OMEgA studies emerging zoonotic diseases in Afrotropical mammals by investigating the ecology of the infections and the evolutionary aspects of the diversity of the pathogens and their associated natural hosts.
Our two main objectives are to (i) unravel how the phylogeography, evolutionary history and ecology of hosts can provide insights about the diversity, origin and distribution of these zoonotic pathogens; (ii) discern which ecological mechanisms and environmental changes (climate, landscape, biodiversity loss, …) may facilitate host switching of pathogens or maintain host specificity, even in the absence of a strong molecular barrier.
To address these questions, we will use Next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods to screen specimens and tissues from museum collections as well as freshly collected material for the presence of pathogens, to verify the hosts' taxonomy, the phylogenetic and ecological relationships among host species, and the distribution ranges of genetically discrete host populations. The resulting information on the hosts' taxonomy, biology, the transmission ecology of reliably identified pathogens inferred from their presence, diversity, host specificity and evolution will allow us to answer the profiles' main objectives. These findings will not only increase our fundamental knowledge on parasites/pathogen diversity, but also address important One Health aspects as they will shed new light on the conditions that result in zoonotic pathogens switching hosts from wildlife humans. Crucially, our results will contribute towards a better understanding of the relative contributions of anthropogenic global changes (climate change, erosion of tropical forests, changing landscape and human activity patterns) to the emergence of novel zoonotic pathogens, some of which pose potential global health risks.