Passing Disease – Humans and Animals
There’s strong evidence to indicate that diseases are passing between humans and animals in unexpected ways. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Dr. Kathleen Alexander is an Associate Professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech. She and her team divide their time between their lab in Virginia and gathering samples in Botswana, Africa.
Alexander: We want to understand how people, the environment, and animals are connected. So, if I have a disease that moves through me through the water into an animal population, how would I begin to document that? So, I can get that organism in, say, an elephant and that same organism, say, in a human with diarrheal disease or a child, and I can look at both of them. And sort of like whether or not a parent’s related to their child, we can ask the same sort of questions about microbes. Does this microbe look like that microbe, and can we begin to infer that it moved either from humans to animals or animals to humans?
Alexander: What are we testing in our lab here? Everything from water to human diarrheal samples to elephant, zebra, lion, jackal any type of animal that occurs across the environment where humans occur in Botswana.
And we’re looking to see if we can identify relationships between these organisms, and, in this, we’re using something called E. coli. Now, E. coli is a common microbe. Every mammal has it in their gut. So if we can get an E. coli from one animal and another E. coli from a human, we can start looking at them and seeing if they’re related. Are they the same organism, basically, moving back and forth between populations, or are they different?
Let’s say we find that a microbe or an E. coli in a lion looks very similar to a child with diarrheal disease. We can identify that there’s a link, and that’s what’s important.
We’ll hear more about the connection between human and animal diseases in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the National Science Foundation.