Since COVID-19 began to spread around the world, nearly five million people have died, a quarter of a billion have been infected and it feels as though civilization itself has come to a screeching halt. Healthcare professionals have been rightly hailed as heroes, as they have worked tirelessly to combat the horrors that have come along with COVID-19. There are others also operating behind the scenes, trying to find ways to prevent such diseases from becoming pandemics in the first place.

There has been no shortage of notions and ideas as to where COVID-19 originated. One of the most prominent theories posits that the virus originated in bats. Raina Plowright, Ph.D., is a disease ecologist and associate professor at MSU. She leads a research team that is studying the transmission of diseases from bats to humans (otherwise known as “spillover”). The team recently received a $4 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and is one of two groups to be selected for this award. The lab has members from over nine institutes and universities from across the world. 

“There is now global awareness of how spillover can lead to a catastrophic public health incident,” Plowright said to MSU News Service. “We could never have foreseen the immense consequences of such an event, but our current pandemic comes back to spillover.”

Data has been collected on three continents, inspecting driving factors such as habitat loss and climate change, as the team considers the various factors that might lead to increased spillover. One of the primary agents at play, Plowright’s lab believes, could be increased contact between bats and humans or livestock. 

“By researching these problems, in multiple ecological contexts, we are getting a sense of the true mechanisms that result in spillover and threaten the world with pandemics,” Plowright said to the MSU News Service.

To learn more about Plowright and her team’s efforts, visit the BatOneHealth website at