Rudi Balling is a pioneer of interdisciplinary research. His diverse studies blur boundaries: He covered nutritional science, reproduction, genetics and medicine. His experience enabled him to play an public role in the Covid-19 Task Force.
Lëtzebuerger Journal: Originally, I wanted to have a conversation about one of your fields of expertise – genetics. But since you are a member of the Covid-19 Task Force, it is hard to avoid the topic.
Prof. Rudi Balling: Those subjects are by no means mutually exclusive. The genetics of the virus is highly interesting. We observe, for example, how quite a few people get very ill, despite not having previous illnesses. What could be the reason for that? For some of them, it is their genetics that makes them susceptible. One of the burning questions today is, why corona patients often show a loss of smell as first symptom. Well, it's probably the olfactory nerves in the nose degenerating, which is a classic early symptom of Parkinson's disease. And that's where the areas start to intertwine: We have a research project in which we are asking whether, among other things, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are a kind of "diabetes of the brain", that is, that not the entire metabolism by the glucose-energy metabolism problems, but "only" the brain. So we could talk about all kinds of diseases and still end up talking about how they relate to Corona.
So, genetics is the root of the matter?
Yes, but it is only one of many players when it comes to Corona. Many areas intermingle on this matter: science, politics, social questions of responsibility, international politics and party politics… which inevitably leads us to talking about Trump and freedom of the press and freedom of research. It all intertwines. My role in the Covid-19 Task Force in "Work-Package 6: Projection" was to keep this overview, it was networking, saying "Here's where we need to go deeper, here's where we can contact Yale or London." But the main players in the team were Paul Wilmes, Alexander Skupin and many mathematicians and systems control engineers.
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