June 25, 2021

Elise Paietta (Duke University)

Optimization of anthroponotic viral detection approaches in lemurs

Spring 2021 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms


Human expansion into and degradation of nonhuman primate (NHP) habitats exponentially increases the risk of disease transmission between humans and NHPs. In Madagascar, rapid and ongoing deforestation has created an environment wherein interactions among lemurs, humans, and domestic animals are increasingly frequent. A “One Health” approach considering the interplay among humans, domestic animals, and the environment serves as the ideal framework for tracking diseases transmitted from humans to animals – so-called anthroponoses. To date, the overwhelming majority of studies on disease transmission between humans and wildlife has focused on diseases transmitted from wildlife to humans rather than the reverse. In order to examine patterns of human to wildlife transmission, this study will utilize the captive populations at the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) to develop an efficient, reliable, and portable methodology for novel viral identification in natural populations of NHPs. We will answer three critical questions: (i) are lemurs susceptible to viruses originating in humans and/or domestic animals?, (ii) do viral communities differ across species and season (summer free-ranging or winter indoors)?, and (iii) how can we optimize both sampling and sequencing approaches for uncovering viral transmission for future work in wild lemurs? By examining multiple biological samples taken from two different species of free-ranging lemurs at the DLC, we can take advantage of novel sequencing and viral identification methods to characterize the risk of human to lemur disease transmission. The results of this study will provide state-of-the-art methods for guiding conservation strategies and for monitoring the health of natural mammal populations.