Response to Vanhove et al. and Colella et al.

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Science  13 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6518, pp. 774
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe9392

We agree with Vanhove et al. that wildlife conservation and emerging infectious disease screening are two sides of the same coin. Wildlife and humans can be vulnerable to spillover events by the same pathogen. For example, respiratory diseases (1) and Ebola virus (2) outbreaks have occurred simultaneously in great apes and humans. Pathogens also affect biogeographical species range expansions, contractions, and extinctions (3). Biosurveillance efforts should reflect that health risks are shared by humans and wildlife, a central tenet of the One Health framework (4). As Vanhove et al. point out, wildlife can serve as the source for preventive solutions that mitigate spillover risks into humans and animals.

A shared risk perspective could also combat the narratives that portray animals as dangerous pests or disposable commodities that endanger human health (5), as in the case of bats (6), many of which are likely not hosts for coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (7). In addition to emphasizing shared risk, such misinformation can be countered with well-researched messaging following a zoonotic outbreak. Conservation social science has honed a suite of tools to identify the often unpredictable human motivations behind (8), and the possible negative consequences of, such communications (9).

Colella et al. suggest that surveillance efforts should include natural history collections. Some natural history museums and zoos archive biobanked specimens, cryopreserved viable cell cultures, disease specimen banks, and histopathology samples, but this highly effective practice (10) is limited by high costs. We agree that devoting funding toward biodiversity banking within countries at high risk for emerging infectious diseases would improve conservation outcomes. Taxonomically diverse biobanked tissues and live cell cultures could expand studies of host-pathogen relationships, clarifying host range or affected tissues and providing in vitro systems for infectivity and pathogenicity investigations. Such collections could allow drug development for humans to expand beyond just a few animal laboratory models, given that relatively well-studied viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 are potentially broadly infectious across taxonomic orders (11). Comparative genomics and transcriptomics among nonmodel species are used infrequently in biomedical research programs but hold great potential for prioritizing species and gene targets with alternative host defense mechanisms for laboratory study (12).

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