West Nile virus, Lyme disease and hantavirus are all infectious diseases spreading in animals and in people. Is human interaction with the environment somehow responsible for the increase in incidence of these diseases?
A joint National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program is providing answers.
It supports efforts to understand the underlying ecological and biological mechanisms behind human-induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases.
NSF and NIH--in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the United Kingdom's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)--recently awarded $20.7 million in 11 new EEID grants.
"Threats to human health, food security and ecosystem services are growing, in part due to increases in the spread of diseases," says Sam Scheiner, NSF EEID program director. "These research projects will provide a new understanding of the causes of that spread and help us control these growing and myriad threats."
At NSF, the EEID program is supported by the Directorates for Biological Sciences and Geosciences.
"The interdisciplinary collaborations fostered by the EEID program promote a deeper understanding of how infectious diseases emerge and spread," says Irene Eckstrand of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
"This knowledge is enormously helpful in developing effective strategies for suppressing the transmission of infectious agents in animal populations and reducing the burden of disease in humans."
Projects funded through the EEID program allow scientists to study how large-scale environmental events--such as habitat destruction, invasions of non-native species and pollution--alter the risks of emergence of viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases in humans and animals.
"With the growing global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, we face many challenges related to food security and health," says Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive.
"Infectious diseases have a major effect on these issues, threatening the health of humans and livestock. These new EEID projects offer international expertise to help us find solutions to this threat."
Researchers supported by the EEID program are advancing basic theory related to infectious diseases and applying that knowledge to improve our understanding of how pathogens spread through populations at a time of increasing environmental change.
The benefits of research on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases include development of theories of how diseases are transmitted, improved understanding of unintended health effects of development projects, increased capacity to forecast disease outbreaks, and knowledge of how infectious diseases emerge and reemerge.
"Animal and plant diseases cause significant losses in food production around the globe, with some pathogens also causing food-borne illnesses in humans," says Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
"Agriculturally-relevant research supported by the EEID program is helping us understand how best to prevent, predict and respond to both native and non-native diseases that threaten U.S. food security."
This year's award recipients will conduct research on such topics as: the spillover dynamics of avian influenza in endemic countries; the effects of a changing ocean on the management and ecology of infectious marine disease; and how mutualistic interactions among tick-borne pathogens drive the emergence of human babesiosis in the northeastern United States.
In the urban slums of Brazil, other grantees will study the influence on human health of leptospirosis--a common disease transmitted to people from animals. Still other grantees will study the ecological drivers of infectious disease evolution in an emerging avian pathogen, while others will link models and policy using adaptive management for optimal control of disease outbreaks.
EEID 2012 awardees, their institutions and projects are:
Peter Daszak, Ecohealth Alliance, Inc.
Comparative Spillover Dynamics of Avian Influenza in Endemic Countries
Eileen Hoffman, Old Dominion University Research Foundation:
Development of a Theoretical Basis for Modeling Disease Processes in Marine Invertebrates
Douglas Call, Washington State University:
US-UK Collab: Ecological and Socio-Economic Factors Impacting Maintenance and Dissemination of Antibiotic Resistance in the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem
Peter Hudson, Pennsylvania State University, University Park:
EID: Collaborative Research: Invasion and Infection: Translocation and Transmission: An Experimental Study with Mycoplasma in Desert Tortoises
Donna Rizzo, University of Vermont & State Agricultural College:
Modeling Disease Transmission Using Spatial Mapping of Vector-Parasite Genetics and Vector Feeding Patterns
C. Drew Harvell, Cornell University:
RCN: Evaluating the Impacts of a Changing Ocean on Management and Ecology of Infectious Marine Disease
Andrew Read, Pennsylvania State University, University Park:
US-UK Collab: Vaccines as Drivers of Disease Emergence: Transmission Ecology and Virulence Evolution in Marek's Disease
Dana Hawley, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University:
Ecological Drivers of Virulence Evolution in an Emerging Avian Pathogen
Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale University:
Babesiosis Emergence in the United States
Matthew Ferrari, Pennsylvania State University, University Park:
US-UK Collab: Linking Models and Policy: Using Active Adaptive Management for Optimal Control of Disease Outbreaks
Albert Ko, Yale University:
Ecoepidemiology of Leptospirosis in the Urban Slums of Brazil
Kerry-Ann Naish, University of Washington:
Ecological Drivers of Transmission, Emergence, and Displacement of an Aquatic Virus in Fish Hosts