Grand Challenges and School of Veterinary Medicine Host Emergency Consultation to Combat H5N1 Influenza

On Thursday May 16, 2024, Grand Challenges and the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis teamed up to host an Emergency One Health Consultation on Combating H5N1 Influenza, the virus currently decimating marine wildlife populations and circulating in milk in the US. The online event attracted more than 600 registrants and featured a cross-sector, international lineup of panelists who are experts on infectious diseases, influenza, veterinary medicine, food safety, disease diagnostics, and public health.

The Consultation was held in response to the growing number of cases of H5N1 Influenza that have appeared in wildlife, poultry, dairy cattle, and now humans, according to Mark Stetter, Dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Repeated mammal-to-mammal transmissions have been observed in recent months, including transmission between cows and from cows to cats and humans.

The high rate of mammal-to-mammal transmissions is increasing the concern that a large-scale spillover of the virus into humans could occur, or that it could significantly disrupt our food production systems in the US and abroad. The Consultation assembled expertise around the virus and pandemic responses, in general, as part of a broader effort to create robust and effective pandemic preparedness, prevention, and response infrastructure in the US.

Throughout the program, the panelists, who included scientists from leading US government agencies, state and county health officials, and university experts, voiced overwhelming support for a One Health approach to build long-term, comprehensive public health systems and strategies for early preparedness, prevention, and responses to emerging health threats. The One Health approach considers the interdependencies of animals, plants, and humans and the influence of one group’s health and well-being on the others.

Marcela Uhart, an Argentinian veterinarian and director of the Latin American Program at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis, opened the event with a somber depiction of H5N1 Influenza’s impact on wildlife in South America: hundreds of thousands of deaths occurring across numerous species, from marine mammals to birds.

Deceased elephant seal pups on a sandy beach

Marcela Uhart’s team observed mass mortality of elephant seal pups during the H5N1 Influenza outbreak on the Argentinian coast in October 2023. PC: Ralph E.T. Vanstreels

In one colony of elephant seals, nearly 95% of the seal pups – some 17,000 individuals – died during the H5N1 outbreak. For threatened or endangered species, H5N1 Influenza is adding another layer to their extinction vulnerability. The Peruvian Pelican, for instance, is endangered and lost 36% of its population during the outbreak, according to Uhart.

Health threats, including H5N1 Influenza, can spillover from wild populations into domestic animals, or vice versa. Monitoring programs that track the health of wild animals could detect outbreaks at an early stage. Early detection can grant health care providers and other sectors, such as the dairy and poultry industries, valuable time to prepare and respond to the threat, according to Jonathan Sleeman, Science Advisor for Wildlife Health to the US Geological Survey. Similarly, early detection can allow for targeted containment efforts to protect wild populations and conserve biodiversity.

Early detection systems go hand-in-hand with fundamental research on the virus and its mechanisms of transmission within and across species. The H5N1 virus that is currently affecting cattle does not seem well-adapted to humans, which is why there has not been sustained human-to-human transmission, according to Angel Desai, an adult infectious disease specialist at UC Davis Medical Center.

Questions remain about the potential for the virus to evolve and become more transmissible human-to-human. “It is so important to have research so that we can address these questions about diseases that come out of nowhere,” said Gigi Gronvall, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There’s only one way to get that needed information and that is to do the research.” Understanding how the virus changes warrants surveillance of H5N1 occurrence in domestic and wild animals, monitoring of changes to the genomic sequence of the virus, and basic research into its transmission ability.

Lack of funding is a major barrier to early detection systems and basic research as part of a One Health approach. “There’s an outbreak, we get this pulse of funding, and then it just drops to nothing in between events,” said Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Policymakers in the US recognize the importance of One Health, but the funding mechanisms to implement the approach, including surveillance, are insufficient, according to Christine Johnson, Professor of Epidemiology and Ecosystem Health at UC Davis.

In addition to funding, coordination between agencies, academia, and the private sector is critical to prepare for and respond to health threats. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we still do not have a good early detection and emergency response system in place for emerging health threats, according to Jonna Mazet, Vice Provost for Grand Challenges at UC Davis. “We have advanced the science, and every organization has advanced their own sector’s plans, but even after COVID, we are not interdigitating those plans for a unified response.”

Other panelists described their experiences with early detection and prevention programs for health threats, identifying gaps and best practices of current systems. “Every outbreak is different. Our immune response is different,” warned Rick Bright, Chief Executive of Bright Global Health and Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the US Department of Health.

