One Health in the Anthropocene: A Year of Wildlife Disease and Unstructured Discovery
How do we define health in the Anthropocene, an epoch in which new challenges—antibiotic resistance, climate change, the sixth mass extinction—seem too large to treat with old medicines? During the current year, I am travelling on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to encounter microbes, the monsters of the natural world with which we will need to collaborate if we hope to flourish in the Anthropocene. This year has involved science, but it has been far from a straightforward path of answering my initial questions. My interest lies in emerging ecosystem diseases: canine distemper in Brazil, lemur viruses in Madagascar, coral bleaching on Bali, and goose-to-fox spillover in the Canadian Arctic. Yet, the most impactful encounters have often been the detours from this plan. I have begun to collect stories of unlikely, multispecies collaborations that produce health in the Anthropocene: mouse lemur stem-cells modeling diabetes, Wolbachia bacteria preying upon mosquito-borne dengue, medicinal rainstorms washing away sand-flea eggs, a hospital treating human maladies to protect orangutans’ trees. One thing I have learned this year is that we humans are not the discrete individuals we have long thought. Rather, we are entangled with other life at every level, from the cellular to the planetary. It is time to notice the microscopic life around and inside us, not for eradication but with curiosity and compassion, because although the tiny, slimy things we call pathogens are going to become a powerful challenge of the Anthropocene, I predict they will also become our most powerful allies.
Nina Finley graduated from Whitman College with a B.A. in biology-environmental studies. Her passion for emerging wildlife diseases has led her to lemur viruses, sea star wasting disease, coral bleaching, and beyond. As a Watson Fellow, she collects stories of humans surviving collaboratively with microbes. This year, Nina will travel to Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Canadian Arctic. Her writing has appeared in Camas and Edge Effects. After her Watson year, Nina plans to apply for the joint One Health Master’s program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College and subsequently pursue a PhD in disease ecology.