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funded by NSF, helped make possible the rapid discovery of the cause of
an outbreak of a deadly new virus that caused death in nearly half of
the people who contracted it.
NSF-funded research helped track the killer virus tothe
common rodent that occurs 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
directly from rodents to humans by inhaling of contaminated dust particles.
Verifying the virus
Biologists working in the NSF-supported research collections of the University
of New Mexicos Museum of Southwestern Biology were able to verify
the identity of the rodent reservoir of the virus. They were also able
to confirm the existence of the deadly virus in tissues archived in the
museums collections prior to the 1993 outbreak.
In addition, biologists at the NSF-funded Sevilleta Long-term Ecological
Research (LTER) site in New Mexico were able to show rodent populations
increased in the region dramatically in 1993 followinga
series of wetter and milder winters associated with the El Niño Southern
Sevilleta researchers were also able to demonstrate an association with
this weather pattern and increased cases of human plague. Other NSF-supported
researchers have found similar biologically complex interactions among
rodent populations, moths and climate to explain the cycling of Lyme Disease
in New York.