Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website has come under fire in recent years for supporting unscientific treatments and therapies and promoting gimmicks such as healing jade eggs.
So, you can imagine our surprise when Goop recently published a piece on One Health featuring an interview with animal and human health expert, Dr. William Karesh.
Dr. Karesh is the executive vice president of EcoHealth Alliance, a research organization focused specifically on One Health. When he’s not doing that, he serves as an expert for the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations focused on human-animal interface and wildlife health. Karesh is also the president of the World Animal Health Organization Working Group on Wildlife Diseases.
The interview was awesome!
“Seventy-five percent of emerging human infectious diseases are linked to wildlife,” Dr. Karesh said speaking about Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19.
He noted a lot of this contact with wildlife is not necessarily conscious; wildlife trade, consumption of dead animals, and animal bites and stings are all ways infectious diseases jump from animals to humans.
And don’t internalize the stereotype of people in developing nations eating bats, pangolins, and gorillas. As Dr. Karesh pointed out, all humans put ourselves at risk.
“People consume wildlife in every part of the world. In America, we eat wild deer and bison. Half of seafood is wild-caught. We have a wildlife section in our grocery stores, but we call it the seafood section. Americans eat as much wildlife as anybody else—it’s just that certain species are more high-risk than others. Bats are known to be riskier for transmitting diseases.”
Even though there is risk everywhere and human behavior is difficult to manage on a large scale, there is still hope.
Biotechnology has proven to be a powerful tool in retroactively curing diseases as they pop up; the response to COVID-19 from the biotech industry has been record-breaking. However, while the entire world waits on a vaccine or cure, we wear masks, stay indoors, and wring our hands in anxiety. As Dr. Karesh said, there are opportunities to act proactively to prevent the next pandemic.
“Other huge factors linked to pandemic emergence are changes in land use and changes in large agricultural operations. We need to build best practices and guidelines into those industries to ensure that they don’t cause the next pandemic.”
Disease prevention in animal husbandry must be a big priority. Even though these animals are protected and well-cared for, they do sometimes encounter wild animals (bats, mosquitoes, birds) or develop other diseases that can make them a risk to humans.
With biotechnology, we can successfully breed food animals that are resistant to a number of ailments.
As Missouri’s Director of Agriculture wrote for the Missouri Ruralist recently, University of Missouri researchers have successfully gene-edited pigs to stop producing the protein that spreads porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome.
“There have been similar biotech discoveries that could arm pigs with resistance to African swine fever and make chickens resistant to contracting and transmitting avian influenza,” she wrote.
Additionally, we can mitigate the risks in nature by decreasing the population of high-risk critters food animals (and humans) may come in contact with. For example, trials are in progress to research the intentional depression of mosquito populations using gene editing.
BIO member Oxitec is in the beginning stages of conducting research in the Florida Keys where they have released 750 million gene-edited mosquitoes into the native mosquito population to create offspring that won’t survive, decreasing the overall population over time.
In Indonesia, researchers with the World Mosquito Program have been working with Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes for three years. These mosquitoes are also self-limiting, and the results are positive. The city of Yogyakarta has seen promising results with a significant decrease in dengue cases.
And there’s more innovation in the works. To learn more about the importance of One Health and the technology on the horizon, join us for our BIO IMPACT conference, September 21st-22nd. The agriculture and environment conference formerly known as BIO World Congress will be entirely virtual this year and we have a feature session entitled, “Advancing Animal Innovations Through the Lens of ‘One Health.’”
Until then, listen to Dr. William Karesh in “COVID-19’s True Origins” on the I AM BIO Podcast. Available on Apple, Spotify, and Google.