An international research team led by Georgetown University scientists has found that humans are more likely to return viruses to animals than previously thought.
In a study published on March 22nd Ecological leavesthe authors describe nearly a hundred different cases in which diseases have returned from humans to wildlife, similar to how SARS-CoV-2 is prevalent in mink farms, zoo lions, tigers, and wild white tails. deer.
“Understandably, in the light of the pandemic, there has been tremendous interest in the transmission of pathogens from humans to wildlife,” says Gregory Albery, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at Georgetown University and a senior fellow in the study. author. “In order to help with discussions and policies about the spread of our pathogens in the future, we’ve searched the literature to see how the process has manifested itself in the past.”
In their new study, Albery and colleagues found that nearly half of the incidents identified occurred in captivity, such as at a zoo, where veterinarians closely monitor animal health and are more likely to notice a virus bounce. In addition, more than half of the cases found have spread from humans to primates, which is not surprising because pathogens bounce more easily between close farmers and because wild populations of endangered apes are so closely monitored.
“This supports the idea that we are more likely to detect pathogens in places where we spend a lot of time and energy, and a disproportionate number of studies deal with charismatic animals in zoos or in the immediate vicinity of humans,” says Anna Fagre. DVM, Ph.D., MPH, virologist and veterinarian at Colorado State University, lead author of the study, and also published research on the risks of SARS-CoV-2 re-emergence through laboratory experiments with North American deer. (Peromyscus maniculatus). “It questions which inter-species transmission events we may be missing and what this may mean not only for public health but also for the health and conservation of infected species.”
The relapse of the disease has recently received significant attention due to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wild white-tailed deer in the United States and Canada. Some data suggest that deer have returned the virus to humans in at least one case, and many scientists have expressed widespread concern that the new animal reservoirs will give the virus an extra chance to develop new variants of the virus.
Albery and colleagues found good news in their new study: Scientists can use artificial intelligence to predict which species may threaten to infect the virus. When researchers compared species infected with SARS-CoV-2 with predictions from other researchers at the time of the epidemic, they found that scientists were more likely to be able to guess correctly.
“It’s reassuring to see that sequencing the genomes of animals and understanding their immune system has paid off,” says Colin Carlson, Ph.D., a research assistant and author of the Global Center for Health Sciences and Safety at Georgetown University Health Center. in the study. “The pandemic has given scientists a chance to try out some predictive tools, and it turns out we’re better prepared than we thought.”
The new study is part of a project called the Viral Emergence Research Initiative or Verena, funded by the National Science Foundation. The Verena team uses data science and machine learning to study the “science of the host virus network,” a new field designed to predict which viruses can infect humans, which animals can farm, and where, when, and why they appear. These insights can be critical if scientists want to understand how and why humans share their diseases with animals.
The authors concluded that ring-fencing is predictable, but the biggest problem is how little we know about diseases in wildlife. “We prefer to watch SARS-CoV-2 than any other virus on Earth, so if it backflows, we can catch it. It’s still a lot harder to credibly assess the risk in cases where we can’t work with it.” Says Carlson As a result, it is difficult to assess the serious risk to human health or the protection of wildlife from relapse, especially for pathogens other than SARS-CoV-2.
“Long-term monitoring will help identify baselines for wildlife health and disease, providing an important basis for future studies,” says Fagre. “If we look closely, we can detect these species-to-species transmission events much faster and act accordingly.”
Other authors of the study included Lily E. Cohen at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Evan A. Eskew, Pacific Lutheran University; Max Farrell, University of Toronto; Emma Glennon, University of Cambridge; Maxwell B. Joseph, University of Colorado Boulder; Hannah K. Frank, Tulane University; and Sadie J. Ryan, University of Florida and KwaZulu-Natal University.
The authors are part of a Verena consortium founded by Carlson and Albery. The authors report that they have no personal financial interest in the study. Verena is supported by the United States National Science Foundation (BII 2021909).