Consortium gets to work on mapping instigators of Q fever


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Consortium gets to work on mapping instigators of Q fever


Institutes from six European countries join forces to gain extra information on the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. This bacterium is for the causal agent of Q fever, a zoonotic infection. The consortium is to start work in May of this year. Extensive research is planned for the coming years. The objective is to improve molecular surveillance and assess the host adaptation and virulence of C. burnetii in Europe.

Cattle, sheep and goats are the main reservoir and shedders of C. burnetii. People can become infected with C. burnetii, mainly due to inhalation of the bacterium. We discussed the ICRAD-project Q-Net-Asses with René van den Brom, manager of the small ruminants department at GD, and the role played by him on behalf of GD.

How did you come to participate in this project?

“A number of the GD staff, including myself, had spoken with Julie Fitzpatrick and Tom McNeilly of the Moredun Research Institute regarding the options for collaboration, back in May 2021. Following on from our meeting, the option of a European project for Q fever came into being. The One Health principle and surveillance are important in this case. Tom McNeilly is responsible for the overall coordination of the project. Q fever is one of the disorders which can be transferred from animals to humans (zoonoses). This disorder has been documented in virtually all countries of the world, with the exception of New Zealand. In the Netherlands, certain groups of small ruminants are compulsory vaccinated against Q fever since the largest described Q fever outbreak that has been described occurred in the Netherlands between 2005-2012. By joining forces, we can gain a great deal more knowledge about C. burnetii and establish a pan-European monitoring and genotyping network. My Contract Research & Consulting colleagues, Lotte Roos and Paul Wever, then dealt with the formal side of matters, including establishing contact with the Dutch government.” What will be researched? “Over the coming year, our broad consortium comprising partners (Moredun Research Institute, Sciensano, NEIKER, Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Royal GD, ANSES and INRAE) from six countries, will investigate which strains occur, and link them to meta data (like host species, location of origin, disease severity, and much more). We are looking to augment our knowledge and establish a database, providing us with insight into the location of the various strains and their disease causing potential. This is invaluable information with a view to source tracing and will subsequently offer opportunities for preventative measures to be taken. Good for both people and animals.”

What role will GD play?

“This project will encompass the next three years, starting officially in April of this year. It has been divided into five work packages (WPs). Our role will mainly be in Work packages (WPs) 1 and 5. We are project leader of WP 1, together with our Spanish colleagues at NEIKER. In that package, we shall be collecting strains of C. burnetii bacterium and its meta data. Strains with a high bacterial load will then be used in the other WPs. Any available retrospective samples will also be used. In the Netherlands, GD has vast experience with the establishment of an effective animal health monitor for small ruminants (Dijkstra et al., 2022). In WP 5, there will therefore be a role for us together with the other partners. This concerns the establishment of some type of data bank containing all the information found. We shall type these strains genetically, identifying their disease-causing behaviour and their prevalence in various locations. When such data becomes broadly available, sources of infection can be detected earlier. In the end, that is of importance for both veterinary and human sector. The consortium is a fine example of international collaboration. During the International Sheep Veterinary Congress held in Seville last January, I already gave a joint Keynote lecture together with Tom McNeilly, on Q fever and this project. A broad view is very productive, allowing us to bundle data and collaborate for good animal and human health.”

The main genotyping methods currently used for C. burnetii generate only limited genomic information and are difficult to standardise. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) provides comprehensive genetic information and is easily standardised. However, few C. burnetii strains are currently available for WGS, largely due to difficulties in isolating the bacteria from field samples.

The consortium has unique expertise in C. burnetii surveillance and genomics to allow collation of C. burnetii positive samples from a wide range of hosts with accurate clinical data. C. burnetii will be isolated from these samples. Isolated strains, plus available archived strains, will be submitted for WGS to generate a comprehensive database of annotated C. burnetii genomes. WGS data will be analysed to identify molecular determinants of C. burnetii host range and virulence. Finally, project outputs will be synthesised into a recommended framework for future molecular surveillance of C. burnetii.


The consortium consists of seven partners, spread across Europe. The Netherlands (Royal GD), Belgium (Sciensano), Spain (NEIKER), France (INRAE, France National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment and ANSES, Laboratory of Sophia Antipolis), Germany (Friedrich- Loeffler Institut) and the United Kingdom (Moredun Research Institute, Consortium Coordinator).

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