€20 million EU project to integrate human & animal pathogen genomics

By Chris Rands

28 January 2015


Put yourself in the proverbial shoes of a pathogen. As a microbe you have no hopes, dreams or desires, but natural selection will favour those individuals that survive and spread themselves widely, whilst less reproductively successful individuals risk joining the dodo, confined to biology text books. As a pathogen you are dependent on a host, but this organism is merely a vector to promote your growth and spread. The more different hosts you and your relatives can colonise, the more likely you are to spread.

Why animal health matters for humans

Now return to your human shoes. Whilst we prioritize human health over that of other animals, we can appreciate that the pathogen is not so discriminating. An estimated 75% of emergent human infectious diseases arose from other animals, including Ebola from bats, pandemic influenza from birds, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in at least some instances from camels.

Furthermore, foodborne pathogens are pervasive in our food industry, for example approximately 70% of supermarket chickens in the UK contain Campylobacter, a bacterium that causes food poisoning if infected meat is undercooked. Therefore, it is clear that in order to effectively prevent and manage infectious disease outbreaks in humans, we need to examine pathogens in other animals too.

To this end, the EU has provided over €20 million for a project across 28 European partners to develop a coordinated infectious disease response system called the Collaborative Management Platform for detection and Analyses of (Re-) emerging and food-borne outbreaks in Europe (COMPARE).

Towards a shared global system for pathogen genomic data

The purpose of COMPARE is to improve the speed with which the international community is able to identify and respond to both human and animals disease outbreaks, reducing their financial impact, by utilising genomic technologies. The initiative builds on the work of the Global Microbial Identifier project.

COMPARE will focus on gathering and integrating standardised pathogen genomic data from humans and other selected animals across Europe. A databank will store pathogen genome sequences with accompanying clinical and epidemiological data, and provide a platform for automated, real-time analysis of the data to aid the prediction, prevention, and management of infectious disease outbreaks. Importantly, it is intended to be readily accessible to both doctors and vets.

The COMPARE project embraces a ‘One health’ framework that considers the connections between human, animal, and environmental health. The project is a reminder that we need to think less anthropocentrically insofar as we recognise that we are susceptible to the same kinds of infections as other animals. Therefore, we need to coordinate our genomic approaches to tackle human and animal infectious diseases, in order to effectively target foodborne pathogens and novel emerging disease threats.

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