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EPA Funds West Nile Virus Research at Rutgers

Release Date: 07/31/2008
Contact Information: Daniele Hauptman (212) 637-3665, or John Senn (212) 637-3667,

(New York, N.Y.) Rutgers University’s Cook Campus is buzzing with the news of a recent $750,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant that will fund important and innovative research about biodiversity and West Nile Virus. Biodiversity, or the amount and variety of plants and animals in a geographic region, has become a major topic of interest in recent years. A group of investigators at Rutgers is researching the link between biodiversity and this potentially deadly virus in hopes that their findings will help save lives in the near future. The Rutgers researchers are collaborating with members of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Audubon Society to find an integrated understanding about this illness.

“This research going on at Rutgers will give us some very valuable insight into how to combat the West Nile Virus at its source,” said Alan J. Steinberg. “By better understanding the relationship between the wetlands environment and virus rates, we can lower our risk of falling prey to these life-threatening pests.”

West Nile Virus is dangerous and can even be deadly. EPA’s grant will help the Rutgers University research group investigate and test their hypotheses that there is a link between biodiversity, human behavior, and West Nile Virus prevalence. The grant is funded by through the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, run by its Office of Research and Development. These researchers will build on what is already known about West Nile Virus. One scenario they are testing is whether changes in the plant species in wetland areas result in fewer species of animals that can be host of the mosquito-borne disease, making animals and people exposed to these areas even more susceptible to west Nile Virus. Their goal is to pinpoint an exact causal relationship between the environmental state of wetlands, plant diversity, animal diversity and opportunities for human and animal contact with disease-carrying insects.

"Rutgers is pleased that the U.S. EPA is enabling our scientists to investigate factors affecting the transmission of West Nile Virus,” said Michael J. Pazzani, Vice President for Research and Graduate and Professional Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. “Through a better understanding of its causes, we hope to reduce the prevalence of the disease.”

During this project, researchers at Rutgers will study the urban northeastern wetlands of New Jersey and their surrounding neighborhoods. The group is made up of Joan G. Ehrenfeld, Rebecca Jordan, and Michael Sukhdeo, of Rutgers University, Branden B. Johnson of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Nellie Tsipoura of the New Jersey Audubon Society. These individuals from different organizations have joined forces with the purpose of discovering information that will uncover the social and scientific roots of the West Nile Virus.

To learn more about EPA’s research grant, please visit: