Infectious diseases are constantly emerging and reemerging worldwide, causing immense threats to the health of humans, animals, and plants. This is especially clear now as researchers tackle the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused more than 16 million human infections worldwide.

To meet this challenge, Virginia Tech has created the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens.

“The critical mass of Virginia Tech faculty working in the area of infectious disease and pathogens is impressive, and their enthusiasm for the new center is exciting," said Matt Hulver, executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. "Additionally, the creation of this new center could not be more timely.”

The vision of the center positions Virginia Tech to become a national and international research and training resource that is a leader in advancing transformative science and developing effective countermeasures against emerging infectious diseases.

The new center will be administratively established in the Fralin Life Science Institute and will include faculty participants from at least seven colleges and more than 25 departments on campus.

“The mission is to foster and promote a cohesive and synergistic environment for interdisciplinary and collaborative research across the Virginia Tech campus in the area of emerging, re-emerging, infectious diseases,” said X.J Meng, the founding director of the center and University Distinguished Professor of Virology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

The majority of emerging human infectious diseases are of animal origins owing to increasingly close interactions among humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. Many other factors, including climate change, land use and land cover change, intensive farming practice, backyard farming, animal poaching, and bushmeat consumption all bring animal pathogens closer to human habitats, leading to spillover or cross-species infections in humans.  

Affiliated faculty members and students of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens. Clockwise from top left: Mari Martinez M.S.; Tanner Dehart, M.S.; Assistant Professor Brandon Jutras; University Distinguished Professor X.J. Meng; Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wang; Clinical Professor Tanya LeRoith; Professor Kathleen Alexander; Assistant Professor Clement Vinauger; Assistant Professor Kate Langwig; Professor Dana Hawley; Assistant Professor Joseph Hoyt, Assistant Professor Chloe Lahondere (center).

Affiliated faculty members of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens
Affiliated faculty members and students of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens. Clockwise from top left: Mari Martinez M.S.; Tanner Dehart, M.S.; Assistant Professor Brandon Jutras; University Distinguished Professor X.J. Meng; Associate Professor Xiaofeng Wang; Clinical Professor Tanya LeRoith; Professor Kathy Alexander; Assistant Professor Clement Vinauger; Assistant Professor Kate Langwig; Professor Dana Hawley; Assistant Professor Joseph Hoyt, Assistant Professor Chloe Lahondere (center).

"In keeping with the land-grant mission of Virginia Tech, the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens has several overarching objectives that include translating basic and mechanistic research in infectious diseases into tangible results, such as vaccines, antimicrobial drugs, intelligent infrastructure, and diagnostics that benefit the global society,” said Meng, who is also a member of National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. 

The center will help train the next generation of infectious disease scientists by providing interdisciplinary research training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students and recruit top faculty and students in the broad field of infectious diseases. The center will also help position Virginia Tech to become more competitive in acquiring large center grants, program grants, and training grants which typically require an extensive team of scientists from different disciplines.  

“Given that the mission of the Fralin Life Science Institute is to strategically invest in targeted research areas within the life sciences, we believe the center is an excellent fit within our institute and will provide broad support for Virginia Tech’s life science community,” Hulver said.

The center will draw upon Virginia Tech’s existing expertise of diverse affiliated faculty members in biological, biomedical, medical, engineering, agricultural, veterinary, plant, social, and environmental sciences spanning seven colleges and more than 25 departments. An Advisory Leadership Committee representing different academic units, including biomedical sciences and pathobiology (Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine), geography (College of Natural Resources and Environment), civil and environmental engineering (College of Engineering), biological sciences (College of Science), medicine/infectious disease (Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine), and biochemistry (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) has been working to solidify the center’s themes and direction. 

“The global impact of COVID-19 has reinforced Virginia Tech’s ability to be responsive and agile,” said Don Taylor, interim vice president for the Office of Research and Innovation. “As a result, we’ve assembled faculty with diverse expertise, including infectious diseases, to foster a cohesive and synergistic environment for interdisciplinary research and training, which further enhances Virginia Tech’s position in the commonwealth and the nation as a destination for solving infectious disease problems.”

The center will focus on local and state important issues in infectious diseases, such as microbial contamination in drinking water in Appalachian rural areas, Lyme disease, bat white-nose syndrome in Virginia, microbe-related food safety, COVID-19 prevention, etc. The center will develop science-based solutions for issues related to infectious diseases and educate graduate students to effectively communicate their research results to policymakers and the general public.

To become affiliated with the center, faculty members are encouraged to contact the center director to discuss benefits and expectations.