The Registry and University of Sydney have established a Centre for Pathogen Discovery to investigate novel infections in humans and wildlife and better understand how emerging pathogens jump between species. Interdisciplinary researchers in genomics and bioinformatics, human disease, public health, and veterinary medicine are utilising state-of-the-art metagenomic techniques to rapidly identify new pathogens.
This research promises to enhance real-time diagnostic capacity and disease control, and to provide major insights into novel disease emergence.
The team recently identified tularaemia in ringtail possums, highlighting the close link between wildlife and human health, and underscoring the need for collaborative research in public health. Caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, tularaemia affects many species (mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) and in humans variably manifests as fever, skin ulceration, lymph node swelling and, in some cases, severe pneumonia. Australia was thought to be free of tularaemia until human cases in Tasmania were variably associated with scratches or bites from wild ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Scientists at the Centre for Pathogen Discovery analysed genome sequences from archival ringtail possum samples collected by the Registry during unexplained multiple mortalities dating back to 2000.
Francisella tularensis was identified and subsequently confirmed by multiple methods. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was notified of our findings, which have been used to inform state medical and veterinary bodies in their communications with wildlife carers, veterinarians, and laboratory staff. A manuscript describing the findings has been published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
Taronga: Dr Karrie Rose, Ms Jane Hall, Dr Hannah Bender
University of Sydney/NSW Health: Prof Edward Holmes, Prof Vitali Sintchenko, Drs John-Sebastian Eden, Cameron Webb, Stephen Doggett, Bernie Hudson, PhD candidate Erin Harvey