Scientists are looking at bats to try to “predict the next pandemic.”
Researchers from all over the world are working together to figure out what makes infectious diseases spread from animals to people so they can figure out where and when the next pandemic might start.
A study done in 2021 found that 60% to 70% of infectious diseases that people get now come from wild animals. Some researchers think that the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by the “zoonotic spillover” of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from bats to people.
Since the pandemic started, scientists have worked harder to figure out how viruses from wild animals spread to people.
Some experts think that zoonotic spillover could be caused by the stress that comes from humans messing with wildlife habitats. For example, a study published in the journal Nature in 2022 found that habitat loss and climate change make spillover more likely.
Seventy scientists from seven different countries are working together to figure out how and when bats spread viruses to people. This could help them predict when and where the next virus that could kill people will spread. Raina Plowright, a disease ecologist and co-author of both the Nature study and a follow-up study published in Ecology Letters, started a project called BatOneHealth with the goal of doing a number of important studies to learn more about how viruses can spread from bats to people.
These efforts include working with bats in hotspots around the world, learning about their immune systems and how they behave, finding viruses that affect humans, and making models of how viruses change over time. To stop the spread of zoonotic diseases, they are also looking into ways to fix up habitats.
Most of the research is done on viruses that are spread by bats, such as coronaviruses, Nipah, and Hendra.
According to a report from the outlet, the research was done at Montana State University, Cary Institute, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Rocky Mountain Lab, Texas Tech, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, and Colorado State.
Agnieszka Rynda-Apple, an immunologist at Montana State University and member of the BatOneHealth team, wants to speed up the research being done in her lab this winter by starting a breeding colony of Jamaican fruit bats. One of the team’s goals is to find out how nutritional stress affects a bat’s viral load, which is the amount of virus it has in its body.
The bat breeding colony will help Rynda-Apple and her team do more tests like the ones they are already doing.
The global BatOneHealth team hopes that, in the end, their research will help make plans to protect people, animals, and ecosystems from new infectious diseases that are caused by zoonotic infections.