12 July 2024
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Humans Pass Viruses to Animals More Than They Catch from Them

In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL), it has been revealed that humans are more likely to pass on viruses to domestic and wild animals than they are to catch viruses from these animals. This new analysis of viral genomes sheds light on the complex dynamics of viral transmission between humans and other species, highlighting the significant role that humans play in the spread of infectious diseases.

The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, focused on analyzing publicly available viral genome sequences to track the transmission of viruses between different vertebrate species. It is well established that many emerging infectious diseases originate in animals and can be transmitted to humans, leading to outbreaks and epidemics. However, the reverse transmission, from humans to animals, has received less attention in the past.

The research team at UCL developed innovative methodological tools to examine nearly 12 million viral genomes and reconstruct the evolutionary histories of viruses across various families. Surprisingly, the findings indicated that humans are responsible for twice as many host jumps to other animals (anthroponosis) compared to the reverse transmission. This pattern was consistent across most viral families analyzed, underscoring the significant impact of human-to-animal virus transmission.

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Implications for Public Health and Conservation Efforts

The implications of humans passing viruses to animals are far-reaching, affecting both public health and conservation efforts. Zoonotic diseases, which originate in animals and can be transmitted to humans, pose a significant threat to global health. By recognizing the role of humans as active transmitters of viruses to animals, researchers can better understand viral evolution and prepare for future disease outbreaks and pandemics.

Lead author of the study, Ph.D. student Cedric Tan, emphasized the potential consequences of viruses jumping from humans to animals. Not only can this harm animal populations and pose conservation threats, but it can also impact food security if livestock need to be culled to prevent epidemics. Understanding the dynamics of viral transmission between species is crucial for mitigating the risks associated with zoonotic diseases.

Evolutionary Insights into Viral Host Jumps

The study also provides valuable insights into the genetic changes that occur when viruses jump from one host species to another. Viral host jumps are associated with an increase in genetic mutations, reflecting the adaptation of viruses to exploit new hosts. Viruses that infect multiple animal species show weaker signals of adaptation, suggesting they are inherently more versatile in infecting diverse hosts.

Co-author Professor Francois Balloux highlighted the interconnected nature of host-pathogen interactions, stating that humans should be viewed as nodes within a vast network of hosts exchanging pathogens. By monitoring the transmission of viruses between animals and humans, researchers can enhance their understanding of viral evolution and potentially prevent future disease outbreaks.

Challenges and Future Directions in Virus Research

As research continues to uncover the complexities of viral transmission, integrating knowledge from diverse disciplines such as genomics, epidemiology, and ecology will be crucial. Co-author Dr. Lucy van Dorp emphasized the importance of collaboration and data sharing in advancing our understanding of viral host jumps.

Moving forward, researchers aim to unravel the intricate mechanisms behind viral adaptation to new hosts and the evolution of novel diseases. By studying how viruses evolve to jump between different species, scientists hope to gain insights that will aid in the prevention and management of emerging viral threats in both humans and animals.

Links to additional Resources:

1. UCL 2. Nature 3. Science

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: zoonotic diseases, viral evolution, viral host jumps

Zoonosis
A zoonosis (; plural zoonoses) or zoonotic disease is an infectious disease of humans caused by a pathogen (an infectious agent, such as a bacterium, virus, parasite or prion) that can jump from a non-human (usually a vertebrate) to a human and vice versa.Major modern diseases such as Ebola virus...
Read more: Zoonosis

Viral evolution
Viral evolution is a subfield of evolutionary biology and virology that is specifically concerned with the evolution of viruses. Viruses have short generation times, and many—in particular RNA viruses—have relatively high mutation rates (on the order of one point mutation or more per genome per round of replication). Although most...
Read more: Viral evolution

Epstein–Barr virus
The Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), formally called Human gammaherpesvirus 4, is one of the nine known human herpesvirus types in the herpes family, and is one of the most common viruses in humans. EBV is a double-stranded DNA virus. Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) is the first identified oncogenic virus, which establishes permanent...
Read more: Epstein–Barr virus

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