Florian Liégeois, an IRD virologist, has been hosted by the University of Zimbabwe, in Harare, for the past few months. The country having implemented lockdown regulations since last April, he and his partners needed a new organisation so that their research on coronaviruses continues.

Florian Liégeois extracts nucleic acids from bat feces to study the different viral types, including coronaviruses.

© Getrude Mashura (University of Zimbabwe)

"We study the different coronaviruses Zimbabwe bats carry" explained Florian Liégeois. Since the Zimbabwean population is in regular contact with the guano of these bats, a new transmission of a virus such as SARS-Cov-2 is fairly possible. "More broadly, we study animal and zoonotic diseases in the country," added Florian.

After a few weeks of shutdown due to the strict confinement of the population, the researchers recently received the authorization to return to their laboratory to continue this crucial research. Working from home remains the rule. The scientists take turns to work in the laboratory of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences. “We received urgent funding [from ANRS, ANR Flash and MUSE] in the context of the current crisis. Therefore, we must use it to better understand the zoonotic diseases found in the area in order to protect populations, wildlife and domestic animals”.

Getrude Mashura, technician at the University of Zimbabwe, enters sample information into the bio-bank software.

© IRD - Florian Liégeois

Field activities, aiming at collecting new samples from bats (feces, urine, blood, etc.), are not yet planned to resume but the scientists remain optimistic: "We hope to resume field trips soon. It is important to take regular samples to study the diversity of coronaviruses present in bats, and their prevalence."