THE role of rats in the development of epidemiology is the subject of a new £1 million research project at the University of St Andrews.

Medical anthropologist Dr Christos Lynteris will lead a team investigating The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis, beginning next month.

The five-year project, backed by £990,164 in funding, will be based at St Andrews’ Department of Social Anthropology. It will examine the scientific study of rats and of the public health practices developed for controlling the rodents after its role in the transmission of infectious diseases became known.

When it was discovered at the turn of the 19th century that rats carry deadly diseases like plague, leptospirosis and murine typhus it prompted a global war against the rodent.

Lynteris said: “The project will explore how knowledge acquired through medical and epidemiological studies of the rat and knowledge acquired during the development and application of practical, public health measures of vector-control (rat-proofing, rat-catching and rat-poisoning) contributed to our understanding of how diseases harboured by animals are transmitted to humans, and of the role that different forms of animal-human contact play in this process of animal to human infection (zoonosis) – a key driver of global health risk today.”