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A new research project in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University has been successful in treating a deadly cat disease that has previously been nearly 100 percent fatal.


The endangered killer whales that spend time in the waters off Washington state are among the most closely studied wildlife, and it is expected to get even more in depth. Researchers already collect and analyze their waste and breath samples taken when they exhale; satellite tags track where they swim in winter; and drone images provide details about body shape, size and condition. Now, wildlife veterinarians and other experts want to take that information and create personal health records for each southern resident killer whale. There are 84 of the animals that typically appear in Puget Sound from spring to fall. The idea is to use the records to monitor the orcas' health trends individually and as a population. It's similar to people having one medical record as they move from one doctor to the next or between specialists. "The goal is to really start getting a lot of data and pull them together in a way that permits easier analysis," said Joe Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, and chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society, which is part of the university's School of Veterinary Medicine. "Ultimately, the real benefit of any health record is to help make (management) decisions," he added. For example, if an orca appears emaciated or is in bad shape during certain times of the year, wildlife managers can access the animal's health history to see what's going on and what they could do about it, he said. Understanding the factors that affect an orca's health will ultimately help pinpoint the key threats and how to reduce them, experts say. "It will be really powerful to rule out things that aren't important and focus in on what's really important," said Lynne Barre with NOAA Fisheries. She said that will help inform research and management decisions in the long run. The project aims to pull together data on behavior, reproductive success, skin diseases and other study areas to allow for integrated analysis, she said. Scientists have enough data that they can now connect the dots to get meaningful answers, said Brad Hanson, an NOAA Fisheries wildlife biologist. More than two dozen wildlife experts met in Seattle on Tuesday to develop plans for health records for the orcas. The meeting was sponsored by SeaDoc Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. Many details are still being worked out, including who will maintain the data and how people will access it. But an initial database would be launched this summer using readily available information, such as sex, age, gender and other details, Gaydos said. Other information would be added next year. Elsewhere, scientists have studied individual animals to monitor their health, including North Atlantic right whales. Using a database of hundreds of thousands of photographs taken over decades, researchers at the New England Aquarium and others have studied the body and skin conditions of about 400 individual right whales to assess their health. Individual Puget Sound orcas are identified by unique black and white markings or variations in their fin shapes, and each whale is given a number and a name. The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island keeps the federal government's annual census on the population. The three families — the J, K, and L pods — are genetically and behaviorally distinct from other killer whales. They use unique calls to communicate with one another and eat salmon rather than marine mammals. Their numbers have fluctuated in recent decades as they have faced threats from pollution, lack of prey and disturbance from boats. They were listed as endangered in 2005.


News Article
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

Advances in genetic sequencing are uncovering emerging diseases in wildlife that other diagnostic tests can’t detect. In a study led by Duke University, researchers used a technique called whole-transcriptome sequencing to screen for blood-borne diseases in wild lemurs, distant primate cousins to humans. The animals were found to carry several strains or species of parasites similar to those that cause Lyme disease and other infections in humans. This is the first time these parasites have been reported in lemurs or in Madagascar, the only place on Earth where lemurs live in the wild outside of zoos and sanctuaries, the researchers report in the Jan. 27 issue of Biology Letters. The approach could pave the way for earlier, more accurate detection of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases that move between animals and people. “We can detect pathogens we might not expect and be better prepared to deal with them,” said co-author Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center. In 2012, Duke Lemur Center veterinarian Cathy Williams and colleagues started performing physical exams on lemurs in the rainforests surrounding a mine site in eastern Madagascar to help monitor the impacts of such activities on lemur health. “Lemur populations are becoming increasingly small and fragmented because of human activities like mining, logging and clearing forests to make way for cattle grazing and rice paddies,” Williams said. “If an infectious disease wipes out a lemur population it could be a huge blow to the species.” Researchers took small amounts of blood and tested them for evidence of exposure to known viruses and pathogens, but nothing turned up. The problem is that standard diagnostic tests tend to target known pathogens, Williams said. You can check for antibodies to certain viruses, or look for specific snippets of genetic material in an animal’s blood, “but you have to know what you’re looking for.” The end result is that new or exotic diseases often go undetected. And with hundreds of thousands of viral and bacterial species that lemurs and other mammals harbor still awaiting discovery, “we could be looking for anything,” Williams said. To cast a wider net they tried a new approach. Lead author Peter Larsen, senior research scientist at Duke, analyzed blood samples from six lemurs in two species, the indri and the diademed sifaka, both of which are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With advances in high-throughput sequencing, the ability to read genetic code rapidly, Larsen was able to look at all the gene readouts, or RNA transcripts, that were present in each animal -- an alphabet soup containing billions of nucleotide bases. The team found more than just lemur RNA in the animals’ blood. Using computer algorithms that compared the genetic material to sequences already catalogued in existing databases, they discovered several new types of parasites that had never been reported in lemurs. These included a new form of the protozoa responsible for babesiosis, a disease spread by bites from infected ticks, and a new kind of Borrelia closely related to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. They also found the first known case in Madagascar of a bacterium called Candidatus Neoehrlichia, which can be deadly in humans. Further analyses revealed that the new types of Babesia and Borrelia they found didn’t begin in lemurs, but were likely introduced to Madagascar in infected pets and livestock such as cattle and then spilled over to lemurs. The researchers don’t yet know if the new parasites are actually dangerous to lemurs. But they caution that what is infecting lemurs could potentially infect people, too. Human health officials and veterinarians in Madagascar may want to consider screening their patients to see if any test positive for the same parasites, the researchers say. The majority of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans, including recent outbreaks of SARS, Ebola and bird flu, are zoonotic -- they can spread among wildlife, domestic animals and humans. “Next-generation sequencing will be an important tool to identify emerging pathogens, particularly vector-borne diseases,” said Barbara Qurollo, a research assistant professor at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine who was not affiliated with the study. “A clinician cannot treat an infection that he or she does not know exists,” said veterinarian and infectious diseases researcher Edward Breitschwerdt, also of the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine. “The kindest form of therapy is an accurate diagnosis.”


