Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Building a Global Atlas of Zoonotic Viruses

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Building a Global Atlas of Zoonotic Viruses

Article excerpt

At the Prince Mahidol Awards Conference on 30 January 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand, policy- and decision-makers, experts, researchers, donors and private sector representatives from across the globe came together to introduce and explore the dynamics of the Global Virome Project. The project is an innovative 10-year proposed partnership to develop a global atlas of most of the planet's naturally occurring potentially zoonotic viruses. The project aims to transform the study of emerging diseases by building an unprecedented database of viruses in their ecological contexts. This foundation of information on viral sequences, geographic ranges and host distributions will be used to drive the development of prevention efforts against future threats. This international alliance will connect the next generation of scientists, build capacity at hotspots of viral emergence and promote equitable access to data and strategies to prevent epidemics.

Despite the human and economic impact of viral epidemics, the world is not well enough prepared for the next emerging viral outbreak. Global trends indicate that new microbial threats will continue to emerge at an accelerating rate, driven by our growing population, expanded travel and trade networks, and human encroachment into wildlife habitat. (1) Most emerging viruses are zoonotic, that is, transferred between vertebrates and humans. (2) Nearly all zoonoses originate in mammalian or avian hosts; (3-5) for example, type 1 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) originated in chimpanzees and Ebola virus in bats. (6) Estimations show that there are more than 1.6 million mammalian and waterfowl viruses, spanning 25 viral families known to cause human infections. (4) Compared to just over 260 viruses known in humans, (7) the unknown viruses represent 99.9% of potential zoonoses. These viruses usually remain undetected until they cause disease in humans.

Discovering and characterizing viruses in wildlife reservoirs is economically and technologically challenging. However, recent initiatives, including the PREDICT project of the United States Agency for International Development's Emerging Pandemic Threats programme, have shown that systematic viral discovery, even in countries with limited laboratory infrastructure, is feasible. (8,9) Previous studies have identified mammalian species, (10) geographic regions (11) and zoonotic viral transmission pathways (12,13) with increased risk of zoonotic disease emergence. These data enable targeting of viral discovery in wildlife to expand our knowledge of likely zoonotic agents with a high potential for spillover to people. The PREDICT project has already discovered over 1000 viruses, including novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-like coronaviruses that can infect human cells. (14)

The Global Virome Project seeks to significantly expand the scale of targeted viral discovery over a decade-long sampling and laboratory testing period. (4) An international consortium of leading disease ecologists, public health practitioners, veterinarians, epidemiologists, biologists and laboratory scientists designed the project. (4) The project's working groups of ecologists, epidemiological modellers and field biologists will select sampling sites and species that harbour the greatest number of unknown zoonoses, (7) and researchers will systematically collect and characterize viruses and their associated metadata in these areas. Protocols for the project's implementation, including training, sampling, specimen handling, laboratory testing, reporting and data management are being developed by the PREDICT project, which has been operating for eight years in over 35 countries. (8,9) The Global Virome Project will operate as a federation of national and regional projects led by in-country researchers, who are in turn connected to a global hub that provides standardized protocols and monitors progress.

The Global Virome Project seeks to identify the majority of unknown viral diversity, catalogue the ecological conditions at sampling sites, and collect metadata that can be used to analyse the risk of viral spillover into humans. …

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