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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 23 | 7. April 2015
Priority Programme “Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases” (SPP 1596)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established a Priority Programme on “Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases” (SPP 1596). The programme started in January 2013 and is designed to run for six years. Applications are now invited for the second three-year period of this Priority Programme.

Emerging viruses existing in animal reservoirs may cause epidemic or epizootic diseases if transmitted to humans or livestock. While we understand the pathogenicity and epidemiology of prototypic emerging viral diseases, we know little about mechanisms driving virus emergence from animal reservoirs. To move ahead, we need to generalise our view on emerging viruses, taking into consideration the ecology of viruses in their natural reservoirs. We hypothesise that small mammals, mainly bats and rodents, constitute most relevant virus reservoirs due to their large group sizes, population density, mixing and turnover, as well as their exposure to arthropod vectors. The programme will be focussing on mammalian and insect hosts.

Beyond the OneHealth concept centered around medicine (veterinary/human), we seek to improve the collaboration between groups in basic virology as well as basic zoology/ecology on mechanisms behind pathogen emergence. We aim to address ecological as well as the molecular correlates of species barriers, which we define for the purpose of this programme as the sum of conditions that prevent host switching.

The Priority Programme invites applications for collaborative projects on the correlations between host population traits and factors that affect abundance, maintenance, and virulence of reservoir-borne viruses. Approaches can include experimental and field-based studies of infection and infection patterns. Data from the first working period should be used to extrapolate and generalise from field observations. Projects that address the molecular determinants of species barrier functions should aim at revealing correlations and mechanisms behind host switching, with a view on generalisation and prediction of drivers of virus emergence across virus taxa.

Strong quality criteria are applied to collaborative conception of work, rigorous design of field work, and strict ethical approaches to animal experimentation.

  • Field study sites must be characterised in terms of ecological variables hypothesised to influence virus-host systems (e.g., effects of anthropogenic disturbance on host populations), with an appropriate number of spatial replicas to permit meaningful statistical analysis.
  • Proposals to characterise viral diversity must to be linked to field studies through a clear hypothesis and preliminary data
  • Molecular- and cellular-level studies should follow comparative approaches in terms of virus and/or host. For instance, it is discouraged to propose the sole extension of existing experimental systems to a “zoonotic” model virus.
  • Animal models should be ethical and appropriate. For instance, it is discouraged to propose the setting up of mouse infection models for viruses that have no rodent host. On the other hand, specific mouse models (e.g., knockouts) may have to be used for the confirmation of preliminary findings suspected to be general in mammals.
  • Proposals mainly aiming at the description of novel viruses (“virus discovery”) shall not be funded.

Applications can be made from single parties. Collaborative proposals including two or more groups are encouraged. Collaborative proposals should link partners from separate fields, e.g., ecology/virology/bioinformatics (separate budgets must be provided). Field work should always be led by ecology partners.

Proposals must be submitted via the DFG’s electronic submission system “elan” selecting “SPP 1596” (please be careful if it’s a new or continuation proposal). If you are using the “elan” system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional addresses before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a Temporary Position for Principal Investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

Please notice the rules for publication lists that have been modified recently: Beside the general bibliography every proposal should include a list of up to ten publications that relate directly to the project. Further, the number of publications that may be listed in any academic CV has been increased to up to ten as well. These publications need to be classified as a) refereed publications (published articles and monographs; accepted articles with note of acceptance by the journal) or b) other publications.

Proposals should be submitted not later than 16 June 2015. Please follow the guidelines for project submission according to the forms 50.05 and 54.01 (German/English). Proposals are currently planned to be evaluated in the course of a colloquium with talks and poster presentations on 8 September 2015 in Bonn. Project leaders will receive invitations in due course.

Further information

The DFG’s electronic portal “elan” can be found at:

Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in the DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01, which can be found on the DFG’s website at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

  • Professor Dr. Christian Drosten,
    Institute of Virology,
    University of Bonn Medical Centre,
    Sigmund-Freud-Straße 25,
    53105 Bonn,
    phone: +49 228 287-11055,
    drosten@virology-bonn.de

Further instructions on submitting a proposal are supplied by the DFG:
For scientific matters:

For administrative matters:

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