In hopes of shedding more light on the nature, prevalence and potential of such diseases to be passed to humans, Nollens and his colleagues at UF's Marine Animal Disease Laboratory have embarked on a large-scale collaborative research project to catalogue previously unrecognized and emerging viruses of marine mammals, both in collections and in the wild.
Over a four-year period, some 1,500 blood, tissue and fecal samples from taken from dolphins have been analyzed at different laboratories across the United States, Nollens said.
"Some 90 percent of what we do in the laboratory is molecular analyses," Nollens said. "Because of advances in molecular medicine since January 2006, we've found more than 40 new viruses in dolphins alone. When the last textbook came out in 2003, only 19 were noted."
All viruses found in the laboratory and suspected of having pathogenic potential are further evaluated to assess the impact each virus could have on the health of individual dolphins, he added. The potential impact on collection animals as well as free-ranging dolphin populations is assessed, with information then used to generate guidelines for disease outbreak management and prevention strategies.
"This process helps us understand disease and disease prevention," Nollens said, adding that for more than a decade, scientists have been looking for cures to human diseases, including cancer, among marine invertebrates.
"Maybe there will be a similar story with dolphin papilloma viruses and prevention of cervical cancer in humans," he said. "It wouldn't be the first time we've come up with useful information from looking at marine animals."
|Contact: Sarah Carey|
University of Florida