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article imageEcologists propose technological solution for disease tracking

By Tim Sandle     Jul 30, 2016 in Environment
Many disease patterns are predictable provided that the information about the disease is accurate and a suitable technological framework is constructed. This is complex, but it can work based on appropriate algorithms and accurate information.
University of Georgia ecologists have designed a process to help predict where new infectious diseases are likely to emerge. This is based on a science called “macroecology”, which involves the study of ecological patterns and processes across time and space. Macroecology approaches the idea of studying ecosystems using a "top down" approach. To operate this specialized software is needed to deal with the vast number of computations.
Infectious diseases lead to millions of deaths each year. A high proportion of these disease originate in wild animals, and then make the transition to people. One of the triggers is ecological change, such as the movement of human populations and from human population growth. Both of these demographic shifts lead inevitably to encroachment into areas where wildlife live. Moreover, both an increase to international trade and greater travel lead to a high probability of infection and for disease transmission.
It is understating these factors and their impact which macroecology is concerned with. Researchers are of the view that many of the patterns are predictable and inputting values can allow for accurate predictions to be made.
The software requires several complex calculations geared around tracing patterns of host and parasite biodiversity. This includes assessing the “latitudinal gradient” relating to biodiversity within a geographic range area; a “predicted latitudinal gradient” of biodiversity, which consists of assessing parasite species based on the overlapping geographic ranges and populations; the “predicted global patterns of known parasite species richness”; and areas of high zoonotic disease risk for humans.
Explaining how this works in practice, leads researcher Patrick R. Stephens said: “To understand what's going on with diseases overall, you need to integrate understanding of human, animal and environmental health.”
He further adds: “You can't look at diseases of humans in complete isolation of diseases of wildlife, and you can't look at diseases of wildlife in complete isolation of what's going on with the environment, because a lot of times those diseases are related to environmental degradation.”
The macroecological approach for tracking infectious diseases has created a buzz within science groups on Twitter. The results of the main study are published in the journal Ecology Letters. The research paper is titled “The macroecology of infectious diseases: a new perspective on global-scale drivers of pathogen distributions and impacts.”
More about Infectious disease, Ecology, Technology, macroecology
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