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News & Press: Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight - Sanatana Soilemetzidou: water holes, viruses and the Mongolian Desert

Saturday 4 February 2017   (0 Comments)
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Among all the global challenges that we are facing in our century, it wouldn’t be wrong to say, that one of the most challenging is the emergence of infectious diseases. Identifying the factors driving the problems is essential, not only to eliminate the threat to humankind but also to conserve the biodiversity of our fauna and flora. Analyzing the causes over time, the relationship between animals and their environment, the transmission as well as the ecology and evolution of the diseases, are our responsibilities. That is one of the missions of the department in which I’m pursuing my Ph.D., the department of Wildlife Diseases of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

My research is part of the AquaVir Project: Water as an aquatic viral vector for emerging infectious diseases. My work is focused in Central Asia, with main study area the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Gobi desert is known as a very hostile environment for living organisms. The climate is strongly continental with long cold winters (down to -40°C) and short hot summers (up to +40°C). Still, Mongolia's fauna is very rich and underestimated.  The main aspect of my project is that in places like the Gobi Desert, with seasonally limited water sources, water holes could be acting as a viral vector. This limitation of water will force mixed species to gather at the same water points, having as result aggregation of hosts and pathogens in a limited place. Will that be beneficial for the pathogens and how does it affects the transmission and evolution of pathogens, is a question we want to answer.

Until now, I had two expeditions in the Gobi Desert. First into the Southeast, or Dzungarian Gobi, a place full of animals, but with high habitat destruction, since one of the biggest open pit and underground mine of Mongolia is located there. We got to immobilize, collar and sample Khulans (Mongolian Wild Asses) for our research purposes, as well as to sample different waterholes, where various wild and domestic animals, gather to drink water.  My next trip was to the west, in Great Gobi B protected area. There I got to live-capture and sample numerous species of Mongolian rodents. Both trips were full of adventure, new experiences, and with a big dose of Mongolian culture and hospitality.

But practical veterinary skills will give no answers without some good lab work. When back in base, the daily challenge is to recognize and identify the factors in the smaller, but not less important scale! An interdisciplinary approach is likewise wanted. And through both actions comes development, results, and new ideas. There couldn't be any better way to draw a composite picture and be part of something so important. I am very excited to be part of it and I do hope to contribute as much as I can in this milestone of efforts.

Sanatana Soilemetzidou
Department of Wildlife Diseases
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)


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