Alma Laney joins BFI Board

Biofortified Board note: We are pleased to welcome Alma Laney to the BFI Board! Thanks to Alma for sharing this introduction and we look forward to working with you!

Hi! I’m Alma Laney. You may know me as The Mad Virologist. I’m thrilled to join the Biology Fortified team and to continue teaching others about science. As the newest board member, I’m excited to tell you about my background in research and outreach. Some of you may already be familiar with my work. I’m passionate about teaching science and I’ll bring that same passion to Biology Fortified.

My research background

Mad Virologist Alma Laney BFI
Collecting winter wheat samples in the spring of 2016. Image by Alma Laney.

My background includes microbiology, plant pathology, plant science, molecular biology, entomology and virology. By training I am a plant virologist specializing in viruses transmitted by arthropod vectors (also known as arboviruses).

I’ve worked with many different viruses, including rose rosette virus, soybean mosaic virus, fig badnavirus-1, and several species of barley yellow dwarf virus. Since I haven’t worked with a single system, my research has focused on using applied and basic biology techniques to address viruses of ornamentals and crops to identify new viruses and develop control methods.

My current project focuses on the interactions between two species of barley yellow dwarf virus, PAS and PAV, and the cereal aphid vector, Rhopalosiphum padi also known as the bird cherry-oat aphid. Part of the research project is to biologically characterize the unique variants of PAS and PAV that my lab found in Kansas. We will also begin functionally characterizing the different viral genes using infectious clones that I am developing.

My work is funded by a USDA NIFA Education and Workforce Development Program Postdoctoral Fellowship grant. I wrote this grant with my advisor, and it was awarded. Our work began in Kansas, but the lab moved to North Carolina and our work has continued there.

Why I started “The Mad Virologist”

I started The Mad Virologist Facebook page on June 19th, 2015 due to attitudes I saw online towards scientists and science in general. Shortly before I started my page, tragedy struck my field. The West African Ebola outbreak claimed the lives of many people, including health care professionals and virologists. One of those who died was Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan. He was a world expert on viral hemorrhagic fevers, especially Lassa fever. Yet he still contracted Ebola and passed away from it.

Around this time, the March Against Monsanto movement was gaining strength. Scientists were regularly accused of not caring about people and being paid by big business. As several scientists had just given all to help others, this didn’t sit well with me. I started my page, and later my blog, to discuss how this idea that scientists don’t care about others doesn’t make sense, given how much scientists sacrifice to help others. I wanted to use my page to educate the public. I also wanted to show why attacks on scientists are not fair or reflective of how scientists actually are.

Scicomm isn’t easy, but it’s worth it

When I started my page, I didn’t understand why there aren’t more scientists doing outreach. I quickly found out that there is a cost to being outspoken on social media. I run the page in my spare time when I’m not working or spending time with my family. It’s hard work to develop new content, such as blog posts or infographics, and to keep finding relevant news to share. Often, I have to spend extra time on my career rather than on my outreach.

I have had people go out of their way to attack me, threaten me with legal action, and try to get me in trouble at work. But it hasn’t been all bad. I’ve made many friends, including several that I am very close to. I’ve been able to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Despite all of the issues I’ve had, I don’t regret sharing science on social media. I’m passionate about teaching others science, and social media allows me to share science with people all over the world.

Working with Biology Fortified

So how will I help Biology Fortified as a board member? I’ve followed Biology Fortified since I was in grad school, roughly 10 years. In that time, it has become a valued resource for many. There are a wealth of blog posts and infographics to teach people about biotechnology, pesticides, regulations, and many other issues in food and agriculture. Recently in 2017, I collaborated with Biology Fortified and Dr. Layla Katiraee in developing an infographic with an accompanying blog post to explain how transgenic virus-derived resistance works in plants.

As a board member, I will continue to add to the wealth of knowledge on this website. I’ll start by introducing several blog posts that I have been working on. I won’t give away what those posts are, but be on the lookout for them. I’m excited to be part of the team at Biology Fortified! I look forward to helping the organization continue to fulfill its mission in the years to come.

The sun rises on another great day at Biology Fortified!
Alma Laney

Written by Alma Laney

Alma Laney specializes in plant viruses that are transmitted by arthropods (also known as arboviruses) that infect various plants including roses, figs, soybeans, and wheat. He has a MS in plant pathology and a PhD in plant science from the University of Arkansas. Alma blogs as The Mad Virologist, teaching people about virology, plant pathology and plant science.

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