February 09, 2023

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO) has designated the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) at The Ohio State University as a Reference Center for Zoonotic Coronaviruses. This makes IDI one of only five Reference Centers globally, the only one in the Western Hemisphere, and the only academic institution to serve in this role. This designation is for a four-year term, followed by consideration for another four-year term. 

These Reference Centers are designated by the UN FAO Director General based on their unique achievements, capabilities, and expertise in zoonotic coronaviruses. In this role, IDI will provide scientific and technical advice on zoonotic coronavirus issues of notable relevance to the UN FAO. 

The UN FAO cited some of IDI’s core strengths in their designation decision including a well-established network of interdisciplinary scientists, educators, and clinicians who are actively working to prevent and control the emergence and spread of zoonotic coronavirus diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, in humans, animals, and the environment. In particular, the UN FAO was excited to learn about our work with infectious disease surveillance in: companion animals such as cats and dogs; cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry; wildlife (in collaboration with the Ohio Wildlife Center); and stormwater and wastewater.    

Also considered was IDI’s strong expertise in fundamental research of animal coronaviruses (primarily bovine and porcine) and more recently SARS-CoV-2. Our research areas focus mainly on virological studies (including pathogenesis, virulence gene determinants, genetic determinants of inter-species transmission); immunological studies (including in vivo and in vitro experiments); and diagnosis (including diagnostic assay development). 

IDI’s collaborative efforts with China in a joint surveillance and research program on the transmission of coronaviruses from bats to pigs as well as our research collaboration and training provision to low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central and South America support the UN FAO’s global mission. Our collaborative relationship with the Global One Health Initiative is key to capacity building in this regard. 

As a reference center, IDI will provide expertise and technical support relevant to risk assessment and risk management of zoonotic coronaviruses, diagnostics and vaccines, surveillance and epidemiology, and wildlife-domestic animal interface and spillover. 

This designation was made possible thanks to crucial efforts from IDI Director Dr. Michal Oglesbee, IDI Viruses & Emerging Pathogens Thematic Program Co-Director Dr. Linda Saif, and Dr. Qiuhong Wang. Drs. Wang and Saif provide scientific leadership for the center and are based in the Center for Food Animal Health with academic appointments in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine.     

In addition to taking on this new role for zoonotic coronaviruses, IDI is also proud to serve as the UN FAO Reference Center for Antimicrobial Resistance, a similar designation made in 2020. IDI’s AMR Reference Center efforts are led by Dr. Thomas Wittum, IDI Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Thematic Program Co-Director as well as Professor and Chair of the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. 

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