Collecting and storing large amounts of data on individuals and groups can send shivers down the spine of some. Protecting the public can go too far, and agencies can be judged as intrusive, untrustworthy and in breach of human rights.
When, however, intelligence is gathered on threats to society, many put their concerns to one side, and the vast intelligence gathering operation carried out by a team in the UK is likely only to result in Mother Nature complaining.
Data on all known human and animal pathogens
The database, described as “matchless in scale,” has been put together by scientists in Liverpool, UK, that should help in the fight against human and animal diseases, and its reach is truly global. It could be used to map pathogen movements before they happen, helping to prevent or minimize infection before it occurs.
The Enhanced Infectious Diseases - EID2 for short – database has been developed by the Liverpool University Climate and Infectious Diseases of Animals team, more affectionately known as LUCINDA.
It maps the relationships between human and animal diseases and their hosts. The LUCINDA team realized that a treasure trove of data was already available in scientific literature and preexisting databases, which was just waiting to be mined for useful insights.
The database has already been used to trace the history of human and animal diseases, to predict the effects of climate change on pathogens, to produce maps of which diseases are most likely in some areas, to categorize the relationships between human and animal carriers and hosts of numerous pathogens. It has the capacity to hold data on all known human and animal pathogens, when detailed information becomes available.
There are already 60 million pieces of data stored in EID2, and it is being updated all the time. The tool is open to registered researchers, offering access to sets of information on infectious pathogens that have until now been difficult to acquire.
It describes, for example, all of the known pathogens of a host species, and all of the hosts of a pathogen species. It can generate all of the recorded pathogens in a particular country or region, or all of the pathogens of a certain host in a specific country.
Data can be mined and maps can be produced country by country, or even county by county of the factors affecting disease, for example, factoring in prevailing climate conditions, meaning regions can best prepare to avert or manage outbreaks of emerging diseases.
An agency in Liverpool established last year is already using the database to work on emerging and zoonotic infections. Among areas for further use under consideration are predicting where and in which species certain diseases are most likely to occur, and producing estimates of where diseases can occur based on environmental data such as climate, demographics and vegetation.
Announcement of the database’s existence comes on the heels of work published earlier this year, detailing maps produced by a research group showing those areas of Asia at higher risk of the emergence of avian influenza H7N9.
In the fight against global disease, this could be a valuable new weapon.