In a collaborative paper, Cody Thompson, UMMZ Mammal Collection Manager and Assistant Research Scientists, alongside other scientists, explore how the study of biodiversity can help scientists better understand how and when pandemics occur. 

The article, Integrating Biodiversity Infrastructure into Pathogen Discovery and Mitigation of Emerging Infectious Diseases, is available to read in BioScience Volume 70, Issue 7.

The paper has been featured on other publications, including The Conversation and The Houston Chronicle.

Publication extract

The global human suffering, economic damage, and social disruption we are currently experiencing from the COVID-19 pandemic stem from inadequate preparedness and ineffective response to emerging pathogens. At its core, the COVID-19 pandemic is a consequence of our fundamental ignorance of our planet's natural ecosystems and the effects of our encroachment on them. Our reactive approaches to the emergence of zoonotic pathogens, which are responsible for approximately 75% of all new emerging infectious disease outbreaks, are too often based on limited knowledge of the origin, pathogenicity, and basic biology of the wild host and pathogen coupled with poor communication among relevant stakeholders. Others have pointed to this ignorance of viral diversity and offered solutions (Andersen et al. 2020), but a broad, fully integrative discussion of how to leverage existing infrastructure and to build new resources has been missing. In the present article, we call for the development of alternative tactics that are aimed at proactively meeting the daunting challenges to humanity posed by emerging zoonotic pathogens.

The potential role of natural history specimens in pathogen discovery and mitigation is recognized in the museum world (DiEuliis et al. 2016, Dunnum et al. 2017) and by at least some disease ecologists (e.g., Mills and Childs 1998). However, relatively few in the One Health community (e.g., Kelly et al. 2020) embrace the value of leveraging existing biodiversity infrastructure (i.e., natural history collections, biorepositories, and their associated expertise and informatics resources) to more fully understand zoonotic pathogen emergence and reemergence. This concept is not new; in the early 1900 s, the American Museum of Natural History created the Department of Public Health (Brown 2014). Although a lack of funding put an early end to the initiative, the Department of Public Health made extensive progress, from clever exhibitions for the public to assembling a living collection of bacterial cultures (Brown 2014). Renewed efforts to align pathobiology with biodiversity discovery initiatives are critical. Moreover, linking both biodiversity infrastructure and building capacity closer to zoonotic pathogen surveys in biodiverse countries would substantially improve proactive responses to pandemics before they once again wreak havoc across the globe.

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