WildTech - an Introduction

Novel Technologies for Surveillance of Emerging and Re-emerging Infections of Wildlife

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Background of the project

WildTech addresses the problem of the increasing prevalence of new and emerging diseases arising from wildlife, which has clear implications for disease spread to domestic animals and humans both across Europe and globally. The reasons for this alarming trend are multi-factorial and have been well documented in the literature. In brief, the continued increase in the human population results in habitat fragmentation caused by factors such as deforestation and increasing levels of pollutants. These issues combined with global warming inevitably impact on host-pathogen relationships and the spread of pathogens into geographical areas previously unaffected. Alterations in land use and livestock rearing practices and the rapid global movement of humans, animals and other organisms are also key factors. Finally, the evolution of viral pathogens adds another factor into this alarming and complex equation.

WildTech is focussed on wildlife as a reservoir of disease. It is reported that 61% of known pathogens infect multiple animal species and 75% of all diseases which have emerged in the last two decades are of wildlife origin. It is therefore clear that the surveillance of disease in wildlife not only impacts on communities that rely on healthy domestic animals but is also an essential tool for the protection of human health. Despite this alarming situation, surveillance for infectious diseases in wildlife is far from satisfactory. Until now, there was no co-ordinated effort to monitor the spread of infection within and between different countries in the EU. Surveillance of wildlife infectious disease has been largely passive in structure rather than a proactive attempt to predict and manage future disease threats across Europe.

The WildTech project has been established specifically to address these problems and to set up a technology platform that may be exploited in Europe and elsewhere as a basis for high throughput disease diagnosis in wildlife.

Objectives

  • The application of microarray technology for the detection of known infectious agents in wildlife populations.
  • The application of microarray technology to the detection and identification of novel and unknown infectious agents in wildlife populations.
  • The application of microarray technology to the development of high through-put serological screening of wildlife populations for infectious disease.
  • The utilisation of these technologies to assess the spread of selected diseases (proof of concept) using historical samples and those collected during the grant. We will monitor and model patterns of wildlife disease spread and the risks associated with these changes. Ultimately this epidemiology framework will be used to reduce the risk of further potential epidemics by producing a generic action plan in case of emerging epizootics among wildlife.
  • The development of a state of the art wildlife disease data management system with mapping capability for use in Europe and beyond.
  • The establishment of a framework for pan-European surveillance of wildlife diseases.

Activities

The work programme is subdivided into the following key areas:

  1. Establishment of array-based technologies for multi-pathogen screening of individual wildlife samples.
  2. Epidemiological analysis of historical and new field data to assess current wildlife disease incidence, prevalence and geographic distribution and to determine the potential risk for the emergence of new diseases.
  3. Development of online resources for comprehensive and accessible information on wildlife diseases.
  4. Establishment of a surveillance network for emerging diseases of wildlife in Europe comprised of specialists in diagnostic technology, bioinformatics and wildlife health, with links to corresponding European and international networks.

Duration

  • July 2009 - June 2013

This project is supported by the European Commission under the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology Theme of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, grant agreement no. 222633.

 

 

Role of Wildpro and Twycross Zoo in WildTech

Twycross Zoo - East Midland Zoological Society is one of 13 partners involved in the four-year EU-funded (FP7) WildTech project, which aims to develop novel technologies for the surveillance of emerging and re-emerging wildlife diseases. The project is being led by the University of Nottingham. Other partners are universities, government agencies and biotechnology companies from across Europe, including the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), Clondiag, and Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut.

Twycross Zoo provides information on the health and management of captive and free-ranging animals and emerging infectious diseases via the Wildpro electronic encyclopaedia and library, and the Zoo's role in the WildTech project is to collate historical published information on important pathogens and diseases in European wildlife, particularly the priority pathogens Mycobacterium tuberculosis (bovine TB), Bluetongue virus (bluetongue), Francisella tularensis (Tularemia), European brown hare syndrome virus and hantaviruses (haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome - HFRS), so that it can be made available to wildlife professionals worldwide.