Environmental Surveillance & Disease Ecology

The field of disease ecology encompasses the ecological study of host-parasite interactions within the context of their environment and evolution, and this is fundamental to the One Health strategy. Here we strive to understand the mechanism and scale of pathogen impacts at individual, population, and community levels. We take an interdisciplinary approach drawing on genetics, molecular ecology, epidemiology, and modelling to understand how biological, social, and physical aspects of environment can influence disease transmission, intensity, and distribution.

Vector-pathogen interactions are key to understanding the transmission and epidemiology of vector-borne diseases. We aim to track the rise and fall in pathogen prevalence and diversity using sewage wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), soil samples, and human infection data.

Vertical Lead: Farah Ishtiaq

Investigators: Farah Ishtiaq, Sanjay Lamba, Shivranjani Moharir, Harvinder Kour Khera

Activities:

We aim to understand the role of vector ecology and population genetics in pathogen transmission dynamics. We use a combination of field and molecular techniques to answer questions related to how mosquito ecology, species richness, and niche overlap drive the emergence of a disease. Using fine-scale landscape genetics, we explore the relationships between heterogeneous landscape features and genetic variation in vector populations. With molecular, ecological, and landscape data, in conjunction with computational and analytical approaches, we want to quantify the effects of landscape on gene flow in vector populations, which will help us understand how vector-borne diseases spread.

This approach together with ecology, statistical modelling, and Geographic Information System (GIS) will help define disease hotspots for public health interventions via citizen science. In a nutshell, landscape genetics is a powerful tool we use to tease apart the importance of key environmental variables and human factors influencing dispersal and potential spread of vector-borne diseases.

Investigators: Farah Ishtiaq

Climate has both short and long-term impacts on vector-borne disease transmission, with implications for seasonal risk and widespread geographic changes in disease occurrence. Climate impacts mosquito survival rates through seasonal changes. Additionally, mosquitoes are able to adapt to changing conditions, such as those induced by climate change. For example, newly emerged adult female mosquitoes have some ability to survive cold temperatures by entering a reproductive arrest called diapause as temperatures begin to cool and days grow shorter in late summer. These adult females will not seek a blood meal until temperatures start to warm the following year. Mathematical models for predicting the impacts of climate change on vector-borne disease transmission are of great use to the field, but their accuracy is only as good as the data sets used to inform them. Climate and non-climatic covariates interact to determine the burden of vector-borne diseases on humans, and further data will allow us to refine our understanding of these causal relationships. Using a variety of statistical and mathematical modeling approaches, we will investigate various aspects of parasite and mosquito biology that may improve disease surveillance and control.

Investigators: Sanjay Lamba, Farah Ishtiaq

Developing ways to monitor public health in total is the need of the hour. Environmental samples like wastewater samples and hospital samples are composite samples, that can be used to monitor public health status. The analysis of these samples can give an idea of the diseases prevalent in society. This project deals with surveillance of public health by analysis of environmental and human origin samples, using a molecular biology and genomics approach.

Investigators: Shivranjani Moharir, Farah Ishtiaq, Harvinder Kour Khera

Collaborators: Divya Tej Sowpati, Karthik Bharadwaj, Archana Bharadwaj, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad