The infectious disease lab is located at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin. These collaboration activities with RKI have two main aims. The first is to identify pathogens causing death in wild great apes, and the second is to create baseline data on the "physiological" or chronic pathogen presence in great apes.
The search for pathogens causing death includes:
- Observations on great apes showing clinical signs of disease.
- Necropsies on great apes that die in the wild
- Broad screening for viruses, bacteria, helminths and fungi. The methods used are molecular methods as well as culturing, histology and other techniques.
- Determining the source of infection. According to the pathogen(s) that are identified in the laboratory, possible reservoirs or points of transmission are screened for these pathogens. Special scrutiny is given to pathogens that may originate from humans or domesticated animals, and other sources such as rodents, bats, birds and duikers are also investigated.
- Development of non-invasive tests to perform studies on the prevalence in "survivors" or on "carrier status" of other individuals (depending on the pathogen).
- Search for further pathogens that may threaten great apes from reservoir host species, including bats or rodents.
- Determination of high risk points for disease transmission, such as fruit trees.
Determination of “normal” pathogen presence involves
- The gastrointestinal flora is examined using PCR and classic bacteriological methods.
- Other factors that might influence gastrointestinal flora are investigated, such as age, sex, season, and health status of the individual.
- Similar approaches are taken for gastrointestinal parasites.
A further project is focused on the role of “breaking up of ecosystems” on disease risk. For example, one question involves the possibility that “new” pathogens are transferred into (or out of) forest ecosystems at the periphery. Along transects from villages to fields, and further from secondary forest to primary forest, mosquitoes and other vectors are caught and are investigated for species composition and pathogen prevalence.