Bats and rodents are the two most species-rich taxa of mammals, and are major reservoir hosts for zoonotic pathogens. Bats are considered unique in their ability to host zoonotic viruses with severe public health consequences. Meanwhile, the sheer abundance of rodent species worldwide (approximately twice as many as bats) and their close associations with humans, render rodent hosts a constant threat for zoonotic disease emergence.

We study bat-borne pathogens currently in  Finland and Kenya, while rodent-borne pathogens are studied widely with our network of collaborators.

We have a number of projects on companion, production and wild animals.  Our research includes pathogen discovery, development of diagnostics, and epidemiology. Recently we have studied e.g. Bartonella infections in dogs and moose, causes of diarrhea in production animals, mechanisms of tolerance in Aleutian disease, and a novel pathogen causing severe skin infections. We are also developing new vaccines for veterinary use. We are currently launching new projects using molecular epidemiology and statistics to do large scale research on the causes of morbidity and mortality in production animal populations both within Finland and with international collaborators.

Tuberculosis is a major public health problem around the globe with more than 10 million cases annually. Emergence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis worsens the treatment and control options continuously. Our goal is to develop a culture-independent next generation sequencing based assay for obtaining full diagnostic information, including prediction of resistance to all anti-mycobacterial drugs rapidly, accurately, and cheaply. This method should be able to identify resistance-conferring mutations or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) related to each anti-tuberculosis drug. The same methodology can be later used in other bacterial MDR infections, and is part of our efforts to use bacterial whole genome sequencing as a tool in characterization of bacterial infections.

Next-generation sequencing technologies have enabled us to investigate the gut microbiome and virome role in health and disease of different vertebrates. To explore and study the composition of microbiota and its effect on health and disease our group collaborates with Prof. Olli Vapalahti who has acquired Illumina’s state of the art MiSeq next generation sequencing platform.

Currently, our group is busy studying microbiome and virome of canine, bovine, mink, fox, chicken, vole and humans.  To understand the biology and evolution of pathogens we are also sequencing and studying full genomes of various viral and bacterial pathogens. In projects with HUSLAB, we are developing applications to identify any viral sequences directly from human samples and have developed a laboratory and bioinformatic pipeline for this.

This multi-disciplinary and collaborative project embraces the principles of One Health to investigate emerging zoonotic viruses in Kenya. Using samples collected from febrile patients, arthropod vectors, rodents, bats and livestock, we are applying cutting-edge diagnostic tools to study the diversity and prevalence of viruses in selected ecosystems, and the possibility of cross-species virus transmission amongst host taxa. Most research so far has been conducted in the Taita Hills in south-east rural Kenya, supported by the University of Helsinki Taita Research Station.