News Article | August 30, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Coastal waters near heavy human development are more likely to receive land-based "pathogen pollution," which can include viruses, bacteria and parasites, according to a recent study from the University of California, Davis. The study said higher levels of rainfall and development increase the risk of disease-causing organisms flowing to the ocean. The study, published recently in Nature Scientific Reports, adds to years of work by a consortium of researchers led by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The scientists were called upon to help decipher the mystery in the late 1990s when a parasite hosted by cats, Toxoplasma gondii, caused deaths in sea otters along the coast of California. Wild and domestic cats are the only known hosts of T. gondii. The parasite can shed its infective egglike structures, called oocysts, in their feces. In soil, freshwater and seawater, these hardy oocysts can survive for over a year in some cases, infecting animals and people. The latest study advances earlier work by tracking the parasite to see how human-driven land-use change and rainfall might be impacting pathogen movement from land to sea. "This isn't just about Toxoplasma," said lead author Elizabeth VanWormer, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis at the time of the study. "Humans, pets, stray animals, livestock and wildlife can all shed pathogens that can be carried from land to sea in runoff after rainstorms. The way we develop our urban and rural coastlines—adding people, domestic animals, and hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt—can increase the flow of these pathogens into estuaries and oceans." From 1910 to 2010, California's human population, the majority of which resides in coastal counties, expanded from 2.4 million to more than 37 million, with close to 50 million people expected by 2050. The growing human population reshaped large areas of the California coast, converting natural habitat to residential, industrial and agricultural uses. Natural environments like forests, grasslands and wetlands can help filter out pathogens like T. gondii before they reach the sea. However, a paved or tilled landscape promotes the flow of contaminated runoff into waterways, storm drains and, ultimately, the ocean. Using census and land-use records, the authors estimated that development between 1990 and 2010 increased oocyst delivery from coastal watersheds to the ocean by 44 percent. Climate change may also exacerbate the journey of pathogens to the ocean. Changes in rainfall or in the intensity of storm events can alter the level of contaminated runoff. Oocyst runoff rose by 79 percent between years of low and high precipitation. When increases in development and climate variability are combined, oocyst runoff more than doubles. "Human-driven changes can increase pathogen runoff, but we also have the power to reduce coastal pathogen pollution through actions like conserving wetlands and riparian areas along waterways, reducing paved surfaces in our developed lands, and reducing the amount of poop left in the environment from pets and free-roaming domestic animals," VanWormer said. Decades of collaborative research by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, USGS, Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Center, University of California Santa Cruz, and UC Davis, with commitment from the National Science Foundation Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases program, provided the interdisciplinary tools and knowledge necessary to assess the impacts of coastal development and climate variability on coastal pathogen pollution.


News Article
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

The killer whales that spend time in the inland waters of Washington state already are tagged and tracked, photographed and measured. Researchers follow them by drone and by sea, analyzing their waste and their exhaled breath. Now, experts want to add another layer to the exhaustive studies: individual health records for each endangered whale. The records would take existing research on the creatures and combine it in one place. The idea is to use them to monitor the orcas' health trends individually and as a population. It's similar to people having one medical record as they move from one doctor to the next or between specialists. Eighty-four orcas typically appear in Puget Sound from spring to fall. "The goal is to really start getting a lot of data and pull them together in a way that permits easier analysis," said Joe Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, and chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society, which is part of the university's School of Veterinary Medicine. "Ultimately, the real benefit of any health record is to help make (management) decisions," he added. For example, if an orca appears emaciated or is in bad shape during certain times of the year, wildlife managers can access the animal's health history to see what's going on and what they could do about it, he said. Understanding the factors that affect an orca's health will ultimately help pinpoint the key threats and how to reduce them, experts say. "It will be really powerful to rule out things that aren't important and focus in on what's really important," said Lynne Barre with NOAA Fisheries. She said that will help inform research and management decisions in the long run. The project aims to pull together data on behavior, reproductive success, skin diseases and other study areas to allow for integrated analysis, she said. Scientists have enough data that they can now connect the dots to get meaningful answers, said Brad Hanson, an NOAA Fisheries wildlife biologist. More than two dozen wildlife experts met in Seattle on Tuesday to develop plans for health records for the orcas. The meeting was sponsored by SeaDoc Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. Many details are still being worked out, including who will maintain the data and how people will access it. But an initial database would be launched this summer using readily available information, such as sex, age, gender and other details, Gaydos said. Other information would be added next year. Elsewhere, scientists have studied individual animals to monitor their health, including North Atlantic right whales. Using a database of hundreds of thousands of photographs taken over decades, researchers at the New England Aquarium and others have studied the body and skin conditions of about 400 individual right whales to assess their health. Individual Puget Sound orcas are identified by unique black and white markings or variations in their fin shapes, and each whale is given a number and a name. The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island keeps the federal government's annual census on the population. The three families - the J, K, and L pods - are genetically and behaviorally distinct from other killer whales. They use unique calls to communicate with one another and eat salmon rather than marine mammals. Their numbers have fluctuated in recent decades as they have faced threats from pollution, lack of prey and disturbance from boats. They were listed as endangered in 2005.

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