Chinese Science Bulletin, Volume 65 , Issue 22 : 2303-2313(2020) https://doi.org/10.1360/TB-2020-0372

Thoughts on Convergence Science of high-risk animals responsible for zoonotic epidemics

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Since the beginning of the 21st Century, large viral outbreaks have threatened human health, economies, and biosecurity. On April 20, 2020, World Health Organization(WHO) reported more than 2.2 million confirmed cases and 150000 deaths from a novel coronavirus (Coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19; strain SARS-CoV-2). According to a macroeconomic forecast from Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings, the global GDP will fall 2.4% this year, and the economic impact of COVID-19 is sure to be far-reaching. It is suspected that COVID-19 has a wildlife origin. Indeed, most emerging human infectious diseases, such as SARS, Ebola, and H1N1, originate in animals. However, animals that host infectious diseases not only play critical roles in disease transmission, control, and prevention, but also serve the basis for the maintenance and stability of natural ecosystems. Although the COVID-19 and other epidemic diseases remind us that information on animals and their pathogenic microbes is necessary to control the spread of zoonotic diseases before they turn into epidemics or pandemics, we have little knowledge on the behavior, ecology, life history, and the pathology of infected animals. Therefore, comprehensive and solid research should be performed on animals that carry pathogens (e.g., viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and prions). We searched published articles on infectious, endemic, and epidemic diseases in the Web of Science database and found that only 11.75% of articles (2930727 in total) were in the field of zoology. In contrast, more than half of the articles were in infectious diseases (biomedicine). Chinese researchers have published 221105 papers, 26.72% of the output of the United States. Even in the field of zoology, the US has published 86233 articles (2.83 times more than Chinese researchers). As solutions to the challenges of zoonotic epidemics require a public and comprehensive approach, we propose to develop a Convergence Science approach (transdisciplinary science) to study high-risk animals responsible for zoonotic epidemics. It aims to answer and resolve basic but essential questions. For example, what is the biological background of these animals, and how many ways can zoonotic diseases spillover? This effort is not limited to species classification, biological characters, evolutionary footprints, hosted microbes, behavior, and spillover approaches, nor field investigation, genetics, molecular biology, physiological, microbiology, mathematics, management, and veterinary medicine/science. While we appreciate the efforts of the medical research community to develop vaccines and medications to mitigate the spread of emerging diseases and to reduce human mortality rates, we argue that generating a dynamic list of pathogenic microbes and their wildlife hosts also represents an urgent and critical tool in ecological epidemiology. We call for a global and cooperative effort to create, maintain, and update this information in order to reduce the severity of future pandemics. A Convergence Science approach to the study of animals that host potential infectious diseases may allow the prediction and prevention of zoonotic epidemics, reduce or ablate the risk of zoonotic infection, and ensure biosecurity and public health.


致谢 北京市自然科学基金杰出青年科学基金(JQ19022)资助. 感谢中国科学院动物研究所朱平芬博士对本文相关数据的大量细致调研、数据统计分析等辛劳的工作, 陶毅研究员、李明研究员、戴家银研究员、杜卫国研究员、李萌博士对本文相关概念和举措的讨论和建议.

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周旭明 中国科学院动物研究所研究员, 博士生导师. 中国科学技术大学兼职博士生导师, 北京市自然科学基金杰出青年科学基金获得者. 研究方向为动物学, 长期从事兽类系统学、功能适应、衰老机制等方面研究.


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