The race to find and stop viruses that could cause the next pandemic


The race to find and stop viruses that could cause the next pandemic


LURKING in the air, water, soil and inside every other living creature, have us surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered. For every star in the known universe, there are at least . They are so small that more than 100 million .

As 2020 has shown, just one of these is enough to bring society to its knees. The offers a grim demonstration of how hard it can be to stop a new infection once it takes hold in the human population.

But what if we could hunt down the next -causing virus before it starts spreading? If surveillance of viruses evolving in animals could identify the likely candidates, then we might be able to pinpoint the all-important leap they could make into humans. And by identifying the animal species carrying the most problematic viruses, measures could be put in place to prevent their spread.

This kind of viral detective hunt is a Herculean endeavour, even before you add the difficulty of predicting which candidate out of millions will go on to infect us. Critics argue that it is impossible to stop the occasional rogue virus from jumping into humans and that we should instead focus on stamping out those infections when they occur. The debate has split scientists, but it needs to be resolved soon. Even as we continue to battle covid-19, the clock is ticking down towards the next outbreak of a novel pathogen.

The health of humans, wildlife and ecosystems is intimately connected. As our population grows, more people live in contact with wild …