Bat species are incredibly diverse worldwide. When combined with deforestation and other ecological factors that lead to more bat-human interaction, it is difficult for scientists to predict which bats and which bat-borne viruses are likely to infect humans.
Daniel Becker, an assistant professor of biology in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma, is part of a research team sharing a $1.25 million award from the Scialog: Mitigating Zoonotic Threats initiative, sponsored by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Becker is an ecologist who studies how human pathogens spread in wildlife hosts, the factors that make those infections more common and how to predict cross-species transmission. In July, he was selected as a 2021 Scialog Fellow for Mitigating Zoonotic Threats, a cohort of multidisciplinary, early-career scientists brought together to address the global threat to human health from animal-borne infectious diseases.
“This project involves an exciting group of collaborators interested in the viruses carried by wild bats, their zoonotic potential (their potential to infect humans), and why some species or groups of bats might have more human-infecting viruses than others,” Becker said.
In addition to Becker, the research team includes Efrem Lim at Arizona State University, Hannah Frank at Tulane University, and Jason Ladner at Northern Arizona University.
“Our team is focusing on bats in the Americas, specifically bat samples from Oklahoma, Belize, Costa Rica and Ecuador, which have historically been understudied in relation to questions about bats and their viruses,” Becker said.
The team is using cutting-edge research techniques to better understand what viruses currently are infecting bats and to what viruses they have recently been exposed. That information is then combined with existing data on bat evolution, immunity and ecology.
“The ultimate aim is to better help us predict where, and from what causes, we might see spillover of bat-borne viruses,” Becker said.