The TEDMED Research Scholars are a carefully selected group of passionate and objective individuals whose expertise spans the biomedical, public health, and emerging technology spectrums. Every year, Research Scholars help us to vet the science and timeliness of our TEDMED Speaker nominations, allowing us to better examine the diverse nominations we receive.
This year the EEID conference was held at Princeton University from June 10-13, 2019. The four guiding themes were:
Behavioral drivers of disease dynamics
Genetics of disease dynamics across scales
Environmental drivers of disease
Consequences of within-host competition for disease control across scales
This year I tried something different for note taking: I brought my digital pad and creating conference doodles. Conference doodles are a science communication tool that link the material of the talk with illustrations. I found this was a fun way to keep my attention focused and to practice condensing the material into salient takeaway points. It was also really fun to draw mosquitoes, spirochetes, aphids, and other sundry pathogens and vectors.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Lindy McBride: “Geographic, genetic, and neural origins of human biting in the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti”
In order to predict and fight animal disease outbreaks, epidemiologists and other researchers need to understand how a given disease spreads through landscapes and populations. Factors contributing to the ability of a pathogen to spread include the features of the environment as well as the movement of the animals through that landscape. Human activity is changing landscapes, with the result that they are becoming increasingly heterogeneous (with differences occurring across the landscape). The effect of this increasing heterogeneity on the spread of disease is unclear…
Excerpt from: Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (March 15, 2019). “Research spotlight: Modeling how diseases spread”
Fragmentation of landscapes and habitat loss—driven by urbanization and climate change—can put wildlife species at risk of extinction. Some ecological theory suggests habitat fragmentation may be beneficial to wildlife facing disease because populations of sick animals may remain isolated from healthy populations or dispersal might allow healthy animals to escape infection from otherwise sick populations.
The project explores the role of wildlife movement and the idea of “perceptual range,” or how far an animal can perceive habitat to be able to decide where and how to move. Scientists do not know much about what determines perceptual range for different species, but perceptual range likely scales with body size. For example, an elephant is expected to have a larger perceptual range than a snail.
“So many wildlife species are under stress from human activities like climate change and urbanization,” said White, lead author of the study. “This additional stress can compound the risk of an epidemic doing serious damage to already vulnerable wildlife populations. As we expand our reach into the environment, we are also increasing potential contacts between humans, livestock and wildlife. Consequently, we are at greater risk from zoonotic disease—pathogens that can transmit between animals and humans.”
Key findings include:
A more fragmented habitat always resulted in longer lasting disease outbreaks for simulations with both fewer individuals on the landscape and pathogens with longer infectious periods (i.e., individuals remain sick for longer) and for simulations with more individuals on the landscape and shorter infectious periods.
In simulations with more individuals on the landscape, longer infectious periods and with animals that could perceive more of their habitat, the way animals navigated their environment changed the relationship between fragmentation and disease outbreak success.
“Understanding how animals move across their landscape is critical to predicting disease outbreaks,” said White. “Our model shows small changes in an individual animal’s movement can make a big difference.”
The findings highlight the potential role of resource hotspots and resource provisioning in altering not only animal movement patterns but also disease transmission. This makes it especially relevant to systems where humans are manipulating or supplementing the availability of food.
Another consideration for management is how humans conserve green space and keep habitat connected for wildlife. Critically, wildlife corridors allow for animal movement, migration and dispersal. However, from a disease control perspective, the study results suggest that the desirable level of habitat connectivity will vary for specific host-pathogen systems.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute, Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, the University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President for Research and the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center Seed Grant.
A few weeks ago, Dr Lauren White from the University of Minnesota told us about the intersection of wildlife conservation, disease and human health for Endangered Species Day. Now she is back to give us a recap of the Ecology & Evolution of Infectious Disease Conference recently held in Glasgow – including some pretty nifty conference events complete with a Scottish flair!
This year, the 16th Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Conference (EEID) took place from May 29th to June 1st 2018 at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. I have attended the EEID conference annually for the past four years as a Ph.D. student. As a disease ecologist, I have found it to be both my favorite and the most relevant conference for my research interests. Its single session format makes for a shared experience among conference participants and great science discussions. Poster sessions are interactive and well…