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Evolution and ecology of zoonotic wildlife pathogens.

In this network we bring together scientists studying various aspects of the evolution and ecology of viruses occurring in (African) wildlife. Among these wildlife-viruses are zoonoses: infections that naturally circulate in non-human animals and occasionally infect humans. Some of these zoonotic infections do not efficiently transmit among people, so that their appearance and that of their associated disease in humans relies mostly on the presence and repeated contact between the natural animal hosts and people and the human pathological response. These types of infections are typically studied by ecologists, immunologists and pathologists. Other zoonotic infections may not reach humans very often, when for example they naturally occur in more elusive animals. In most instances these zoonotic infections reach a dead end in humans, but some may spread efficiently among people as soon as they emerge in humans, such as the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Such pathogens are either already by chance 'pre-adapted' to the human host, or can quickly evolve the necessary properties to efficiently infect and spread among humans. Epidemiologists and evolutionary biologists then typically study these latter types of infections.To prepare public health actions to rapidly respond to each of these different types of zoonotic viruses, a better understanding of how these viruses behave in natural settings before reaching humans is required. The key to this understanding lies in the patterns of their evolutionary histories, natural transmission ecology and the variation in response elicited by various hosts. Furthermore, many infections cannot be strictly categorized in either of the two types mentioned above, but reach and cause disease in humans as the result of a complex interplay between natural-host ecology, pathogen adaptive evolution, epidemiology, and the immunological and pathological response in humans. Research on those kinds of infections could thus strongly benefit from a synergy between different disciplines: animal fieldwork, molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics, ecological and epidemiological modeling, computational phylogenetics and immunology.Flanders contains world-class research groups studying these aspects of zoonotic and other wildlife viruses, and we wish to ensure the continuation of this knowledge capacity and further build to expand it. To achieve this, we need to exchange research ideas, expertise-specific scientific insights, animal samples, and skill- and toolsets for field, laboratory and analytical work; and we need to train our early-career researchers with the necessary sets of state-of-the art skills. We aim to formalize a Scientific Research Network on the ecology and evolution of wildlife and zoonotic viruses between research groups with complimentary expertise but overlapping research interests. The objective of this network is to stimulate interaction between complementary Flemish research groups and mutually benefit from existing international networks. The ultimate goal is to maintain and further increase the quality of the research in Flanders and develop partnerships for joint interdisciplinary projects and generally stimulate network-building for early-career researchers in infectious disease ecology and evolution.We will realise this networking through the organization of annual summer workshops. These advanced-level workshops will primarily be targeted at early-career postdoc researchers from the partner groups, offering exposure to different research angles to understand similar ultimate questions in zoonotic infection evolutionary ecology. Further inspiration will be provided by senior network partners and additional invited top international scientists. The workshops will also offer hands-on opportunities to learn different skills and toolsets. These can then be further elaborated through exchange visits to the international partners for training in state-of-the-art analysis techniques.
Date:1 Jan 2021 →  Today
Disciplines:Community ecology, Evolutionary biology not elsewhere classified, Epidemiology
Project type:Collaboration project