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Press Release 10-187
Ecology of Infectious Disease Grants Awarded by NSF, NIH

Scientists to research connections between infectious diseases and land use, global warming and other environmental changes

Photo of cattle and a herder in Chad, Central Africa.

EID scientists study livestock movements and disease transmission in Chad, Central Africa.
Credit and Larger Version

October 13, 2010

To better understand the ecological mechanisms that govern relationships between human-induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded 10 grants through the Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) program. It is the 11th year of funding in the joint NSF-NIH program.

Interdisciplinary projects funded through the EID program will study how large-scale environmental events--such as habitat destruction and global warming--alter the risks of viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases in humans and animals.

"Understanding disease transmission is critical for reducing disease incidence, and for predicting the effects of environmental changes such as global warming," says Sam Scheiner, EID program director at NSF, which funds the grants through its Directorate for Biological Sciences and Directorate for Geosciences. "We need to get a handle on why--and how."

This year's EID awards explore a range of problems (global transportation of goods and people, human agricultural practices), ecosystems (agricultural fields, oceans), disease-causing organisms (dengue fever, monkeypox, brucellosis), and hosts (humans, other animals and plants).

"This broad approach to disease ecology," says Scheiner, "will provide the understanding necessary to deal with future threats."

The benefits of EID research include development of disease transmission theory; understanding of unintended health effects of development projects; increased capacity to forecast disease outbreaks; and insights into how infectious diseases emerge and re-emerge.

"The need for this research is greater than ever today, because of climate change and other environmental and economic trends," says Josh Rosenthal, EID program director at NIH, "coupled with society's greater global mobility.

"Planes, trains, ships, animals and people criss-cross the globe. And with them both old and new diseases are being ferried," Rosenthal adds. "New approaches to understanding disease dynamics are critical to enable us to keep pace and control both emerging and remerging infections."

NSF-NIH Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) Awards

Title: Effects of land-use, predation and management on wildlife contact and Brucella transmission in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
PI (Principal Investigator): Scott Creel, Montana State University
Summary: Brucellosis, a bacterial infection of elk, bison and cattle in Yellowstone, has caused concern among wildlife managers after several recent outbreaks. Researchers will use field experiments and mathematical models to better understand the influence of wildlife and livestock population densities, land-use, habitat, hunting, and predation on disease transmission.

Title: EcoHealthNet: Ecology, Environmental Science and Health Research Network
PI: Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance
Summary: By bringing together disease ecologists and the medical community for a program of workshops and student exchange projects, EcoHealthNet will address a communication gap among professionals concerned with pathogens shared among humans and animals (such as West Nile Virus and SARS).

Title: Livestock Movements and Disease Epidemiology in the Chad Basin, Central Africa: Modeling Risks for Animals and Humans
PI: Rebecca Garabed, Ohio State University
Summary: This research applies a novel approach to study transmission of Foot and Mouth Disease Virus (FMDV), a globally-significant pathogen. Using mathematical models to integrate multiple, overlapping scales of livestock movement (layering daily grazing patterns and annual migration with local and regional networks of trade), the researchers will seek to understand how connectivity within and among herds in Chad in central Africa influences infections and epidemiological trends.

Title: The community ecology of viral pathogens - Causes and consequences of co-infection in hosts and vectors
PI: Charles Mitchell, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Summary: This project will address the causes and consequences of multiple, simultaneous viral infections in plants, focusing on interactions among pathogens within the host species, transmission by insects, and the influence of environmental conditions like climate.

Title: The vector mosquito Aedes aegypti at the margins: sensitivity of a coupled natural and human system to climate change
PI: Andrew Monaghan, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Summary: Researchers will work to better understand how climate and human behavior influence the range and prevalence of dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes.

Title: Monkeypox Ecology: An Integrated Approach to Investigations of the Sylvatic Reservoirs of Human Monkeypox
PI: Jorge Osorio, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Summary: This research will offer insights into infection rates and spatial spread of Monkeypox viruses in natural rodent populations, as well as transmission mechanisms among alternate hosts, including humans.

Title: Roles of a marine host cycle and particle aggregation in transmission of zoonotic pathogens in coastal ecosystems
PI: Patricia Conrad, University of California - Davis
Summary: This project will examine the role of marine particulates, land runoff, and sea lion distribution in the spread of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite which infects both terrestrial and marine animals, including humans. 

Title: Ecology of a Reverse Zoonosis: Human-Environment Interactions in the Transmission, Persistence, and Virulence of White Pox Disease in Elkhorn Coral
PI: James Porter, University of Georgia Research Foundation Inc.
Summary: Once the most common coral in the Caribbean, elkhorn coral populations have been devastated by a human pathogen that causes white pox disease--a reverse zoonosis in which a disease was transmitted from humans to another species. This research will investigate how water quality, climate variability, human population density, and other factors drive emergence and maintenance of the disease, and will develop models to help predict transmission and future impacts.

Title: Initial Epidemic Conditions as Primary Determinants of Epidemic Spread: A Plant Disease Model
PI: Christopher Mundt, Oregon State University
Summary: This project will examine wheat stripe rust disease as a model system to understand how the spread of an epidemic can be influenced by the initial availability and susceptibility of host plants, as well as the timing of fungicide application.  Simulation models will be developed and evaluated to determine their applicability to other diseases.

Title: Natural Selection, Host-Pathogen Interactions, and Insect Outbreaks
PI: Gregory Dwyer, University of Chicago
Summary: Insect outbreaks can sometimes be kept in check by a host-specific virus--until the proliferation of disease resistance genes allows insect populations to rebound. This project will use gypsy moths as a model system to investigate whether the evolution of host resistance and pathogen virulence play significant roles in insect outbreaks.


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov

Related Websites
Ecology of Infectious Diseases: An NSF Special Report: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/ecoinf/index.jsp

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Photo of a herder standing in front of his family's encampment and cattle.
A herder in an African floodplain stands in front of his family's encampment and cattle.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of an elk lying down in Yellowstone.
Elk play an important role in the spread of the bacterial disease Brucellosis in Yellowstone.
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Photo of elk drinking water in Yellowstone.
Brucellosis has been eradicated from most of the U.S., but remains throughout Yellowstone.
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Photo of elkhorn coral.
Elkhorn coral, affected by reverse zoonosis--disease transmitted from humans.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of a mosquito acquiring a blood meal.
A mosquito acquires a blood meal; mosquitoes are the primary vector for dengue fever.
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Photo of an otter in water.
Otters are at the heart of a complex disease transmission process that links land and sea.
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Photo of an English grain aphid on a leaf.
Individual hosts are often infected with multiple pathogens, as in the English grain aphid.
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Photo of a gypsy moth caterpillar on a red oak leaf.
A disease-carrying gypsy moth caterpillar on a leaf of one of its favorite trees, the red oak.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo showing insects melted onto foliage by the gypsy-moth virus.
Gypsy-moth virus causes the insects to melt onto foliage, releasing more virus particles.
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