A major concern for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the association of zoonotic viruses with the importation of wildlife products. Diseases from zoonotic transmissions can spread globally and pose a threat to human health. DNA technology can be used to help identify the the types of wildlife imported and the pathogens that they carry, giving us an idea of potential health risks associated with wildlife  importation.

George Amato, the director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, worked with the CDC by using DNA barcoding to identify imported bushmeat at U.S. international airports that could not be identified by gross examination. Amato and a group of scientists identified bushmeat from non-human primates (including chimpanzees, mangabeys and guenons) and rodents using both DNA barcoding and gross identification. Non-human primate samples were screened for viruses and were found to carry retroviruses (Simian Foamy Virus) and/or herpesviruses (cytomegalovirus and lymphocryptovirus). This study has been the first of its kind to demonstrate the possibility that handling of illegal bushment may help facilitate pathogen spread.

This reminds me of how HIV rapidly spread throughout the world in the late 20th century causing  significant global concern well into our present time. The HIV virus is generally accepted as a descendent of  SIV, the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus that infects non-human primates.  Although it is not completely well understood, many scientists believe that zoonotic transmission of the SIV virus to humans resulted from handling of chimpanzees and mangabeys that have been known to carry SIV. These non-human primates were likely hunted for bushmeat in central and western Africa.

Which now begs the question, can the pathogens we now detect in illegal bushmeat be something that can evolve to something as dangerous and unrelenting as HIV? It is quite possible. Studies like the ones done by this group of scientists need to continue to prevent future disease emergence.

For more information, please go to:

Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products