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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03636

    Responsible biosecurity and risk mitigation for laboratory research on emerging pathogens of amphibians

    Douglas C. Woodhams*, Joseph D. Madison, Molly C. Bletz, Julia McCartney, Brandon C. LaBumbard, Ross Whetstone, Nina B. McDonnell, Kathleen Preissler, Joana Sabino-Pinto, Jonah Piovia-Scott

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: The increasing study of emerging wildlife pathogens and a lack of policy or legislation regulating their translocation and use has heightened concerns of laboratory escape, species spillover, and subsequent epizootics among animal populations. Responsible self-regulation by research laboratories, in conjunction with institutional-level safeguards, has an important role in mitigating pathogen transmission and spillover, as well as potential interspecies pathogenesis. A particular model system in disease ecology that highlights these concerns and related amelioration efforts is research focused on amphibian emerging infectious diseases. Whereas laboratory escape of amphibian pathogens has not been reported and may be rare compared with introduction events from trade or human globalization, the threat that novel disease outbreaks with mass-mortality effects poses to wild populations warrants thorough biosecurity measures to ensure containment and prevent spillover. Here, we present a case study of the laboratory biosecurity concerns for the emerging amphibian fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. We conclude that proactive biosecurity strategies are needed to integrate researcher and institutional oversight of aquatic wildlife pathogens generally, and we call for increased national and international policy and legislative enforcement. Furthermore, taking professional responsibility beyond current regulations is needed now as development of legal guidance can be slow at national and international levels. We outline the need for annual laboratory risk assessments, comprehensive training for all laboratory personnel, and appropriate safeguards specific to pathogens under study. These strategies are critical for upholding the integrity and credibility of the scientific community and maintaining public support for research on wildlife diseases.