NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Chicago’s Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology will partner with the Field Museum to study the evolution of species-switching parasites and pathogens that cause diseases such as bird flu, malaria, and AIDS.
The partnership, called the Emerging Pathogens Project, will involve genomic analysis of pathogens and the host animals in which they reside, and it aims to generate knowledge that can be used to combat new epidemics.
To collect the samples to be used for the EPP, Chicago’s Field Museum led an expedition to Malawi in the fall of 2009 that yielded 1,100 mammal and bird specimens, as well as the parasites and pathogens that live inside them.
Researchers will extract DNA from the hosts, parasites, and pathogens in an effort to “create an extensive database of emerging animal and pathogen biodiversity,” according to the museum.
They will analyze the DNA to study how diseases have evolved, how infectious organisms jump between animal species, and to discover changes in the distribution of virulence that may threaten humans.
The partners hope to develop useful genomic and evolutionary data for use in predicting how these organisms may spread and how they might behave in the environment.
The Field Museum also expects to learn how climate change and ecosystem loss is affecting human interaction with wildlife and to create models for monitoring and predicting outbreaks of new species-switching diseases.
“This is a fascinating initiative combining traditional field collecting with new technologies in the attempt to identify grave disease threats to humans that we may face in coming years and decades," Field Museum President John McCarter said in a statement.