Preserving biodiversity to reduce emerging diseases

Emerging infectious diseases affect millions of people around the world each year. These are new diseases such as Covid-19, which is responsible for an estimated 6 to 15 million deaths. Other known diseases that rise sharply during epidemics – such as Ebola – are also emerging. The vast majority of these diseases are transmitted from animals to humans, and we are talking about zoonoses.

Better understanding of the links between biodiversity and health

Health authorities are concerned with global changes affecting biodiversity. And for good reason: There is a close link between human health and biodiversity. ” Human activities and deforestation increase contact between humans, domestic animals and the wild, Julian Capel, health ecologist at CIRAD and coordinator of the BCOMING project explains. These new convergences double the chances of disease transmission to humans “.
In addition, another mechanism favors the emergence of some zoonotic diseases such as West Nile virus. ” When the diversity of ecosystems is reduced, pathogens spread more between individuals of the same species, increasing our exposure Julian Capel continues.

A better understanding of the mechanisms that aid the emergence of infectious diseases is essential. This is the goal of the BCOMING (Biodiversity Conservation to Mitigate the Risks of Emergence of Infectious Diseases) project. ” Our goal is to develop biodiversity conservation and disease control strategies to reduce the risk of », Julien Cappelle details.

Possibilities ? 14 partners gathered around the world and funded by €6 million under the Horizon Europe programme. CIRAD coordinates everything thanks to its expertise in the links between the public health of ecosystems and biodiversity to reduce infectious disease. The BCOMING project begins in August 2022 for a period of six years and benefits from the PREZODE brand, an international initiative aimed at building resilient social and ecological systems.

Three countries, seven pathogens, two landmarks

The project focuses on seven pathogens distributed in three study regions: Cambodia (SARS Cove 2), Guinea (Ebola, Marburg, Lhasa), and Guadeloupe (West Nile). Trematode worms and coronaviruses found in each region are also being studied. All of these countries are characterized by a very rich biodiversity: the tropics have in fact been identified as hot spots for the emergence of zoonoses.
The choice was also made due to social and cultural differences, partnerships and projects already underway, Julian Capel adds. This diversity will allow us to test a new modular approach, applicable anywhere in the world and able to adapt to local constraints. »

There are two steps to achieving the goals:

• Improving knowledge about the emergence of zoonoses

Scientists will seek to collect environmental, social, economic, ecological and epidemiological data thanks to new tools for the rapid detection of pathogens in the field. ” This data will be analyzed in an innovative way, Julian Capel details. Thus, one of our goals is to better assess the impact of human practices on disease transmission, a set of critical factors that remain poorly understood to this day. This first step will lead to the development of a standardized approach, and thus benefit the entire scientific community working on the mechanisms of emergence of zoonoses.

• Preventing the emergence of zoonotic diseases

So-called agent-centric models will be used to integrate project data. ” They make it possible to simulate the transmission of diseases between animals and people They will be used to test different strategies for biodiversity conservation or new monitoring systems to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks.

Innovative participatory approach

These templates will be valuable in the BCOMING project. ” The originality of the project is based on our participatory approach, which brings together all local, regional and national actors, Julian Capel says: Agent-centered models will serve as support for the discussion to develop preventive practices that are adapted to each study site. All decision makers – local communities, NGOs or even national authorities – will benefit from these concrete solutions to prevent the emergence of zoonoses.

In the program now? The project was launched in August 2022, immediately followed by the completion of the assembly protocols and the first development of the models. ” The meeting of all our partners will allow us to finish this preliminary stage and begin the process of joint construction The researcher concludes.

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