Understanding bats as reservoirs for virulent zoonoses

Dr. Cara Brook, University of Chicago
- | Leidy Room 10
Photo: Dr. Cara Brook


Bats host viruses that cause higher case fatality rates upon spillover to humans than those derived from any other mammal, including Ebola and Marburg filoviruses, Hendra and Nipah henipaviruses, and SARS and MERS coronaviruses. We develop a nested modeling framework that pinpoints mechanisms which underpin the evolution of viral traits in reservoir hosts that cause virulence following cross-species emergence. Unique physiological and immunological traits of reservoir hosts—specifically robust constitutive immunity and virus tolerance—drive the evolution of high growth rate viruses that, while avirulent to reservoir hosts, are likely to cause pathology following spillover to new hosts. We apply this framework to generate virulence predictions for viral zoonoses derived from diverse mammalian reservoirs, including bats, and successfully recapture virus-induced human mortality rates reported in the literature.