A project using nanotechnology to advance research in the detection and mitigation of emerging animal-borne infectious diseases is being led by a University of Central Florida researcher.

Zoonotic threats are those that originate from animals. And while the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is still under debate, its possible animal origin means more attention is being given to zoonotic diseases—as well as to monitoring for ones that could emerge in the future.

The project is funded by a $50,000 grant from national philanthropic foundation Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funding is part of an initiative called Scialog Mitigating Zoonotic Threats; Scialog is short for “science and dialog.”

In the first of what will be a three-year program, the initiative will focus on launching new research identification, diagnosis, mechanisms, and inhibition of emerging zoonotic disease pathogenesis. The program has awarded 25 individuals from research teams across the country with $50,000 grants. The goal is to create an interdisciplinary community to catalyze research of zoonotic threats.

Laurene Tetard, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and researcher with the Nanoscience Technology Center, is one of the 25 awardees. Her group analyzes nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy. As part of the new initiative, they will be exploring replacement

Currently, the process to evaluate threats from mosquitoes can be a cumbersome process that includes setting up massive traps, identifying the mosquitoes and carrying out molecular assays on them to determine potential pathogens they carry, Tetard says.

The researcher and her team, with the help from experts in nanomaterial designs and from the USDA, aim to produce an active material that will change color in the presence of pathogens. Such an innovation would significantly reduce the work involved in mosquito trapping and filter which samples will carry potential pathogens to analyze.

“We are really at the beginning of this idea,” she says. “We have to build everything. The opportunity to apply our expertise to a field of research that could benefit from smarter sensors, better fundamental understanding of the response of pathogens to their environments, or to new treatments is very exciting. I am very thankful to be part of the Scialog team on this topic, and I hope that this first step will lead to more ideas to prepare us for new unknown biological threats.”