Researchers use “big data” to track zoonotic diseases

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About 60 percent of diseases are zoonotic, or can pass between humans and various animal species, and understanding the pathways and complex relationships between pathogens, hosts and environmental factors is key to improving control strategies.

To untangle some of those relationships, researchers at the University of Liverpool in England are developing the Enhanced Infectious Diseases (EID2) database with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

According to an article from the BBSRC, the researchers realized there was a vast amount of disease data available in scientific literature and pre-existing databases. They decided to use a “big data” approach, utilizing advanced computer technology to mine and aggregate data for application in disease modeling.

Using this approach, the researchers have built a database team member and epidemiologist Dr. Marie McIntyre, says is “matchless in scale, and has the capacity to hold data on all known human and animal pathogens, when detailed information becomes available." The database has been used in efforts to trace the history of human and animal diseases, predict the effects of climate change on pathogens, produce maps of which diseases are most likely in some areas and categorize the complex relationships between human and animal carriers and hosts of numerous pathogens. The database is open-access for registered researchers, who can manipulate and organize the data to suit their research goals.

In the BBSRC article, McIntyre explains that the EID2 database “describes all of the known pathogens of a host species, and all of the hosts of a pathogen species. It can generate all of the recorded pathogens in a specific country or region or all of the pathogens of a certain host in a specific country. It gives instant access to the raw data from which this information is built. It also allows the distribution of pathogens (and hosts) to be mapped."

Read more from the BBSRC



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