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Information for Researchers No. 29 | 30 June 2011
Priority Programme “Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases” (SPP 1596)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the establishment of a new Priority Programme on “Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases”. The running period of the programme is scheduled to be six years, divided in two funding periods of three years each.

Emerging viruses reside in animal reservoirs and can cause highly pathogenic diseases with epidemic or epizootic potential. Pathogenesis in humans or livestock is being investigated for several of these viruses, but little is known about mechanisms driving virus emergence from animal reservoirs. To move ahead, we have to expand and generalise our view on infectious disease agents, taking into consideration the ecology of viruses in their reservoirs and thus, the reservoir hosts themselves. Small mammals (mainly bats and rodents) are suspected to constitute relevant reservoirs of mammalian viruses. These animals show specific traits that may facilitate virus maintenance such as their social group sizes, population densities, population mixing and turnover, mobility, migratory behaviour, and exposure to arthropod vectors.

Investigating mechanisms behind pathogen emergence requires collaboration between the disciplines of virology, zoology, ecology, and theoretical biology. Gaps have to be closed in hypothesis-building, methodology, and study design. Work needs to be centred around the ecological correlations and molecular mechanisms that create species barriers – which with regard to this programme is defined as the sum of conditions that prevent host switching. Concepts from ecology, molecular virology and cell biology can be used to separate this hypothetical construct into reasonably delineated fields of study.

The 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, as well as epidemiological, population-based, and phylogenetic modelling. The programme also welcomes experimental virology work cutting across virus and host taxa to address the molecular determinants of species barrier functions. These studies should aim at revealing mechanisms behind host switching, and project on future approaches to generalise and predict virus emergence.

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

  • Focus should be on mammalian and insect hosts.

  • 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.

  • Field study design should include prior knowledge on, and selection of, a reasonable number of virus models to be studied as indicators of ecological phenomena.

  • Molecular- and cellular-level studies should follow comparative approaches aiming at differences between hosts. For instance, proposing the sole extension of existing experimental systems to a "zoonotic" model virus is discouraged.

  • Experimental animal models should be ethical and appropriate. 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 but bi- or trilateral collaborative proposals are encouraged. Joint proposals should link partners from separate fields, e.g., ecology, virology, theoretical biology. Separate budgets must be provided for each applicant in joint proposals. Field work should always be led by ecology partners.

Research proposals for the initial three-year funding period are now invited. All proposals must be written in English and be prepared according to the guidelines for individual research grants (1.02/1.02e, available from the DFG website). Please include three paper copies and one CD-ROM copy (containing proposal and all attachments as pdf). They should be marked “SPP 1596 – Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases” and addressed to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Kennedyallee 40, 53175 Bonn. Deadline for proposal submission is 31 October 2011. A review panel with project presentations will take place in the spring of 2012.

Further information

The “Research Grants – General Information and Guidelines for Proposals” (form 1.02/1.02e) are available under:

All questions regarding scientific aspects should be addressed to:

  • Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten
    Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
    Universitätsklinikum Bonn AöR
    Institut für Virologie
    Siegmund-Freud-Str. 25
    53127 Bonn
    Tel. +48 228 28711055,
    Link auf E-Maildrosten@virology-bonn.de

General questions regarding the programme, the submission procedure or the funding instrument are referred to: