Two University of Central Florida College of Sciences researchers have been selected by a national philanthropic foundation as research fellows to help fight the threat of animal-borne diseases.
Laurene Tetard, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Physics, and Xiaohu Xia, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Chemistry, were selected as fellows by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement as part of its Scialog initiative to mitigate zoonotic threats, or those originating from animals. Tetard and Xia also both have joint appointments in UCF’s Nanoscience Technology Center.
The Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) was founded in 1912 and is the oldest foundation for science advancement in the U.S.
The origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is still under debate, but its possible animal origin means researchers are giving special focus to zoonotic diseases and ones that could emerge in the future.
“A deeper understanding of the interactions between animals, people, pathogens and their environments could expand our ability to rapidly detect emerging pathogens and to quickly develop and deploy new countermeasures,” says RCSA Program Director Andrew Feig.
Created in 2010 by RCSA, the Scialog (short for “science + dialog”) format brings together communities of early-career scientists from multiple disciplines and institutions across the U.S. and Canada, and this initiative includes both academic and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists with the vision of spurring stronger interactions between these groups.
The three-year initiative for addressing zoonotic threats will first meet this fall in Tucson, Arizona.
Guided by a group of senior facilitators, participants will discuss challenges and gaps in current knowledge, build community around visionary goals, and form teams to propose cutting-edge, collaborative research projects. Those considered to have the potential for high-impact results will be selected to receive seed funding.
Tetard says research chosen will stem from the discussions but that her contributions to the community will include her expertise with nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy, which can show how zoonotic threats change over time.
“Viruses and bacteria are small systems that have not been studied extensively with new nanoscale tools, such as those we are working on at UCF,” Tetard says. “Nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy provides the spatial resolution and the sensitivity to detect such small systems and study how they evolve. Participating in this initiative could help in advancing the development of new tools that are better suited for problems related to zoonotic threats. I’m very excited about taking part in these conversations.”
Xia will bring his work with developing advanced nanotechnologies for diagnostics to the Scialog research community.
“I am honored to be selected as a Scialog Fellow, and I am excited for the opportunity to collaborate with leading scientists from multiple disciplines to develop innovative technologies for detection and mitigation of zoonotic threats,” Xia says. “With the support of this fellowship, I’d like to expand my research to the field of detection and diagnosis of zoonotic diseases. I am thrilled by this opportunity to work in a new field. Ultimately, I hope that my research will contribute to mitigation of existing and emerging zoonotic threats.”
Tetard received her doctorate in physics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and joined UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center and Department of Physics, part of UCF’s College of Sciences, in 2013.
Xia received his doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from Xiamen University and joined UCF’s Department of Chemistry, part of UCF’s College of Sciences, in 2018.