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Michael Worobey

Evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey’s research pinpointing new origins for the HIV virus plaguing America spurred significant worldwide controversy as well as awards.

HIV/AIDS research sparks controversy, threats and awards

October 8, 2009

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Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist who pioneered research into the origins of HIV/AIDS, is the 2009 recipient of SFU’s Nora and Ted Sterling prize in support of controversy.

Worobey’s work on the origins of HIV, was published in Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His controversial findings—that HIV first arrived in America in 1969 via a single individual from Haiti, and not directly from Africa or from any other suggested route—were seen as an unfair demonization of this poor, exploited country. His research prompted attacks from some members of the scientific community, the media and the public, from rappers to ambassadors. His safety was threatened and his integrity questioned.

However, the importance of his work has since been recognized and honoured and his discoveries are now widely accepted. Among his awards are a research fellowship at St. John’s College, Oxford, a Packard Foundation fellowship, and the Frontiers of Science Kavli fellowship from the U.S. National Academy of Science.

"The Sterling prize was conceived to honour research that challenges entrenched positions with reason, evidence and compassion," says Ronald Ydenberg, SFU biologist and selection committee chair. "Not only does Dr. Worobey’s work exceed this standard, it represents the very heart of the role the university should play in society."

Worobey, an associate professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, graduated from SFU in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in science. A Rhodes scholarship led him to Oxford to obtain a doctorate in zoology.

Nora and the late Ted Sterling, the founding chair of computing science at SFU, established the prize in 1993. The prize will be presented on Tuesday, Oct 13 at 7 pm at SFU’s Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings. The lecture: Plotting A Course Through Controversy: A search for the origins of HIV, will follow.

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Apostle Shada Mishe



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