Build international biorepository capacity

Build international biorepository capacity

In their Perspective “Rigorous wildlife disease surveillance” (10 July, p. 145), M. Watsa et al. underscore the value of One Health approaches to stimulate integration across currently siloed efforts in zoonotic research and mitigation. To achieve comprehensive decentralized pathogen surveillance, there is an urgent need to develop environmental and biodiversity infrastructure in biodiverse countries experiencing high rates of habitat conversion, wildlife trafficking, and human-wildlife interactions.

Approximately one-third of One Health networks lack an environmental component, fewer than half are active in wildlife surveillance, and almost none is led by developing countries (1). International support for development of natural history museums with frozen vertebrate tissue collections remains a key component missing from the One Health equation. Most pathogens causing severe outbreaks in humans are zoonotic in origin (2); thus, understanding their evolution and that of their wild animal hosts is imperative.

As was the case for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (3), identifying wild animal reservoirs can be challenging when biorepositories are lacking (4). In most countries, natural history biorepositories remain poorly supported and largely disconnected from public health initiatives. For example, most studies of bat coronaviruses to date (5), including the PREDICT animal surveys discussed in Watsa et al., did not preserve host specimens or tissues, thus limiting the potential for molecular host identification or replication and extension of the science (6). Emerging infectious disease response hinges on sampling depth across space, time, and taxonomy, the very sampling enabled by museum biorepositories. As primary biological infrastructure, in-country development of museum collections that follow best practices (7), with specimen data freely available through the internet, should be an international imperative (8) for effective global surveillance and mitigation of emerging infectious diseases.

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