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How do viruses jump from animals to humans? - Ben Longdon

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At a Maryland country fair in 2017, farmers reported feverish hogs with inflamed eyes and running snouts. While farmers worried about the pigs, the department of health was concerned about a group of sick fairgoers. Soon, 40 of these attendees would be diagnosed with swine flu. How can pathogens from one species infect another, and what makes this jump so dangerous? Ben Longdon explains.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Ben Longdon
  • Director Natália Faria
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Producer Felipe Grosso, Odirlei Seixas, Liana Vianna
  • Compositor Natália Faria
  • Editor Natália Faria
  • Art Director Natália Faria, Rui Almeida
  • Senior Animator Natália Faria
  • Storyboard Artist Natália Faria, Rui Almeida
  • Animator Rui Almeida, Luke Passos, Allan Dantas, Isaac Santos, Larissa Menézio, Rafael Almeida
  • Illustrator Rui Almeida
  • Character Designer Rui Almeida
  • Sound Designer Matheus Wittmann
  • Composer Matheus Wittmann
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Emerging viral diseases are often the product of a host shift, where a pathogen jumps from its original host into a novel species. Studies have shown that host shifts are a common in the evolution of most pathogens, but why pathogens can successfully jump between some host species but not others is only just becoming clear. The susceptibility of potential new hosts can vary enormously, with close relatives of the natural host typically being the most susceptible. Often, pathogens must adapt to successfully infect a novel host, for example by evolving to use different cell surface receptors, to escape the immune response, or to ensure they are transmitted by the new host. If you’d like to read more about host shifts in the scientific literature, these review articles are a good place to start: here and here.

If you are interested in how pathogens spread, and why they cause harm, you could look at this other excellent TED-Ed video on how germs spread and how they make us sick.

For some of the issues around predicting the next big epidemic in humans you could read this article.

We have developed a game called Viruscraft that is based on research about host shifts – you play as a virus and have to add receptors to a virus to help it spread both within and between species.

For more on the ubiquity of viruses and viral epidemics in a pop-science format see “A Planet of Viruses” by Carl Zimmer

For an overview of the research we’ve carried out on host shifts using an insect-virus model system see this website.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Ben Longdon
  • Director Natália Faria
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Producer Felipe Grosso, Odirlei Seixas, Liana Vianna
  • Compositor Natália Faria
  • Editor Natália Faria
  • Art Director Natália Faria, Rui Almeida
  • Senior Animator Natália Faria
  • Storyboard Artist Natália Faria, Rui Almeida
  • Animator Rui Almeida, Luke Passos, Allan Dantas, Isaac Santos, Larissa Menézio, Rafael Almeida
  • Illustrator Rui Almeida
  • Character Designer Rui Almeida
  • Sound Designer Matheus Wittmann
  • Composer Matheus Wittmann
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more