Understanding viral persistence in wild, Madagascar fruit bats
Dr. Cara Brook
University of Chicago
Bats are reservoir species for zoonotic viruses that cause higher human case fatality rates than do viruses derived from any other bird or mammal host—including Ebola and Marburg filoviruses, Hendra and Nipah henipaviruses, and SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses. Intriguingly, bats appear to host these viruses without experiencing the significant pathology that infection incurs in other mammals. Globally, diverse bat populations have been shown to host rapidly transmitting RNA viruses with short generation times in isolated island populations well below known critical community sizes for related pathogens in human systems, thus calling into question the mechanisms that support viral persistence in wild bats. Understanding viral persistence in wild reservoir hosts is a necessary precursor to any effort to forecast future transmission events---including future zoonotic emergence. The Brook lab explores these questions of viral persistence in a wild, fruit bat ecosystem on the island nation of Madagascar, fitting mechanistic, epidemiological models to longitudinal time series data that they collect in the field. Ultimately, they aspire to uncover the mechanisms that drive the persistence and circulation of a suite of potentially zoonotic viruses in their threatened fruit bat hosts.