Because the ‘coastal folks’ dominate the gadgets, cell phones, newspapers, etc. it is easy to forget that sometimes what goes on in the middle of the country can change the world.
So what does Coralville, IA, population 18,000, have to do with the coronavirus? Everything! This rural, largely farming community is ground zero for a key part of the science of this virus
In 1987 Dr. Joseph Walder was a newly minted MD, PhD from Northwestern with a vision: to start a company specializing in making DNA/RNA, arguably the most complex molecules in nature. The company became IDT, Integrated DNA Technologies. I worked with them about 13 years ago when I was developing a piece of RNA as a drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis. The darn thing worked well but my own little Shakespearean drama prevented it from being developed…you can learn what happened when the records are unsealed in 50 years! 🙂
Joe is a solid, salt of the earth man, great scientist, a practicing Jew, who just likes to get things done!
Fast forward to early January, when the first listing of the 30,000 letters in this virus’s DNA were available. Joe’s company was among the first to make a probe, a tool, that is the key part of a testing kit. When the hair-on-fire CDC folks contacted him about helping to make a test kit for the CDC he had already finished the weeks long process of making the tools and so FedEx could get them to the CDC by 10 am the next day. His company continues to make the probes for about 100% of the test kits in the entire US!
So next time you are on your five hour flight from LA to NY, look out the window at hour three and smile down on Coralville, the world’s center of coronavirus testing kit components.
Here is an interview with Joe! A few years ago he sold this little business he started for about $2 billion and is now splitting his time between IDT and his charitable efforts. This interview below focuses on the latter efforts.