David L. Ryan—Boston Globe/Getty Images
April 15, 2015 11:50 AM EDT

When the Ebola epidemic began in West Africa, Dr. Pardis Sabeti led a team that did something critically important: it sequenced virus samples from infected patients almost as soon as the outbreak began. This marked the first in-depth use of real-time DNA sequencing in the midst of such a deadly pandemic. Pardis and her team were able to work out clearly that the virus was spreading human to human—not from mosquito bites or some pig vector or something else. There were so many theories out there, but her work proves that there’s nothing like real data to get rid of myths and guesses and get down to the facts. Many of her scientific collaborators died during this outbreak. This is high-risk research, but it ended up saving a lot of lives too. There is no excuse not to do this kind of work with every outbreak that ever occurs in the future.

Venter, a biologist, was one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome

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