Many of our projects were initiated with funding from the Bass Connections Program at Duke.  This program supports faculty to build interdisciplinary and vertically integrated teams, composed of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and faculty.  Funding has covered travel for students on our teams, supported key elements of the research, and has resulted in student-led publications.  Importantly, support from Bass Connections has also provided crucial preliminary findings for grant submissions (including our successful Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases ROI), and helped incubate interdisciplinary connections that led to the formation of the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM).  More recently, support through a Duke Provost's Collaboratory is fostering new research connections to scientists at Duke NUS, with a focus on serological approaches to understand infectious disease exposure in this system (and so far, one external grant submission).

We provide details below on the four Bass Connections projects that we have run in Madagascar.


People and Zoonotic Disease Dynamics in Madagascar 

This Bass Connections project investigated how human land-use decisions affect the small mammal community and disease transmission around the Marojejy national park. Previously, there has been conflicting research documenting how deforestation relates to disease risk for humans. Some research shows deforestation increases disease risk for humans, while other research shows it decreases disease risk for humans. To investigate how human activities influence infectious disease risk globally, the project team collected infectious disease data on humans, wild animals, and domesticated animals. Team members assessed the factors that lead some humans to experience greater risk for disease transmission from wild animals. The team produced two manuscripts on disease ecology to be submitted for publication and generated a preliminary report for the Madagascar Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Health.


Social-ecological Networks and Zoonotic Disease in Rural Madagascar 

To further examine how land-use decisions affect small mammal communities and disease transmission, this team will continue to sample small mammals for infectious diseases. We will be expanding to new habitats and extending our research to better understand how human social networks and patterns of infection interface with the ecological setting. The team will also collect more data on infectious diseases in humans and their domesticated animals, including GPS data to build social networks to examine how humans fit into the ecological network of wild and domesticated animals.


Cookstoves and Air Pollution in Madagascar 

In rural Madagascar, it is common to use traditional, open-fire cooking practices. This practice increases exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate matter, which can cause serious long-term health impacts. In addition to health consequences, this practice also endangers biodiversity and contributes to global warming. The loss of trees means a loss of habitats for various animal species, many of which can only be found in the unique environment of Madagascar. Loss of trees also means a loss of ground cover which impacts the water cycle, leading to drying of the micro-climate. Over the course of two years, we collected data on respiratory health, blood pressure, air quality, and cooking practices. The team found that 93% of the participants had lung capacity below health values. We estimate that one in five community members suffers from impaired lung function. Sleeping areas in homes had very high particulate matter levels throughout the day, and the kitchen area in homes had extremely high levels of carbon monoxide around meal times.


Shining Evolutionary Light on Global Health Challenges

Current lifestyles of humans differ from the lifestyles from which humans evolved, which produces consequences for human health. This team focused on investigating this mismatch by analysis of infectious and noninfectious diseases at a global scale using informatic approaches and a laboratory-based study of human physiology. In Madagascar, transitions in diet and behavior are leading to an increase in non-communicable chronic diseases and musculoskeletal injuries. Our team collected health data from our fieldwork site in Madagascar to investigate more about the concept of mismatch and how this relates to the epidemiological transition. This project led to the creation of the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine (TriCEM), a community of researchers interested in the intersection of evolution and medicine.