Investigating zoonotic viruses in illegally imported wildlife products (bushmeat)
Nearly 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans are of zoonotic origin, the majority of which originate in wildlife. Therefore infectious diseases acquired from contact with wildlife, such as occurs via the wildlife trade, are increasingly of concern to global public health. The United States is the world’s largest importer of wildlife and wildlife products, yet minimal pathogen surveillance has precluded assessment of the health risks posed by this practice. Given that the most products enter the US through major airports such as JFK, we are looking for zoonotic viruses in wild animal products illegally imported into US in an effort to prevent the transmission of infectious agents.
Nearly 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans are of zoonotic origin, the majority of which originate in wildlife. PREDICT, a project of USAID's Emerging Pandemic Threats Program, is a global initiative that seeks to discover viruses in wildlife from more than 20 countries around the world before they emerge in the human population. Working with partners from UC Davis, EcoHealth Alliance, Metabiota, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian Institute, PREDICT is developing an early warning system for pandemic preparedness and prevention by gaining of knowledge of what viruses exist in wildlife, and by building One Health capacity around the world.
Conservation of the Endangered Thick-Billed Parrot
Thick-billed parrots (TBP) are an endangered species of high conservation concern. Both captive and wild populations have suffered significant population declines in recent times, and while the exact causes and processes of decline are still unclear (particularly in wild populations), habitat loss, nutrition and disease are all believed to be significant drivers. In this study we focus on conservation health, with two main objectives. First, we are investigating the extent to which disease-causing agents affect both wild and captive populations. These investigations of morbidity and mortality include attempts to identify candidate aetiologies and any associated efforts to demonstrate causation. Second, we are actively characterizing the normative microbial community, again in both wild and captive populations. This includes the identification of known agents, the discovery of novel agents, and the comparison of microbial diversity between wild and captive populations. Together, the knowledge gained from these studies will allow us to better evaluate the health of wild TBPs over time, facilitate conservation programs aimed at bolstering or relocating populations, and improve the care and management of captive individuals.
Viral and Pathogen Discovery in Marine Mammals
The viral diversity of marine mammals remains largely unexplored, despite the continued emergence of new viruses into cetacean (dolphins) or pinniped (seals) populations, and the significant mortality that sometimes follows. A recent example includes the emergence of avian influenza H3N8, which emerged in the New England seal population in 2012 from wild birds. One goal of this project is therefore to identify infectious agents associated with mortality events in marine mammal populations. The second goal of this work is to explore viral diversity in marine mammals and investigate the ecological and evolutionary link between viruses of marine and terrestrial species. Such work is beginning to show that many viruses of terrestrial mammals may have origins in the marine ecosystem, and given the clear opportunities that exist for viruses to move between land and sea, may represent an important source of emerging viruses.