This is an interview with a PhD student of the Complex Systems & Metagenomics projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.
Interview with Marieke de Cock, PhD student of Developing evidence-based surveillance for emerging rat-borne zoonoses in hanging environments at RIVM, WUR and Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut.
PhD student Marieke de Cock is studying zoonotic diseases transmitted by rats and other urban wildlife species, with an emphasis on the impact of urban greening. She analyses rats that were caught in three Dutch cities to find out which zoonotic diseases they carry.
‘I have always been interested in diseases transmitted by animals. During my Master’s degree in Medical Entomology, I worked with mosquitoes. So this PhD, which is about zoonotic pathogens transmitted by urban wildlife such as rats, naturally caught my interest. The animal is slightly bigger, but the principle is the same.
Which zoonotic pathogens are transmitted by urban wild rats? And what is the role of urban greening on the population dynamics of rats and the occurrence of pathogens? To learn more about this, we trapped rats in parks and residential areas in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. In the laboratory, we dissect and test them for a broad range of zoonotic pathogens including hepatitis E virus and bacteria such as Leptospira, several tick-borne bacteria and antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Salmonella and MRSA. I am also planning to perform population genetics analyses, to investigate their movements through the city.
Personally, I hope to gain more insight into the risks of zoonotic diseases transmitted by urban wildlife in the Netherlands, thereby contributing to public health. If we learn more about zoonotic disease transmission by rats and whether certain areas are riskier than others, municipalities could use that information to improve pest control and urban planning.’