The world’s vast population of people, pets and livestock, and the strain we put on wildlife, have created the “perfect storm” for pandemics, a researcher warned.
There is an urgent need to control the course and transmission of diseases such as the virus that causes Covid-19 by using vaccine passports, increasing genetic variation in livestock, and reducing the amount of meat we eat.
In an editorial published in the journal Virulence, Professor Cock Van Oosterhout, University of East Anglia, also warned of the need to halt the loss of natural habitats in areas rich in wildlife, reduce human-wildlife conflict and prevent disease from spreading. in people and cattle.
Professor Van Oosterhout, professor of evolutionary genetics at the UEA School of Environmental Sciences, said: âWe humans have been living unsustainably over the past several centuries.
âWe now have a large population – not only humans but also domestic animals and livestock.
“This provides an ideal breeding ground for the evolution and transmission of infectious zoonotic diseases that pass from an animal to a human host.”
The article highlights how the total biological mass of the world’s livestock is more than 10 times that of all wildlife, but genetic diversity is far below what is needed.
Genetic variation is essential to counter the evolution of infectious diseases.
But due to centuries of selective breeding, cattle have become severely inbred, with genetic variation present in 150 breeds of sheep and cattle equivalent to a gene pool with an effective population of 52 animals.
This is 80 times less than what is thought to be the minimum viable population size for species living in the wild, the article warned.
Urgent action is needed to restore the genetic diversity of livestock and domestic animals, as livestock have become a ‘sitting duck’ in an arms race with emerging infectious diseases.
Professor Van Oosterhout warned people need to cut back on meat and dairy to reduce herds, noting how methane from cattle and sheep contributes to global warming and the dangers of antibiotic resistance, as well as at the risk of a pandemic.
He also supported the use of vaccine passports – and said mandatory vaccination may need to be considered – to break chains of transmission and prevent variants from evolving.
And he said: âHabitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade and other human activities have brought many species into contact with each other – which facilitates fallout, fallout and loss. hybridization of pathogens.
âBecause we are in close contact with our pets and livestock, there are many possibilities for the spread of viruses from animals to humans, and spillovers from humans to animals.
“Overall, these conditions have created a perfect storm for the evolution and transmission of zoonotic infectious diseases.”
He said humans are not immune to the evolution of pathogens.
He warned, âOur society faces a significant threat, and we all need to do what we can both individually and societally to improve our long-term prospects as a species.
âThese changes must be implemented globally to effectively fight pandemics,â he added.