Developing vaccines for humans is a lengthy process, both to develop the vaccine and produce it at a large enough scale to be effective in a global population. “Generally, we are waiting until we see human-human transmission,” said Bright. “If we had a way to collaborate and move back to see more of these triggers and signals in the interface between animals and humans and in the environment before we see widespread outbreaks in humans, it could allow us to move [up vaccine production] timelines.”

One tool available for early detection systems is surveillance of viruses in wastewater. The methodologies for this approach were developed in academic laboratories and have been adopted by many city, county, and state health departments, according to Heather Bischel, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis. Detection of viruses, such as Influenza A, in wastewater can allow for localized, nimble preparedness and more rapid and effective responses.

Integrating these tools into a successful and effective preparedness, prevention, and response plan requires coordination across all levels of government and across sectors. Multi-agency and cross-sector coordination around disease surveillance already occurs in some areas, highlighting the efficacy of the One Health approach.

“For the current H5N1 response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using a One Health Approach to understand and address risks to people who work on dairy and poultry farms, or who might interact with infected livestock, companion animals, or wildlife,” said Christine M. Szablewski, Acting Chief Veterinary Officer for the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similarly, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is using a One Health approach with a focus on H5N1 in the US dairy industry. Since March 2024 (and as of May 16), there have already been 49 detections of H5N1 Influenza on dairy farms across nine states, according to Sarah Tomlinson, Senior Leader for Science and Information Technology for Veterinary Services within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services of the USDA. “We are all working actively as quickly as we can to learn as much as we can about this disease in dairy cattle. We’re using a multi-factorial One Health approach and listening to the science to try to inform all of our next decisions.”

In Canada, where H5N1 was first detected in 2021, the coordination between animal health, public health, and environmental departments in government, as well as with non-governmental agencies, academia, and frontline veterinarians is key to gather H5N1 detection information among wildlife and livestock, according to Julie Paré, Senior Veterinarian Science Specialist for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Aggregated data are disseminated via online dashboards to increase transparency and awareness around current levels of H5N1 Influenza in wildlife and domestic animals, which can inform policymakers and regulatory agencies.

Kimberly Dodd, Director of the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, highlighted how the role of disease surveillance programs and coordination with regulatory agencies can change over the course of an outbreak. “To ensure early detection of a new disease outbreak, veterinary diagnostic labs continually perform surveillance of suspect flocks, while simultaneously testing wild birds to characterize the circulating influenza strains. When a highly pathogenic H5N1 Influenza virus is detected, we switch to an active surveillance approach that includes testing healthy animals. This information guides regulatory decision-making in efforts to reduce spread,” she said. “As the outbreak wanes, we shift into the third phase of our role: to perform the required testing to demonstrate a lack of new infections, indicating that we’re once again free from disease.”

However, the panelists highlighted that these plans will all come down to impacting individuals, especially farmers whose livelihoods can be affected by H5N1 Influenza outbreaks among their livestock and poultry.

Implementing preparedness and response plans on farms requires careful and intentional communication, according to Richard Pereira, Associate Professor of Clinical Livestock and Herd Health at UC Davis. “There’s still a need for communication that’s tailored to farmers and farm workers. It has to be summarized. It has to be practical. It has to acknowledge the language, cultural, and social challenges of the target audience.”

As monitoring systems and diagnostic labs detect pathogens and other health threats, prevention and response plans will affect the livelihoods of our farmers. “What are the economic consequences to our stakeholders? We need to have livestock and poultry farmers in our equations, know that they are socially affected, and complement our science with economic considerations,” said François Elvinger, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at Cornell University.

Communication and coordination with stakeholders, from individual farmers through high levels of government and across academia and industry remains a key challenge for equitable and effective plans and systems sound health threats. “The networks, the connections. It’s so important,” said Julie Breher, from the County of San Diego Public Health Laboratory. “We need to think creatively about how we can get everyone at the table, break down silos, and bridge across interfaces.”

As the program concluded, Bright voiced a call to action. “This [H5N1 Influenza outbreak] has been a wakeup call. H5N1 has now permeated domestic mammals across our country. It’s in our food supply, it’s in other animals. It can go into a dormancy mode this fall and come back with a vengeance in the spring. We can’t stop our preparation. We have to prepare because we know the virus is here, and we know what it is capable of.”

