July - August 2012 Biology Newsletter
In the news!
Biologists track Q-fever bacterium
A team of Laurentian University biology researchers has found significant evidence of the spread of the zoonotic bacterium Coxiella burnetii in wildlife in Algonquin Park.
A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted to humans from animals. The C. burnetii bacterium causes Query fever or “Q-fever” in humans. It was detected in 6 out of 7 species of wild rodents tested within the boundaries of Algonquin Park, including red squirrels, flying squirrels and deer mice. It was also found in flying squirrels in the Peterborough area, indicating that the bacteria may be widespread among these animal populations in Ontario.
Researchers say Coxiella burnetii is generally found on farms with small ruminants, but little is known about transmission of the bacteria from the natural environment. The researchers, led by Canada Research Chair Dr. Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde of the Department of Biology at Laurentian University, say their findings suggest that some visitors to Algonquin Park could be at risk of infection.
“The bacteria that cause Query fever can make humans quite sick, so this is an important finding,” said Dr. Schulte-Hostedde. “We’re still trying to learn how Coxiella burnetii is maintained and spread in the natural environment. We don’t know yet whether wild species are picking it up from domesticated animals, and we don’t know how it changes as it moves between species. As we learn more about it, we’ll have a better understanding of the potential risk to human health.”
Dr. Schulte-Hostedde is Canada Research Chair in Applied Evolutionary Ecology at Laurentian University. Among other areas of study, he has studied squirrel populations in Algonquin Park for more than 10 years.
“We were certainly surprised to find such a high prevalence of Coxiella burnetii in Algonquin, given the amount of human traffic in the area,” said Dr. Schulte-Hostedde. “There are hundreds of thousands of visitors to this park in a year, so it’s good news that so far there are no confirmed reports of Q-fever traced back to the Park.”
People diagnosed with Query fever are usually infected through contact with sheep, goats or cattle. The resulting illness may cause fever, flu-like symptoms, and occasionally swelling of the lining of the heart and heart failure. The last significant outbreak was in the Netherlands in 2007 and led to the infection of more than 2,000 people and the culling of thousands of goats.
The results of the Laurentian research are being published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Zoonoses and Public Health.
This report was also higlighted on CBC's Points North.
Forest floor mat re-greening continues in Sudbury
Graduate student Kierann Santala (supervised by Dr. Peter Ryser) was cast on CBC's Morning North on June 18, 2012. She is trying to determine which environmental site characteristics most influence the transplant success of forest-floor species transplanted throughout the Cu-Ni smelter-damaged areas of Greater Sudbury. For several years now, the city has been cutting sections of forest floor from areas of the Highway 69 widening construction zone just north of the French River and transporting them to areas damaged by mining emissions. The new patches of undergrowth are now thriving.
Janique Vandal (M.Sc., 23 August) - Antimicrobial activity of natural products native to northern Ontario against select microorganisms (co-supervised by Dr. Leo G. Leduc, Dr. Garry Ferroni, and Dr. Mamdouh Abou-Zaid)
Department of Biology Seminar Series
July 27 - Rob Alvo (Author of "Being a Bird in North America) - Common Loon breeding success in relation to lake pH and lake size over 25 years (hosted by Bill Keller)
August 7 - Stephen J. Mills (Chair, Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board) - The role of First Nations in development assessment and approval in the Yukon (hosted by Dr. John Bailey)
Lesbarrères D. & Fahrig L. 2012. Measures to reduce population fragmentation by roads: What has worked and how do we know? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27: 374-380. (DOI)