Implementing a system of epidemiological surveillance in several crops with agri-food impact in Venezuela using molecular epidemiology and mathematical modelling tools

Human activity is causing new encounters between viruses and plants. Anthropomorphic interventions result in changes in land use, diminution of biodiversity, commercial exchanges of native species, introduction of new plant species and vectors to countries, and changes in atmospheric and climatic conditions. The cost of new incursions of viruses in plants can be very high and result in the loss of native germplasm in crops of agri-food interest. Some recommendations for the biosecurity and protection of native flora include the identification and characterization of the existing viruses in crops of each jurisdiction in countries, as well as the evaluation of the potential risk they represent for each crop. These recommendations have a direct impact on research, risk assessment and generation of epidemiological alerts and alarms.

Epidemiological surveillance is key to crop protection in order to control the propagation of plagues and diseases. The use of bioinformatics tools and mathematical modelling for monitoring (re-) emerging diseases in crops represents a major advance in the epidemiological surveillance of pests and diseases affecting crops in any nation.

Bioinformatic softwares for phylogenetic and phylodynamic Bayesian analysis, like Beast2, can help us to monitor infectious diseases and vectors in real time using molecular data and establishing a patron of molecular epidemiology for plant viruses based in their distribution in space-time. On the other hand, looking for a prediction of future outbreaks and the dispersion of viruses based in their molecular sequences in space-time, mathematical modelling of infectious diseases, and the micro-climatic and ecological characteristics of certain region, can help us to obtain predictions about the next outbreaks in certain region. With this we can protect areas or prevent the dissemination of certain viruses affecting important crops.   

My main objective is to implement a system of epidemiological surveillance in several crops with agri-food impact in Venezuela using molecular epidemiology and mathematical modelling tools.

The steps I plan to take….

  • The first step is learning about the use of advanced bioinformatic software for molecular epidemiology in real time. I have experience using bioinformatics software for phylogenetic reconstructions, but in this case, it is necessary to learn about phylodynamic. For this point, I hope that I and other researchers from my Institute learn to use Beast2 for phylodynamics, at least at a basic-medium level. At this point, we can count on the help of Professor David Rasmussen from the North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC, USA), who will train us on the use of this software for molecular epidemiology in real time in plant viruses and their vectors, and to construct a database for surveillance of the evolution and phylodynamics of local plant viruses.
  • The second step is learning about mathematical modelling in the epidemiology and ecology of plant viruses transmitted by vectors for the prediction of the hotspots in recent outbreaks in order to establish epidemiological borders and get a stop to the advancement of certain infectious diseases transmitted by vectors that affect crops. At this point, I hope to learn about the main models used in ecology of viruses and their vectors. These results can get to the government members in order to take better and smart decisions for the agrifood policies in the country. I hope to count on Professor Erin Mordecai from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA, USA), who is interested in the ecology and mathematical modelling of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases transmitted by vectors affecting crops, and that are caused by socio-economic and cultural problems in certain regions of South America, like Venezuela. I conversed with her several times about this problem, and she wants to collaborate with me. However, I need to look for funding in order to begin the sampling in different regions here in Venezuela. Up now, I have some samples recollected; however, I need to organize several field trips in order to obtain a number of samples (in different space-time) more representative.

Stakeholders will be farmers and industry. The beneficiaries with this project will be farmers, industrial sector and scientists, and in the future the population of the entire nation.

For developing my idea, I contacted both Professors, David Rasmussen and Erin Mordecai, and they have told me that they are interested in supporting me for the analysis of data sampled in my country, and to give me training in their respective fields. I need to find funds for the field trips (including the personal), the travelling and the nucleic acid sequencing of samples. I have reagents for nucleic acid extraction and for PCR. I need to sequence my samples and analyze this with both Professors. Farmers will measure the positive impact of my project in the direct application of our results and developed models as an agricultural strategy for smarter crops.

Eduardo Rodríguez-Román, Venezuela

4 comments

  1. Interesting approach to the study of the virus-crop interaction. The study, in real-time, of epidemiologic dynamics can have a huge impact in the understanding and prevention of the spread of diseases among crops. Your proposal seems to be an innovative approach to a problem with huge impact in human lives.

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  2. You have a very interesting idea so that the knowledge generated will be helpful in the future

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