A policy brief based on and enumerating the panelists’ recommendations and audience feedback is imminently forthcoming. In the meantime, see the Pandemic Roadmap recommendations here:

For more information on H5N1 Influenza, please visit the UC Davis Grand Challenges “Combatting H5N1 Influenza” webpage.

Participants from the AI and Food Systems Data event, standing for a group photograph

Ingredients for the Food-ture: UC Davis Cooks Up Innovation

January 16-18: Campus experts hosted 3 food systems convenings

At a university renowned for breeding a better-tasting strawberry and engineering a famine-ending variety of rice, a new food revolution is surging. In a single week in January, UC Davis hosted three food innovation conferences to explore how food systems can be adapted to meet the world’s growing demands for sustainable, nutritious, and affordable foods.

UC Davis faculty and staff possess an unparalleled range of expertise across agriculture and food science, which has helped the university earn its top ranking and international recognition in agriculture and food technology. Experts in these fields participated in January’s convenings, along with leaders from industry and community groups, who brought strengths in entrepreneurship and workforce development.

“At UC Davis, we are excited to be bringing together experts from disciplines as disparate as ethical economics to organic chemistry in order to holistically improve our food systems,” said Jonna Mazet, Vice Provost of Grand Challenges. “It is time for a food revolution that will deliver wholesome food that people want to eat, at a price that makes it accessible to all.”

Cross-campus connections

On Tuesday Jan. 16, UC Davis Grand Challenges hosted a faculty, staff, and researcher networking event on campus as part of its Sustainable Food Systems Grand Challenge. “UC Davis is a huge campus with food science and agriculture touching every one of the university’s 11 schools and colleges,” said Molly McKinney, Grand Challenges’ Chief of Staff. The event was requested by researchers at UC Davis as a chance to connect, learn, and discuss research happening across campus in order to develop a comprehensive food systems agenda. “Convening experts from multiple perspectives and disciplines, with guidance by a concentrated effort and strategy, is necessary for UC Davis to make a large impact in a global food system,” said McKinney.

Flyer for the Grand Challenges Sustainable Food Systems Faculty Connect Event

UC Davis Grand Challenges hosted a Sustainable Food Systems networking event on Jan. 16 to help faculty, staff, and researchers from across campus meet and discuss innovative ideas for positively impacting our world’s food systems.

More than two dozen people attended, including faculty, researchers, and staff from the university’s offices for Government Relations, Development & Alumni Relations, and Strategic Communications. The event kicked off with a networking round robin in which attendees shared responses to the prompt, “What is the most impactful/ambitious project relating to sustainable food systems that you’re currently working on or would like to be working on?” During the meeting, Grand Challenges facilitated discussions around future research directions, collaborations, and avenues for disseminating research and policy recommendations. Attendees had a chance to sign up for Strategic Communications’ Experts Lists and for opportunities to partner with the university’s government relations experts in Sacramento and Washington, DC.

Next generation food innovation

On Wednesday Jan. 17, UC Davis hosted Artificial Intelligence and Food Systems Data to Enhance Human and Planetary Health, a food systems event that focused on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science to enhance the nutrition and sustainability of foods. The full-day event was co-sponsored by the UC Davis AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH), and Periodic Table of Food Initiative.

Participants from the AI and Food Systems Data event, standing for a group photograph

Experts and leaders from across UC Davis, industry, and government attended the AI + Food Systems Data to Enhance Human and Planetary Health event on Jan. 17 (Photo credit: Phong Duong).

With 11 keynote speakers and over 60 registrants, discussions at the conference examined the use of AI and data science to improve how we employ technology for sustainable farming and to design new bioactive ingredients that unlock and enhance the nutritional potential of food. Food and agriculture technologies are advancing rapidly, and stakeholders in these industries are racing to identify scientifically sound, data-driven solutions to improve human and planetary health, according to Veronica Keys, Program Assistant for IIFH.

The diverse line-up of topics offered a close look at components of the research pipeline that are needed to integrate AI with food systems, from developing the data infrastructure to the direct links to farming, human health, and planetary wellness. “This event serves as a meeting ground for collaboration across disciplines, backgrounds, and geographies to drive forward innovative solutions that are both good for people and the planet,” said Keys. Transdisciplinary conversations like these are critical for safely developing new technologies that can have such profound impacts on the world. As home to one of the few National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes that bridge AI and food systems, UC Davis proudly hosts these talks as it works to responsibly evolve food systems technology for the betterment of humanity and our planet.

New meats (and proteins) on the block

The third food event in the week was the two-day launch of the Integrative Center for Alternative Meat & Protein (iCAMP), which spanned Wednesday Jan. 17 and Thursday Jan. 18 at the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science. As the world’s population approaches 10 billion people, demand for protein will skyrocket and overwhelm our current food systems. Current estimates suggest protein demand could double in the next 25 years, according to Kara Leong, iCAMP’s Executive Director. iCAMP’s mission is to meet this growing demand by creating new sources of protein, including fungal-based meats and cultured animal meats, that are healthy, flavorful, and sustainable.

Logo for iCAMP

The Integrative Center for Alternative Meat & Protein at UC Davis was launched on Jan. 17 and 18.

On Wednesday, iCAMP hosted 36 speakers, many of whom came from iCAMP’s partners at the USDA, UCLA, Culinary Institute of America, University of Maryland – Baltimore County, and Solano Community College. The speakers brought expertise ranging from food science to workforce development and discussed each element of the production pipeline for alternative meat and proteins. “We wanted to showcase the breadth of our research, the breadth of our programs, and how we’re working with industry,” said Leong.

Experts at the event agreed that the technology is ready to be moved from the small-scale production of research laboratory benches to the large-scale production needed for commercialization and public consumption, an expansion that Leong calls “from bench to scale.” Wednesday’s sessions ended with a panel discussion about the Sacramento region’s capacity for scaling up alternative protein production, which iCAMP hopes to facilitate by creating a network of local researchers, businesses, and investors in the food technology and alternative protein sector.

On Thursday, iCAMP held a Partners Retreat, attended by representatives from academia, industry, and economic development groups. The goal for the day was to discuss iCAMP’s plan for building a strong global and regional network of strategic partners and to receive constructive feedback from key stakeholders. Establishing partnerships, collaborations, and an interactive ecosystem are iCAMP’s highest priorities, according to Leong. “We are happy to speak to industry, non-profits, governmental organizations – with all who are interested in what we are doing and becoming involved with our new center of excellence,” said Leong.

Campus-wide commitment to sustainable food systems

The events of last week were an inspiring alignment of food systems research at UC Davis and across its network of partners, representing a full pipeline from ideation to implementation. Grand Challenges provides the broader ecosystem for facilitating partnerships and access to resources within food systems research; AI researchers in AIFS and IIFH develop novel ingredients to unlock a new generation of healthy, nutritious foods; and iCAMP accelerates the translation of alternative meat and protein from benchtop discoveries to large-scale commercialization. The unique set of food expertise at UC Davis – unified under a single vision for sustainability, health, and equity – fuels the university’s unparalleled strengths in agriculture and food science and promises a bright future for its positive impact on the world’s food systems.

Beth Rose Middleton Manning featured on “Face to Face” with Gary May

On November 28th, 2023, Grand Challenges Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning was November’s featured guest on “Face to Face,” a monthly conversation series with Chancellor Gary May.  They discussed Native environmental policy, the connection between scholarship and activism, and other topics relating to Professor Middleton Manning and her research. Professor Middleton Manning  highlighted the importance of honoring Indigenous and Native ways of knowing, and celebrated the work being done by Native activists both within the Native American Studies department and external to the UC. She also called for greater recognition of the history of our homeland and its link to contemporary tribal communities, leadership, and governance. Her research continues to inspire our work within the Reimagining the Land-grant challenge area.

Grand Challenges is proud to partner with Professor Middleton Manning as one of our Reimagining the Land-grant Champions. Read more about Professor Beth Rose Middleton Manning at

Grand Challenges Champion Wins Grant to Partner with California Indian Communities for Climate Adaptation

In an exciting new partnership, the University of California and the State of California are joining
forces to fund over $80 million in climate action research that will help communities in California
mitigate and adapt to climate change. The funded projects were announced on August 23rd and
involve more than 130 partners from across the state, including community organizations,
industry groups, and public agencies. Among the recipients of the grants was Grand Challenges
Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning with her project Planning Landscape Resilience for
California Indian Allotment Lands, which will receive approximately $1.6 million in funding.
In partnership with California Indian Legal Services, California Public Domain Allotees
Association, and UC Berkeley, Professor Middleton Manning is working alongside California
Indian communities to develop adaptation strategies for reducing climate and fire risk on
California Indian Public Domain Allotments. The core focus of the collaborative effort is to
engage with California Indian communities, merge climate- and fire-risk assessments with
Indigenous knowledge, and empower their communities with the tools to acquire funding that
supports place-based stewardship practices.

The project’s goal of collaborating with California Indian communities to achieve climate
adaptation aligns with two of the UC Davis grand challenges: reimagining the land-grant
university and the pursuit of climate solutions. We congratulate Professor Middleton Manning on
the award and look forward to the positive outcomes of the project.

Read more about Grand Challenges Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning at

Innovation at the Heart of Council on Competitiveness Launch Summit

If the United States is going to remain competitive in the global economy, the country needs more innovations from more people, faster — and UC Davis can be a guide in many areas, speakers said March 27 during the first day of a “launch summit” hosted on campus by the national Council on Competitiveness.

“Here on the campus of UC Davis we are seeing place-based innovation in action,” said Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit Council on Competitiveness.

The council’s National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers’ Phase 2 Launch Summit brought together university, research lab and workforce leaders for a two-day event that included presentations, panel discussions, breakout groups and tours of campus…

Read the Full Story Here
Portrait of Howard-Yana Shapiro and Alfred Chuang.

Howard-Yana Shapiro and Alfred Chuang to Co-Chair Advisory Board

We are excited to announce Alfred Chuang and Howard-Yana Shapiro have accepted roles as co-chairs of the UC Davis Grand Challenges External Advisory Board.

Chuang is the Founder and General Partner at Race Capital and sits on Chancellor May’s Board of Advisors. Recognized by Andreessen Horowitz as the “Silicon Valley CEO’s CEO,” Chuang has shown unmatched abilities to create and develop world-changing enterprises. As an accomplished entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he has displayed phenomenal skills in executing broad visions in highly competitive markets. As a Software Development Forum Visionary Award winner, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, UC Davis Outstanding Alumnus Award, and UC Davis Distinguished Engineering Alumni Medal, Chuang’s deep understanding of how education can help change the world and how entrepreneurship can advance solutions to the world’s wicked problems will add exceptional insight and remarkable acumen to our developing board.

Shapiro has built an extraordinary career in sustainable agriculture and agroforestry systems, plant breeding, molecular biology and genetics during the past 50 years. He helped lead Mars, Incorporated as Chief Agricultural Officer for two decades, applying ethical production principles at a global scale and fostering the “unprecedented and uncommon collaboration” necessary for a sustainable future. A former Fulbright Scholar, Ford Foundation Fellow, winner of the National Endowment for the Humanities Award, and recipient of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Award of Distinction and Chancellor’s Lifetime Achievement in Innovation award, the Senior Fellow in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department has dedicated much of his life to ending world hunger and malnutrition, founding both the African Orphan Crops Consortium and the African Plant Breeding Academy. Shapiro’s leadership will be invaluable as Grand Challenges engages the campus community and grows our partner networks to successfully tackle the world’s most pressing issues.

Welcome Alfred and Howard!

Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson Appointed New Director for the UC Davis Institute for Pandemic Intelligence

UC Davis Grand Challenges is pleased to announce Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson as the new Director of the Institute for Pandemic Intelligence (IPI). Dr. Johnson has been serving as a Champion for the Grand Challenge on Emerging Health Threats since inception in 2022. The Institute for Pandemic Intelligence was also founded as part of the UC Davis Grand Challenge for Emerging Health Threats in 2022.

“Dr. Johnson possesses unparalleled knowledge of how to mitigate pandemic threats,” said Dr. Jonna Mazet, Vice Provost of Grand Challenges. “She is the ideal person to lead the university’s work in building a collaborative, transdisciplinary network to prepare for impending threats to health.”

Harnessing the Power of UC Davis for Pandemic Prevention

Preparing for the next pandemic requires implementing innovative practices and technologies developed by UC Davis and our partners to identify, respond to, and mitigate epidemics with the goal of saving lives. Professor Johnson brings over 20 years of experience in education, research, policy, partnerships, and strengthening capacity for pandemic prevention and global health security.

At UC Davis, Dr. Johnson has been leading initiatives to investigate the root causes of emerging infectious diseases and identify novel solutions to mitigate and prevent pandemic threats. Her research activities focus on zoonotic disease spillover and spread dynamics, epidemiologic drivers of zoonotic disease transmission, ecosystem level processes that impact wildlife population health and emerging infectious diseases, and mechanisms underlying species declines. She provides epidemiologic support to national and state agencies during unusual outbreak events and has developed and implemented risk-based approaches for surveillance and standardized risk assessment to enable systematic data analysis across a range of field studies from the local to global scale.

