THE IN SITU LABORATORY INITIATIVE
Building local capacity to monitor wildlife health and disease emergence
Many of the world’s most biodiverse areas have the fewest resources for monitoring human-wildlife interactions, and this not only threatens their survival, it also elevates disease risks shared by humans and other animals. Globalization and climate change, both fueled by human actions, exacerbate these shared risks, and our challenges are too complex for a single group of nations or states to address; we need a global effort. The In Situ Lab Initiative (ISL) hopes to catalyze this movement by empowering local scientists and community leaders with modern wildlife population monitoring and pathogen surveillance tools. ISL represents a movement towards a decentralized and community-run One Health laboratory network. In literal terms, we are making a blueprint for performing routine wildlife community health assessments and pathogen screening in-country and near sites of sample collection. The ISL initiative formally launched in October 2020, with the first hub of the decentralized network to be established in the Peruvian Amazon.
The laboratory blueprint will include:
- Identifying a set of laboratory equipment and materials for genomic research techniques that maximize affordability
- Developing reliable, standardized protocols for pathogen screening, species detection, and population estimations
- Creating free data analysis software with integrated storage services
- Creating clear, practical guidelines that ensure the highest possible biosafety level standards
Hub 1: The Peruvian Amazon
Los Amigos Conservation Hub
A Model Laboratory
As the first node of ISL, a state-of-the-art conservation technology laboratory will be installed at the Los Amigos Conservation Hub (formerly called the Estación Biológica Río Los Amigos, or EBLA) in the Peruvian Amazon.
The hub will have equipment and infrastructure for field genomics, safe pathogen screening, toxicology, and advanced wildlife tracking. Some of the specific aims will include: sample biobanking, expanding barcode of life reference libraries for the Amazon rainforest, field testing for pathogens and environmental contaminants, and developing sequencing solutions for population monitoring of key species.
This hub will also contain a conservation technology “makerspace” for developing, deploying, and refining custom wildlife tracking devices. Among the first installations will be a long range (LoRa) forest mesh network capable of communicating with a variety of sensors that are stationary and carried by wildlife. Once established, development will shift to lightweight, low-cost, and long-lasting GPS animal collars as an alternative to radio telemetry collars, as well as passive animal microchip reading stations, with a focus on less-studied and morphologically diminutive species.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org.
The Amazon Conservation Association works to conserve the biodiversity of the Amazon basin through the development of new scientific understanding, sustainable resource management and rational land-use policy. Visit: AmazonConservation.org
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is committed to saving species worldwide by uniting our expertise in animal care and conservation science with our dedication to inspiring passion for nature. Visit: sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org
The Washington University School of Medicine is committed to advancing human health throughout the world. As noted leaders in patient care, research and education, their faculty has contributed many discoveries and innovations to science and medicine since the school’s founding in 1891. Visit: Medicine.WUSTL.edu
Field Projects International’s mission is to protect and study wildlife using hands-on education and innovations in conservation technology focusing on: field research, inclusive programming for the next generation of conservationists, and biomonitoring of wildlife populations. Visit: FieldProjects.org
The protocols.io platform is a free and open access repository for recording and sharing detailed up-to-date research methods and protocols. It allows researchers to easily create, edit, share, and get credit for their protocols, and provides an open access hub for scientists to communicate improvements and corrections to scientific methods.
Featured image credits (order of appearance): Ryan Peters (1), Gideon Erkenswick (2), Ishaan Raghunandan (3 & 5), Timothy Paine (4)