Meet the Indie-Rock Ebola Warrior

Pardis Sabeti is a singer-songwriter out to save the world from infectious disease

Pardis Sabeti, center, with Bob Katsiaficas and Matt Hayden. Credit: Sarahmica Photography

There are many reasons albums get delayed, but Thousand Days' fourth LP may be the first record that's ever been held up by the outbreak of an infectious disease. Fronted by Pardis Sabeti, a 39-year-old evolutionary geneticist and Harvard professor, the indie band – a fixture on the Boston music scene for more than a decade – completed Turkana Boy last year. Then Ebola broke out in West Africa.

As one of America's foremost experts on infectious diseases, Sabeti put off releasing the album and went to work on the virus, using a method she had discovered during her first year at Harvard Medical School that allows her to mathematically track how and when a species mutates.

In the case of Ebola, which mutates rapidly, Sabeti's method allows doctors to not only diagnose the virus more quickly, but also provides hope for a cure. "If you're going to develop diagnostics and therapy, you need to actually know what you're developing it for," says Sabeti, who was born in Iran (her song "Neda" protests violence in her native country).

Sabeti recently wrote a song to honor three members of her team who have died fighting Ebola, and recorded it with colleagues from Nigeria and Senegal who came to the U.S. to learn her methods. "Generally, I'm not writing about genomes or anything like that," says Sabeti, who assures us Turkana Boy will be out in January. "But people underestimate the creativity you use in science and the rigor you need in music. They basically have the same path."