Her accomplishments include the design of core didactic instruction in One Health, ecosystem health, and population health for graduate and professional degree programs and primary mentorship to over 45 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. From 2009-2020, Professor Johnson served as epidemiologist for USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, which aimed to optimize global surveillance activities to identify infectious disease threats at high-risk animal-human interfaces and worked with host country governments and international organizations to meet global health priorities. She also directed surveillance activities for PREDICT to implement concurrent animal and human sample and data collection needed to detect disease spillover, amplification, and spread and inform risk mitigation strategies.

Currently, Professor Johnson serves as Principal Investigator for the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence (NIH-NIAID Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Disease), which seeks to strengthen disease detection capabilities for high priority zoonoses and understand adaptation in spillover and transmission, providing epidemiologic insight to mitigate risk and prevent epidemics. This work, implemented with collaborating scientists in Peru and Uganda, is investigating the influence of environmental change, especially deforestation and climate, on ebolaviruses, coronaviruses, and arboviruses at the edge of forest and urban ecosystems. Professor Johnson also directs the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics, which is a team-based learning environment using data intensive approaches to inform solutions to complex problems spanning animal, human, and environmental health.

“Through the Institute for Pandemic Intelligence, we hope to harness the power of UC Davis and capture what triggers these emerging health threats with early detection and new technologies. We also are working to understand how these threats impact both humans and animals, and how we can inform community engagement and environmental stewardship,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson serves as Professor of Epidemiology and Ecosystem Health in the School of Veterinary Medicine, as Associate Director of the One Health Institute. She was elected into the National Academy of Medicine for pioneering approaches to surveillance of emerging diseases at the animal-human interface and investigating environmental drivers for spillover of viruses. She is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a distinguished U.S. Science Envoy for the Department of State.

More about Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson

• UC Davis News: Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson to serve as U.S. Science Envoy
• On CBS 60 Minutes: The Oct. 30 episode of 60 Minutes featured the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence work near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
• UC Davis News: The Link Between Virus Spillover, Wildlife Extinction and the Environment
• UC Davis News: Epidemiologist Elected to National Academy of Medicine

More about Grand Challenges

Addressing our planet’s most complex issues requires new perspectives and visionary action. Grand Challenges is catalyzing the campus community to go beyond team science to holistically tackle wicked problems. Built from a foundation of grassroots work and prioritized by leaders across UC Davis, Grand Challenges cultivates and champions work to understand and find innovative solutions to complex issues. The work done by our campus community will serve as a global model and enable our world to move forward with equity and resilience.

Media Contact

Adam Jensen, Grand Challenges Communications Manager, [email protected]

CEPI teams with UC Davis to identify viruses most likely to emerge

CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and University of California, Davis have announced a new partnership agreement to advance and expand the application of “SpillOver,” a viral ranking app that directly compares the risks posed by hundreds of animal and human viruses. The database ranks hundreds of virus, host, and environmental risk factors to identify viruses with the highest risk of zoonotic spillover from wildlife to humans and to highlight those most likely to spread and cause human outbreaks.

“Together we will use cutting-edge methods to dramatically increase the amount of virus data available for risk ranking. This is a critical step forward in streamlining vaccine pipelines with the power to revolutionize epidemic and pandemic preparedness.”

CEPI will provide up to US$1.76 million in funding to take the “SpillOver” app to the next level, identifying and expanding its database to include new risk factors for disease spillover, like viruses that infect domesticated animals and viruses harboured by reptiles and amphibians. Researchers at the UC Davis One Health Institute will also pioneer a new system, using artificial intelligence, which is capable of parsing multiple sources in search of these viral data, to enable automated updates.

UC Davis researchers developed the SpillOver platform, an open database, using data from 509,721 samples taken from 74,635 animals in 28 countries and public records as part of a virus discovery project. These data were then used to rank the spillover potential (ie, the risk of a virus jumping from animals to people) of 887 wildlife viruses.


Read the Full Story Here

Searching for the Next Deadly Virus, Before it Ignites Another Pandemic

Amazing work by the UC Davis One Health Institute to detect new viruses in global hotspots was recently featured on the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes.

