The long-term objective of the study is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by determining how pathogens are spread via Pteropus bats among the most populous islands of Southeast Asia. This project will examine the highly diverse group of paramyxoviruses and proactively identify areas of high viral diversity in hosts, testing predictions that highest viral diversity will occur in areas of high Pteropus species richness and large colony size. Research about the spread of pathogens from wild animals to humans will significantly improve global health and outbreak containment efforts. The severity of outbreaks can be mitigated when hosts are readily identified and their movements restricted, but when pathogens are hosted by flying organisms, containment can be difficult. Bats have recently been recognized as reservoir hosts that harbor diverse zoonotic pathogens, but research effort in the host system still lags behind that of other taxa. Recent studies on Pteropus flying foxes, a genus of large bats found only in Africa, Asia, and Australia, indicate they may be hosts for a number of different viruses, but previous data collection has been haphazard. In particular, a number of publicly important paramyxoviruses appear to originate in bats before switching hosts. Colonial roosting, frequent migration, and long lifespans in Pteropus species make them particularly prone to harboring and vectoring zoonotic pathogens across large geographic areas and enable the long-term persistence of pathogens through repeated infections. Although 66 new paramyxoviruses were recently isolated from several bat genera, little is known concerning non-Nipah, non-Hendra paramyxoviruses in the genus Pteropus. The genetic diversity of Pteropus and the paramyxoviruses that they harbor will be examined using nascent statistical phylogeographic and niche-modeling methods to predict hotspots of viral diversity, probable migration routes among islands, and investigate evolutionary dynamics between bats and their pathogens. Phylogeographic migration models will be reconstructed from sequence data and areas of high viral occurrence will be predicted using ecological niche modeling. A network analysis of the populations will indicate which dispersal routes are most important to the maintenance of population connectivity and thus disease spread. More accurate predictions of pathogen origins and host dispersal routes will permit improved containment in the event of an epidemic, when resources can be focused on particular hotspots.

Public Health Relevance

Pathogens transmitted from wild animals to humans are a significant, growing threat to human health, particularly in Asia. Large bats in the genus Pteropus vector a variety of human pathogens across great distances. We will determine the diversity of paramyxovirus pathogens harbored by Pteropus along with the bats'dispersal patterns to construct predictive models to contain future epidemics.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Genetic Variation and Evolution Study Section (GVE)
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Cassetti, Cristina
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City College of New York
Schools of Arts and Sciences
New York
United States
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Almeida, Francisca C; Giannini, Norberto P; Simmons, Nancy B et al. (2014) Each flying fox on its own branch: A phylogenetic tree for Pteropus and related genera (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae). Mol Phylogenet Evol 77C:83-95