Blog series #11: International cooperation in the time of pandemic

Dr. Scarlett Sett is a postdoc at DMSZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH and works in the area of science policy. In the eleventh part of our blog interview series, she gives us insight into her work at the interface between science and policy and what can be aligned there to deal with the pandemic.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Scarlett Sett
DSMZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH, Braunschweig
Microbial Ecology and Diversity Research group
(Science policy group)
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Who owns pathogens during pandemics

Main featured instrument or technique:
Science diplomacy

Trying to build bridges between science and policy to encourage cohesive solutions for global issues.”

Dr. Scarlett Sett, what was your personal motivation for joining the science policy unit of a Leibniz institute?

Honestly, I think it was a mix of serendipitous events that landed me in this group. I was looking for an opportunity where I could be challenged professionally. But, I felt I also needed to find a job that gave my work a sense of meaningfulness. The work we do at the science policy team gives me both.

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

I have been working with the practical implications of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) obligations and the Nagoya Protocol on academic research. Over the past few years, my role has been to enhance awareness among scientists about potential obligations they might have with countries if they use their biological material (i.e. non human material containing DNA/RNA, including human pathogens).

What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you?

The main results confirmed our suspicion, namely, that pathogens do not fit into the traditional role of a resource that can be negotiated bilaterally between two countries. The nature of pathogens and the speed and scale at which they spread makes it very difficult to pinpoint an exact origin. Based on our data, we showed that during a global pandemic, like the current one, rapid exchange of information and material is critical for the development of counteractive measures to fight the spread of the disease.

With this knowledge, can you speculate what conditions need to be established to facilitate global collaboration in the future?

I think in general, as researchers, it is in our nature to work collaboratively. But as a foreigner, I also know the reality in other countries. I think our efforts should go simultaneously into training and infrastructure development to make sure we have spread infrastructures and trained personnel ready to react when this happens again. Otherwise, unfortunately, we end up with highly trained researchers in countries without infrastructures or highly advanced infrastructures without trained researchers to properly used them.

How has COVID affected your life?

I signed my contract only one month after going into full lock-down and thus started my position already on a hybrid home-office arrangement. The position was in another city to where I lived so I personally enjoyed the opportunity to reduce traveling and be at home with my partner and dog. I was no stranger to home-office, so I applied the same strategy of strictly defining work and free time hours. We have a time logging system at the Institute and this enables to easily define when you work and when you stop.

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What circumstances made this possible?

My direct work with COVID was by accident. Our proposal had envisioned to develop a report describing the potential implications of ABS on the exchange of pathogens during epidemics/pandemics. Luckily, the COVID pandemic was a “real life” case study which showed us how we benefited from having unrestricted access to pathogens to quickly develop countermeasures.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

Global collaboration is key to address global challenges.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

No alarm to wake up to. Brunch on the balcony. A long walk in nature with the dog. Nap in the afternoon. Pizza and a movie for dinner.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Scarlett Sett for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Scarlett Sett and her work:

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