Dr Tom McNeilly

Ruminant bacterial zoonoses: pathogen diversity, immunity and vaccine interventions

Dr Tom McNeilly, Moredun Research Institute

Ruminants are important reservoirs for a number of important bacterial zoonoses of global importance. As such there is much interest in how to control these bacteria within the ruminant host in order to mitigate the risk of human infections. This presentation will focus on two bacterial zoonoses with distinct clinical outcomes in ruminants and the issues surrounding the use of vaccine-based control measures. Shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli, which cause disease in humans but not ruminants, are found in a number of different ruminant hosts including cattle, deer and sheep, where they transiently colonise the intestinal epithelium. These bacteria cause disease in humans as a result of systemic Shiga toxin (Stx) activity whereas ruminants are largely unaffected by the toxin. This presentation will detail how strains containing a particular Stx subtype, Stx2a, have recently emerged in our cattle populations which are associated with more severe human disease.  Experimental and modelling data will be presented to demonstrate that a prototype vaccine developed by our group induces robust immune responses to key bacterial adhesins, and may be highly effective at controlling these more pathogenic STEC strains in the field. In contrast, Coxiella burnetii, the causative agent of Q fever, causes disease in both ruminants and humans including fever, reproductive problems and persistent infections characterised by chronic inflammation. Currently, the most effective means of control is through vaccination; however, uptake of currently available vaccines which are based on inactivated bacterins is limited due to their high reactogenicity, particular in humans. Work is currently underway to develop a safe and effective C. burnetii sub-unit vaccine using a novel B cell epitope mapping approach which allows the proteome of all sequenced C. burnetii strains to be interrogated. Finally the barriers to implementation of vaccines in ruminants to control zoonotic disease will be discussed, which are largely related to the lack of clinical disease induced by STEC in livestock, and safety issues relating to use of current C. burnetii vaccines.


Prof. Nils Bunnefeld

Tackling conflicts in biodiversity conservation

Prof. Nils Bunnefeld, University of Stirling

picture of nils bunnefeldConflicts between biodiversity conservation and human livelihoods are increasing in scale and intensity and have been shown to be damaging for both biodiversity and people. My research group’s work proposes to develop management and governance strategies for these conflicts under uncertainty of environmental and societal change. In this talk I will focus on our research in three interconnected areas. 1) How do conflicts develop? We analysed long term data of conservation conflicts and wildlife management impacted by uncertainty. I will specifically talk about our work on goose conservation and conflicts with agriculture in Northern Europe. 2) How can we tackle conflicts and help stakeholders move from conflict to cooperation? Here I will show unpublished data from our experimental games about wildlife management and land use, conservation payments and collaboration incentives. Games were played on tablet computers with over 500 local people in Gabon, Madagascar, Scotland and Kenya, which allows us to explore questions of economic payments, social trust and equity in different cultural settings. 3) What are the ecosystem consequences of conflicts? We have built a new R package (‘GMSE' Generalised Management Strategy Evaluation) and I will demonstrate the potential of a flexible, agent-based and social-ecological model to explore novel governance and management strategies for biodiversity conflicts. 

Prof. Oscar Gaggiotti

Bridging the gap between population genetics and community ecology in biodiversity research

Prof. Oscar E. Gaggiotti (University of St. Andrews)

Picture of Prof Oscar GaggiottiThe application of genetic concepts and tools in conservation biology has largely focused on single species. However, individual species are embedded in communities and can potentially interact with hundreds of other species. Moreover, many ecosystems are structured by foundation species that have a disproportionate effect on community structure and ecosystems processes and, therefore, can act as the main drivers of species and genetic diversity. Thus, preserving biodiversity across all levels of organisation requires a clear understanding of the mechanisms underlying associations between species and genetic diversity. This is the main focus of community genetics, which uses two types of approaches, reductionist and holistic.  Reductionist approaches focus on narrowly defined types of interactions (host/pathogen, predator/prey) and investigates the role of specific genetic variants (candidate genes) as drivers of community structure and stability using lab or field experiments (common gardens). Holistic approaches, on the other hand, look for general mechanisms that may explain observed spatial patterns of biodiversity across levels of organisation. A frequently used approach to achieve this goal is the study of Species-Genetic Diversity Correlations (SGDCs). Although initially this holistic approach lead to some new insights, further progress has been hindered by a narrow focus on neutral processes and the use of simple statistical approaches. In this talk, I will present a blue print for community genetics studies that could help the field move forwards.