Emerging Pathogens Project

The Emerging Pathogens Project is sampling birds, small mammals, and their pathogens and parasites across ecological gradients to study emerging threats to environments and the possibility of environmental influences facilitating host-switching of parasites and pathogens.  This is a joint project between Field Museum and University of Chicago's Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology.  The project will result in collections that can provide a baseline and samples from which current and emerging diseases can be studied.

This project involves many Field Museum personnel--John Bates, Josh Engel, Thomas Gnoske, Shannon Hackett, Holly Lutz, Jason Weckstein.

Why is this project different?

  • Focusing on whole organisms and connecting the individual vertebrate specimen to the pathogens and parasites that live in and on them
  • Preserving specimens in the museum’s collections for future research
  • Collaborating with experts ensures maximum utilization of specimens and maximum generation of new knowledge from our efforts
  • Vouchering of all material results in the “gold standard" of specimens for current and future biodiversity studies
  • Improving scientific infrastructure in the countries where we work
  • Utilizing genomics technologies to survey and study pathogens, parasites, and their vertebrate hosts
  • Embedding knowledge in the tree of life provides important evolutionary context

Collaboration is critical

  • No one individual or institution has sufficient expertise
  • We are collaborating with experts across the diversity of life from virologists to microbiologists to parasitologists
  • More than 20 collaborators from around the world
  • Developing bioinformatics infrastructure to share data between collaborators


  • Graduate Student training--Rebecca Dikow (Ph.D., University of Chicago) was studying genomics and the tree of life for Vibrio, the bacteria responsible for human cholera and bioluminescence in some marine organism.  Holly Lutz is currently a graduate student at Cornell University studying the evolution of blood parasites.  Heather Skeen is a Loyola University student also studying the evolution and biodiversity of blood parasites.
  • Training African, Peruvian, and American colleagues in new research techniques
  • DNA Residency Program, training high school students and teachers in science

Videos about the project

To learn more about the project, our collections and our people, watch the videos below.

The Emerging Pathogens Project is grateful for the collaboration with The Field Museum's BioSynC staff to create some of the videos listed above.