Director, Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases
Distinguished Research Professor
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Odum School of Ecology
Think of Jenga, the game in which two players remove wooden blocks from the lower part of the tower and place them at its top.
After a few turns, the now skeletal tower becomes unstable. Just before it crashes and the game’s winner is determined, the tower wobbles back and forth. It’s reached its tipping point.
That wobble, the reflection of a physical phenomenon called “critical slowing down,” can happen in an ecosystem just before the emergence of a new infectious disease—at least in theory—says John Drake, a Distinguished Research Professor in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology.
When a devastating Ebola outbreak swept through West Africa, no one saw it coming. By the time it was contained, it claimed tens of thousands of lives. Other deadly outbreaks such as Zika virus or avian flu have the potential to take a catastrophic toll.
Researchers at UGA and other institutions are working tirelessly to develop effective treatments for these diseases. But what if health officials could predict where outbreaks are poised to occur before they do—to find that wobble before everything comes crashing down—and establish preventive measures?
What if health officials could predict where outbreaks are poised to occur before they do and establish preventive measures?