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Research Priorities: Pandemics, zoonoses, antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Lothar H. Wieler is a veterinarian and microbiologist. His research focuses on pandemics and infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, known as zoonoses. In his work he particularly concentrates on infections involving multi-resistant bacteria and investigates transmission mechanisms and microevolution, as well as disease-causing factors and disease control strategies.
Zoonoses are caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses. The pathogens can be transmitted by mammals, ticks and mosquitoes, but also by milk, eggs, meat and other food items. Known zoonoses are borreliosis and early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE), both transmitted by ticks. But rabies, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), BSE and Ebola fever also belong to this group. Pandemic viruses such as influenza or SARS-CoV are also zoonose pathogens and can, for example, be transmitted by wild birds (influenza) or bats (SARS-CoV) – infections in animals and humans are closely related due to the changing lifestyles and behaviour of humans as well as changing ecosystems (One Health).
With his work, Lothar Wieler hopes to clarify how bacterial pathogens successfully infect different hosts and how pandemics can be better averted by means of preventative measures. For this purpose, zoonose pathogens are identified and decoded in terms of their microevolution. Using genome sequence analyses, in vitro methods and animal infection models in natural hosts (chickens, pigs), it is possible to identify the factors that facilitate a successful infection in the respective host and contribute to the development of resistance. The goal is to be able to identify possible outbreaks more quickly and to develop prophylactic intervention strategies.
A central challenge for Lothar Wieler and his colleagues is the increasing resistance of many pathogens. Bacteria no longer react to antibiotics, viruses no longer to antivirals – pathogens are constantly developing new mechanisms of resistance. In order to recognise and understand these processes, pathogens are cultured and genetically modified. Subsequently, it will be investigated how pathogens and medication multiply and behave in natural hosts (chickens, pigs). Due to population growth and increasing human mobility, zoonoses spread ever faster and pathogens are introduced and transmitted before produced immunity can develop. Research into zoonoses and preventative measures is therefore becoming increasingly important.