals of this work are to recognize classes of pathogen and predict clinical outcome at early time points in the disease process, as well as to gain further insights into virulence. Past scientific achievements include the description of a novel approach for identifying previously-unknown pathogens, the identification of a number of new human microbial pathogens, including the agent of Whipple's disease, and some of the most extensive analyses to date of the human indigenous microbial ecosystem. See

Among his other activities, Dr. Relman currently serves as Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH), Chair of the Institute of Medicine's Forum on Microbial Threats (U.S. National Academies of Science), member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, and advises several U.S. Government departments and agencies on matters related to pathogen diversity, the future life sciences landscape, and the nature of present and future biological threats.  He co-chaired a three-year study at the National Academy of Sciences that produced a report entitled, "Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences" (2006). He is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology. Dr. Relman received the Squibb Award of the IDSA in 2001, and was the recipient of both the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, and the Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, in 2006.

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