Study will help support efforts to prevent spillover events and develop an early warning system for biological threats
Ginkgo Bioworks, a platform for cell programming and biosecurity, and Texas A&M University have been jointly awarded a research grant from the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) via the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (NIFA AFRI) to study SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer populations in Texas.1
Scientists have found that SARS-CoV-2 spreads rapidly in white-tailed deer and this virus is rampant in these deer across the US.2 This deer population can even become reservoirs for the disease, carrying it indefinitely and spreading it back to humans. In fact, a recent study from Nature Communications3 has confirmed over 30 human-to-animal spillover events of SARS-CoV-2 and fast evolution in a small sample size of white-tailed deer in Ohio.
To address this epidemic, Ginkgo's biosecurity and public health unit, Concentric by Ginkgo and researchers from Texas A&M's School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will conduct research to identify if, when, and how both farmed and wild white-tailed deer become infected with SARS-CoV-2. They will also analyze how this spread of disease can affect other animal species, including humans.1
Texas A&M will screen historic and newly collected samples for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, to then be sequenced and analyzed by Concentric. Research results can provide insight for agriculture and livestock industries, so they can instill infrastructure in response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in deer and future zoonotic disease outbreaks impacting livestock.1
"We are honored to be an awardee of a USDA grant. Zoonotic pathogen research like this is key to helping make informed decisions and avoid future outbreaks," said Matt McKnight, general manager, biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks.1 "This data and research will provide governments, industry leaders, and academics the information they need to optimize behaviors and provide early warnings to help prevent disease spillover."
What’s more, Concentric aims to use the data from this research to monitor for zoonotic spillover in the future, building biosecurity infrastructure international governments can use to bolster their biosurveillance efforts and develop early warning systems.1
"We look forward to collaborating with Concentric to further understand how SARS-CoV-2 is spread through this deer population," said Sarah Hamer, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVPM (Epi), VMBS professor of epidemiology and lead researcher on the project, in the release.1 "This research will be vital in identifying interventions to reduce the risk of diseases in farmed animals, humans, wildlife and other domestic animal populations."
"APHIS has long relied on collaboration with our state, Tribal, federal, and private partners to help protect our nation's agricultural and natural resources," expressed APHIS acting administrator Michael Watson, PhD, in a press release4 issued earlier this month. "We are excited about the opportunity these new partnerships give us to build critical One Health coordination and capacity while furthering the science on SARS-CoV-2. This important work will strengthen our foundation to protect humans and animals for years to come."