Coronavirus particles. Credit: Getty Images
In this 2012 interview, David Quammen talks about his book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which is highly relevant to the emergence of the coronavirus that has changed our lives.
Welcome to another in our series of coronavirus episodes of Scientific American’s Science Talk, posted on March 18, 2020. I’m Steve Mirsky.
In 2012 David Quammen published the book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. On his Web site back then, he wrote, “The next big and murderous human pandemic … will be caused by a new disease—new to humans, anyway. The bug that’s responsible will be strange, unfamiliar, but it won’t come from outer space. Odds are that the killer pathogen—most likely a virus—will spill over into humans from a nonhuman animal.”
We’re now living in that situation with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the condition COVID-19. It’s the seventh coronavirus known to infect humans. Research published March 17, 2020, in the journal Nature Medicine looked at the genome of the virus. Two possibilities emerged from that analysis. In the first, the virus became pathogenic in a nonhuman animal and then jumped to humans. In the second, a relatively harmless version of the virus jumped from bats to another animal and then to humans. More than one intermediate animal species could also have been involved in that transmission. And once in the human population, the virus evolved to become potentially dangerous and sometimes deadly.
I interviewed David Quammen about his book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic back in 2012. I’m reposting it because of its relevance to what’s going on today.