The introduction of unknown pathogenic viruses can pose a major threat to livestock and human health. Recently, the Netherlands faced such a challenge with the introduction of a novel Orthobunyavirus, later named Schmallenberg virus (SBV). When the first symptoms appeared, the identity of the virus was unknown, let alone where the virus came from, how it was transmitted and if there was any risk to human health, especially for farmers and veterinarians.
Other related viruses, such as Rift Valley fever virus and Oropouche virus, are known to have wildlife and livestock reservoirs and cause substantial disease in humans.
A complete picture of vector identification and vectorial capacity is not yet accomplished. Moreover, a fundamental knowledge base on the biology of biting midges and their interactions with pathogens is still lacking. For example, we do not yet understand why some Culicoides species are efficient vectors of viruses and others not, or how the microbiome of insect vectors affects vector-pathogen interactions and thus vector competence. Knowledge gained on midge microbiomes (e.g. metagenomic pipelines) can be translated to other ecosystems that are important for transmission of pathogens.
Investigating the role of vectore competence is done through the following objectives:
- Investigate how the microbiome affects the vector competence of selected Culicoides vectors with C. nubeculosus as the model species and C. obsoletus as the suspected vector of arboviruses of animal and human pathogens
- Develop models that explain the impact of local and global forces (livestock transport, climate change) on vector competence and the spread of midge-borne disease based on empirically derived data from the transmission studies.
Furthermore, it is the objective to establish a pipeline for transmission studies with midges, mosquitoes and animal hosts (e.g. sheep) to determine vector competence under realistic conditions.