NSF News

Understanding transmission of emerging infectious diseases to help predict outbreaks

In the past three decades, outbreaks of infectious diseases, notably Ebola, MERS, SARS and now COVID-19, have caused heavy societal impacts worldwide. In order to mitigate the effects of future infectious disease outbreaks, the U.S. National Science Foundation is investing in research to help predict outbreaks, to understand pathogens and how they transmit, and to provide information about how human behavior impacts transmission.

The new research awards come through the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases program, which supports interdisciplinary research on the ecological, evolutionary, and social drivers that impact the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases. This joint program also includes National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Food and Agriculture - USDA. The program also engages in international partnerships with research organizations in the United Kingdom, Israel and China.

"As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that there are other pathogens threatening public health and economic security. It is critical to identify those pathogens and to understand how they are transmitted so that we can prevent future pandemics," said Assistant Director for Biological Sciences Joanne Tornow. "Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases awards have helped us to understand Ebola, SARS and other diseases, and these awards will help provide a picture of potential future threats."

Eight new awards totaling over $16 million from these agencies will look at multiple facets of infectious diseases:

  • How diseases that are transmissible between animals and humans can be managed
  • How land use influences transmission
  • How transmissible vaccines might impact disease ecology
  • How an organism’s resistance to diseases it regularly comes into contact with could inform how it would interact with an emergent disease
  • How Ebola and other viruses might spill over from wildlife to humans, possibly the same process as occurred in the case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19

Three of the awards are collaborations with researchers in the U.K. and are also supported by U.K. Research and Innovation.

The eight awards bring the total number of awards supported by the program to 180 over its 20-year history.

Learn more about the EEID program and view the full list of awards at nsf.gov.

NIH 2020 EEID Awards: