Koci Helps Keep COVID-19 Facts Straight With Snopes

CDC model of COVID-19

For information about NC State’s response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, visit the university’s Coronavirus Response page.

Updated April 20, 2020: Dr. Koci has contributed to two Snopes articles. The second one, addressing a particular conspiracy theory, was published April 1. You can follow him on Twitter at @kocilab.

COVID-19, a novel coronavirus recently declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been in the news constantly for weeks. Along with updates from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S., there’s a huge amount of information being shared via social media.

Some of that information isn’t accurate. One outlet, Snopes.com, a site focused on fact-checking internet sources, recently posted a story in response to a widely-shared social media post about COVID-19.

Matt Koci, a professor in the Prestage Department of Poultry Science with expertise in virology and pathogens, weighed in.

Check out the Snopes article, then read more about Koci’s research and his interest in communicating science outside the lab and university.

What is your current research focus?

The main focus of my research is host-pathogen interactions. Historically (it) has focused on different viruses and understanding how changes in different host genes affect the host’s ability to resist infection, as well as the other side of the equation, how viral genes affect pathogenesis.

That morphed into microbiome work several years ago, as we are interested in figuring out how and why do some bacteria (pathogens) trigger aggressive immune responses, but the good bacteria don’t. How does the system know who’s who?

Was there something that kicked off science communication for you?

So my path to sci comm started years ago when I got involved with the Kenan Fellows program, working with K-12 teachers to develop H5N1 pandemic flu materials for schools. It was a lot of fun to work with creative, professionally trained educators to see how they took different parts of complex concepts and pitched them to different age groups and audiences.

That lead to me developing some of my own K-12 science outreach. That outreach work led to me getting involved with the ASBMB Science Outreach and Communication committee.

Is participating in science communication beyond publishing and presenting important to you? Do you see it as a necessary part of science?

Yes, communicating science outside the scientific community is important. I believe in the land-grant mission. That’s what makes NC State and our sister land-grant schools unique in the world. We recognize that science, no matter how basic, is done with a purpose — to make people’s lives better.

Some research has a short ROI (return on investment), some has a long ROI — maybe so long we don’t even know how it will pay off. Given the fact that most of my research is supported by federal grants, so tax dollars, people deserve to know what they’re paying for. Also, it’s important to get the next generation of scientists excited about all the mysteries in the universe we still need to solve.

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