Currently, he is studying families of viruses and bacterial pathogens to define the patterns/rationale for why some pathogens are more likely to jump between species and spread. The molecular analyses will be used to understand the measurable impact of the novel infections on public and animal health and to help devise strategies for control and eradication of these infections. “I am interested in the core principles and commonalities regarding pathogens that jump species and spread, and how we can use this information to realistically predict the next pandemic”, says Professor Holmes. He also is using “ancient DNA” to investigate the causes and patterns of spread of past pandemics such as plague and cholera. Another study will use metagenomics to investigate the cause of disease syndromes of uncertain microbial cause (e.g. Lyme-like syndrome) in Australia
I will show how modern genomic techniques, notably meta-transcriptomics and ancient DNA, can provide important new information on microbial biodiversity, origins and evolution. I will first demonstrate how the meta-transcriptomic analysis of invertebrate species is transforming our understanding of viral evolution, revealing the ancestry of many vertebrate viruses, challenging traditional classification systems, and highlighting that most RNA viruses are unlikely to be associated with disease in their hosts. I will then show how the analysis of ‘ancient DNA’ from archival human remains (including those present in medical collections) can inform on past infectious disease epidemics, focusing on two infamous bacterial diseases – plague and cholera – with recovery of genomes >1000 years old now possible.