Today, infectious diseases remain a huge burden on society, a fact exemplified by the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus. At more than 20 million cases worldwide, coronavirus has helped shine a spotlight on infectious disease research in an unprecedented manner. Now, more than ever before, research on infectious disease transmission, epidemiology and treatment is paramount.
This year, Axel Cloeckaert joined Karl Kuchler as co-Specialty Chief Editor for Frontiers in Microbiology’s Infectious Diseases specialty section. A Catholic University of Louvain alumnus, and current INRAE Director of Research in a joint INRAE and University of Tours laboratory, Axel’s primary research focus is pathogenic and opportunistic species belonging to the family Brucellaceae. Prior to his current appointment as Specialty Chief Editor, Axel gained editorial experience as an Associate Editor for Frontiers in Microbiology’s Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobials, Chemotherapy and Resistance specialties, and as an Academic Editor at PLoS One. We caught up with him, four months in, and asked him about his new role.
Why did you choose to study Infectious Diseases?
I’ve always been interested in bacterial and viral pathologies, particularly research focused on immune responses and vaccine development. This was an interest sparked by my first research experience, during my MSc, where I studied brucellosis, and the role of antibodies in protective immunity against the disease. I continued this research during my PhD and post-docs, and particularly relished the experimental nature of this work, as little was previously known about the genomics or genetics of Brucella. It was like starting from nothing, firstly producing monoclonal antibodies against target antigens in mice infected with Brucella, and then using the monoclonal antibodies to screen phage-lambda constructed libraries to clone the corresponding gene. Such work took several years, but today genome sequencing takes only 24 hours. We really were at the ‘frontiers’ of Brucella science!
What are some top emerging questions in the field of infectious diseases, today?
Currently, I think the most important question is how novel pathogens emerge and spread. We are experiencing this phenomenon as we speak, with the recent and persistent COVID-19 pandemic. I think studying the evolution of ancient infectious diseases, in comparison to recent and emerging ones, could really aid our understanding of how these zoonoses outbreaks happen, and how we should act in order to prevent and deal with them. Zoonotic diseases are common and widespread, with 3 out of 4 newly emerging infections having their origin in an animal reservoir. I believe studying these diseases, and investigating their prevention in the form of vaccination is a critically relevant issue that deserves attention as a ‘top question’ in our field today.
How do you hope to see our Infectious Diseases Specialty Section evolve with your influence?
I hope to see our specialty highlight studies on the diversity and evolutionary history of pathogens, particularly genetic acquisitions or losses that result in specific clinical characteristics of novel emerging pathogens. I would like to see our specialty section zone in on the questions of how and why a microbe from an environmental reservoir becomes pathogenic, and how environmental changes, such as climate change, and human interventions and behaviours, converge in the emergence of new pathogens that result in human disease and morbidity.
What does Open Access mean to you, and why is it intrinsic to the evolution of your field of research?
To me, Open Access means that information is freely available to the entire community; it is about the dissemination of scholarly research in a world where all people have the opportunity to seek and share knowledge. In particular, the Frontiers model of organizing articles into Open Access Research Topics provide an interesting and engaging source on information on wide-ranging themes, some of which are unique and otherwise would not have garnered the attention they deserve.
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