Christine Kreuder Johnson, Co-Champion of the Grand Challenges Emerging Health Threats focus area, was among those interviewed about this critical effort. Click here to read more about Epi-Intelligence at the One Health Institute’s website.


From 60 Minutes: “An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda has alarmed scientists. While no cases have yet been discovered outside Africa, the U.S. has started screening all arrivals from Uganda. Ebola is among the deadliest of pathogens capable of jumping from wild animals to humans—just as COVID-19 likely did. It’s called spillover. Disease detectives warn the threat of spillover has never been higher as urban populations grow and come into contact with wild animals and their viruses. Since 2009, American scientists have discovered more than 900 new viruses. Now, the U.S. government is doubling down, sending virus hunters to global hotspots to find the next deadly virus before it finds us. We joined a team from the University of California Davis and their Ugandan partners in the rugged Impenetrable Forest on the search for Pathogen X.”

Grand Challenges Champions: Collaboration Key to Solving Daunting Issues

A passion for connecting people and tackling the world’s wicked problems unites the UC Davis Grand Challenges Champions.

Beth Rose Middleton Manning, Isabel Montañez, Christine Kreuder Johnson, and Justin Siegel spoke about their roles as challenge champions during a UC Davis Plugged In virtual event Sept. 28. Champions are people who have partnered with Grand Challenges to facilitate campus groups pursuing transdisciplinary activities on one of the initiative’s initial focus areas: Climate Solutions, Emerging Health Threats, Sustainable Food Systems, and Reimagining the Land-Grant University.

“I think the opportunity for transdisciplinary engagement, research, communication, teaching, and training has never been better, and that is incredibly exciting to me,” Emerging Health Threats Champion Christine Kreuder Johnson said.

Watch the Full Virtual Event Here

Sustainable Food Systems Champion Justin Siegel highlighted his desire to be involved with the initiative by recalling a conversation he had with Howard-Yana Shapiro, Senior Fellow in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department and Co-Chair of the Grand Challenges Board of Advisors. Shapiro noted that, while Siegel’s prior work on celiac disease was noble and important, the innovations impacted a relatively small percentage of the world population, inspiring Siegel to pursue additional world-changing work.

“Don’t you want to effect 50 or 100 percent of the world? Don’t you really want to do things that touch everybody’s lives,” Siegel recalled Shapiro saying. “And it just sat with me, and I was like, ‘The answer is, yes, I definitely do.’”

The scale of global problems can feel overwhelming at times, but the UC Davis campus community is making great contributions to solving these problems. The goal of the Grand Challenges initiative is to escalate our impacts by harnessing the power of the breadth and depth of expertise on our campus, along with our connected global networks, to make even more significant and immediate improvements in the lives of billions of people.

Climate Crisis Champion Isabel Montañez discussed not being daunted in the face of seemingly immense obstacles when it comes to global problems like climate change.

“It’s the innovative and purposeful research, such as what is being carried out here at UC Davis, that has a very high potential to turn around these impacts of climate change, and in our not-so-distant future,” Montañez said.

Reckoning with how UC Davis was founded, the heinous ramifications for Indigenous peoples, and creating a more just university will be a key component of Reimagining the Land-Grant University, said Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning, noting the importance of community when it comes to devising real solutions.

“We’re going beyond the land acknowledgment to build relationships, partnerships, collaborations, and projects that are mutually beneficial,” Middleton Manning said. “We’re further realizing the promise of democratizing education by investing in diversity and inclusion.”

How each of the initial focus areas overlap and influence one another was a frequent point of discussion during the virtual event. UC Davis’ unique potential to address such a broad range of intertwined issues was also highlighted.

“We’ve all been saying these are wicked, tricky questions and the problems are deeply interconnected, and there’s not a one-word answer to any of these,” Siegel said.

Vice Provost for Grand Challenges Jonna Mazet, who moderated the panel, discussed the importance of developing comprehensive solutions, as well as including people and disciplines who have not been previously represented.

“We are now intentionally and aggressively accelerating our work on some of the world’s most daunting challenges,” Mazet said. “And, importantly, expanding the role and visibility of voices in the social sciences and arts and other disciplines to help society connect with and implement effective solutions.”

And, all agreed, those solutions have never been more needed than right now.

“This is a defining moment in so many ways and Davis is incredibly well-placed to meet the moment,” Kreuder Johnson added.

Grand Challenges is growing and additional opportunities to be involved are happening soon. To get involved, please contact us at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter: @GC_UCDavis.