Zoonosis such as HIV, SARS-CoV, and Ebola have had enormous impacts on humans since jumping into the species at their respective times. All of these diseases have been extremely virulent, but this is not always the case. Thus predicting the virulence of a disease in humans before it jumps or early on in the zoonosis could be a useful skill. Then major public health precautions could be established when necessary, but not wasted when the zoonosis does not end up being that harmful to humans. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been examining this, and trying to predict virus virulence upon jump to another species.
The researchers infected 48 different species of fruit fly with an RNA virus. And while it may not appear so initially, these species can be very genetically distinct as the different species of fruit fly shared a common ancestor approximately 40 million years ago. As one may expect, the species of fruit flies that were the most genetically similar to each other, had similar susceptibility to the disease. While this study of course was only done in fruit flies, it does not take much of a stretch in thinking to apply this to humans. For example if a disease is lethal in chimps, there’s a good chance it will be lethal in humans as well. This is backed up by past examples including HIV and ebola.
While these results may not be revolutionary, it’s encouraging to see zoonotic diseases may follow some sort of biological logic when jumping species. It’s also encouraging to see this type of predictive research being done on emerging infectious disease.