Recent advances in genomics, mathematical modelling and computational biology have enabled evolutionary approaches to become a key component in studying of viral infectious diseases. The use of evolutionary approaches offers many advantages compared to traditional epidemiological methods; for example, they can reconstruct the demographic history of an entire epidemic even when surveillance data are sparse or non-existent, they require only a small number of sampled pathogens, and they can detect linkages among infections in time and space that may not be evident otherwise. Even over short time scales, viruses can accumulate significant diversity, resulting a genomic imprint of the ecological impact on transmission dynamics. By statistically analysing the genetic differences among viruses sampled from a population, we can reveal the underlying processes that govern viral transmission. Yet, a major challenge in this field is to develop methodologies to formally test the effect of environmental factors on pathogen transmission and evolution.
We are currently developing tools in landscape phylogeography, a field at the interface between spatial and molecular epidemiology and that aims to relate phylogenetic informed movements to external/environmental factors. Specifically, we focus on new methods to investigate the impact on environmental factors on the dispersal history and dynamic of viral lineages (dispersal velocity, dispersal direction and dispersal frequency), as well as to assess hypothetical intervention strategies in the context of viral epidemics. Besides methodological developments, we also apply new and existing methodologies to study several virus spreads in their environmental context: rabies virus in Asia, bluetongue virus in Europe, West Nile virus in North America, Lassa virus in Africa, and African swine virus in Belgium.
Our current research activities on this topic are performed in collaboration with the Evolutionary and Computational Virology lab of Philippe Lemey (KU Leuven) and the research team of Oliver Pybus (Department of Zoology, University of Oxford). We also have ongoing collaborations with the labs of Kristian Andersen at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, Roman Biek at the University of Glasgow, and Hervé Bourhy at the Pasteur Institute of Paris.
Using phylogeographic approaches to analyse the dispersal history, velocity, and direction of viral lineages – application to rabies virus spread in Iran
S. Dellicour, C. Troupin, F. Jahanbakhsh, A. Salama, S. Massoudi, M. K. Moghaddam, G. Baele, P. Lemey, A. Gholami, and H. Bourhy.
"Molecular Ecology", 2019.
Comparing patterns and scales of plant virus phylogeography: Rice yellow mottle virus in Madagascar and in continental Africa
M. Rakotomalala, B. Vrancken, A. Pinel-Galzi, P. Ramavovololon, E. Hébrard, S. Randrianangaly, S. Dellicour, Lemey P, and D. Fargette.
"Virus Evolution", 2019.
Identifying the patterns and drivers of Puumala hantavirus enzootic dynamics using reservoir sampling
L. Laenen, V. Vergote, B. Vanmechelen, K. Tersago, G. Baele, P. Lemey, H. Leirs, S. Dellicour, B. Vrancken, and P. Maes.
"Virus Evolution", Vol. 5, Issue 1, 2019.
Transmission dynamics of re-emerging rabies in domestic dogs of rural China
H. Tian, Y. Feng, B. Vrancken, B. Cazelles, H. Tan, M. S. Gill, Q. Yang, Y. Li, W. Yang, Y. Zhang, Y. Zhang, P. Lemey, O. G. Pybus, N. C. Stenseth, H. Zhang, and S. Dellicour.
"PLoS Pathogens", Vol. 14, Issue 12, Pages e1007392, 2018.
Using viral gene sequences to compare and explain the heterogeneous spatial dynamics of virus epidemics
S. Dellicour, R. Rose, N. R. Faria, L. F. P. Vieira, H. Bourhy, M. Gilbert, P. Lemey, and O. G. Pybus.
"Molecular Biology and Evolution", Vol. 34, Issue 10, Pages 2563-2571, 2017.