Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have made awards to seven multidisciplinary teams of early career scientists, including chemistry Prof. Angad Mehta, in the second year of the Scialog: Mitigating Zoonotic Threats initiative.
In the announcement of these new projects, RCSA shared that the 18 individual awards of $50,000 each in direct costs go to 16 researchers from a variety of institutions, including two USDA agencies working together at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility — the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
The funded projects include five new partnerships among USDA and academic scientists.
“Bringing people together from different disciplines makes better science.” said RCSA President & CEO Dan Linzer. "At Scialog, you can ask big questions you might not be ready to attack on your own. With partners who complement your own thinking and expertise, new directions become possible.’
Mehta, T. M. Balthazor Faculty Scholar, will work with Giselle Medina with the USDA's National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility on the project, "Identifying and Engineering Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies Against African Swine Fever Virus."
Mehta said the goal of this collaborative project between his lab and the USDA is to understand the immune repertoire of pigs infected with African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) to make better vaccines. He said ASFV is a highly contagious virus that causes viral hemorrhagic disease in swine and has high mortality rates.
"Due to its significant impact to the animal farming and the global food industry, USDA’s efforts are directed to the development of novel vaccines, biotherapeutics, diagnostics and biocontainment strategies to control the spread of the disease," Mehta said.
The second meeting of the Mitigating Zoonotic Threats initiative was held Sept. 15-18, 2022, in Tucson, Arizona, just as the COVID pandemic’s latest wave, resurgent avian influenza, and a growing global monkeypox outbreak served as reminders of the need for advances in the detection and mitigation of diseases that cross over from animal to human populations.
“Most emerging infectious diseases that affect people are zoonotic, and the rate of new disease emergence is unprecedented,” said Jeff Silverstein, Deputy Administrator, USDA/ARS. “Investing in innovation, and in our greatest assets – our scientists – is critical to supporting global public health and food security.”
Scialog is short for “science + dialog.” Created in 2010 by RCSA, the Scialog format supports research by stimulating intensive interdisciplinary conversation and community building around a scientific theme of global importance. Planned before the COVID pandemic, the Mitigating Zoonotic Threats initiative has brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines and interests including biology, chemistry, environmental science, computer modeling, ecology, epidemiology, physics, public health, and veterinary science.
“Reducing the spread of disease and the risk of virus mutating and spilling over to other species are complex problems to solve,” said Suelee Robbe-Austerman, Director, USDA/APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories. “Increased population density of animals and people, changing of the climate, the effect of wildlife – these all require collaboration and a holistic response.”