Infections of the 21st century – new Leibniz research alliance

TEM: Granuloma in Tuberculosis with Mycobacterium. Photo: Gudrun Wibbelt/ IZW
TEM: Granuloma in Tuberculosis with Mycobacterium. Photo: Gudrun Wibbelt/ IZW

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) is cofounder of the Leibniz research alliance ‘INFECTIONS´21 – Transmission Control of Infections in the 21st Century’. The new Leibniz alliance investigates the control, prevention and combat of infectious diseases. Fourteen Leibniz institutions and three external partners are participating in this interdisciplinary project. The association is funded with a total volume of 600.000 EUR for four years.

Berlin, March 5th 2015. Infectious diseases pose a large challenge for health care in the 21st century and are among the most common causes of death. Thanks to improved hygiene and medical progress many infectious diseases have been controlled, especially in industrialised countries.  However, due to an increase in antibiotic resistance, appearance of new pathogens, re-appearance of known pathogens and growing mobility, we are facing new global problems that have to be solved.

On land, through water, by insect vectors and through the air – infections can spread to humans. To understand the properties of these various transmission mechanisms and to develop strategies for improved infection control requires a perspective that takes into consideration biomedical, ecological, socio-economic and political aspects. The aim of the Leibniz research alliance ‘INFECTIONS´21’ is to establish a culture of interdisciplinary communication across subject boundaries, thus developing new strategies and methods for early warning systems with public participation and improved management of outbreaks.

In order to achieve the goals of four research projects on pathogen transmission the expertise of 14 Leibniz institutions and selected external partners will be combined. The interdisciplinary research projects will examine 1.) human-to-human-transmission in marginalised groups of society using HIV and tuberculosis as examples, 2.) infection transmission by air and the influence of environmental conditions on the spread of influenza, meningitis, tuberculosis or pneumonia as exampes, 3.) water as hubs for pathogen spread between different host species with cholera, influenza A virus and multiresistant staphylococci as examples and 4.) vectors or the role of climate change and the related distribution of insects carrying and distributing new infectious disease to Germany.

‘We require water for life. What we have often ignored until now is that water may play a central role as a driver of pathogen evolution and the ability of pathogens to adapt to new hosts and then be subsequently transmitted to a larger population. We need to investigate the role of water in pathogen transmission, particularly for pathogens not normally associated with water, in order to develop a proper risk assessment and to be able to develope appropriate preventive measures’, says Prof Alex Greenwood, head of the department Wildlife Diseases at the IZW and speaker of the research project ‘Transmission of infections via water’.

Another major aspect is public participation: regular talks and events for a broad audience and so-called ‘citizen science’ projects, projects in which citizens interested in science can directly participate, are also on the agenda of the research alliance.

INFECTIONS´21 is supported by a grant from a competitive fund of the Leibniz Association and joins eleven existing  Leibniz research alliances. According to Matthias Kleiner, president of the Leibniz Association, INFECTIONS´21 is a prime example of interdisciplinary, networked Leibniz research: ‘Infectious diseases are one of the most urgent social problems of the 21st century worldwide. To investigate them is not only a medical or biological issue, but also includes environmental, political and cultural aspects. The new Leibniz research alliance INFECTIONS´21 combines these complex perspectives for the purpose of achieving concrete benefits for people worldwide, comments Greenwood.’

Participating institutions and partners of the research alliance ‘INFECTIONS´21’:

Leibniz Institutions:

  • Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Berlin     
  • Research Center Borstel – Leibniz-Center for Medicine and Biosciences, Borstel
  • Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim, Potsdam
  • Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Hamburg
  • Leibniz Institute DSMZ–German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, Braunschweig
  • Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Mannheim
  • German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg
  • Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute, Jena
  • Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology, Hamburg
  • Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin
  • Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam
  • Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Leipzig
  • Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Müncheberg
  • Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology, Bremen

External partners:

  • University of Hamburg, Department of Social Sciences, Programme Area of Political Sciences
  • Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)
in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17
10315 Berlin
Prof. Alex D. Greenwood PhD, +49 30 5168 255,



Background information:

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) investigates the vitality and adaptability of wildlife populations in mammalian and avian species of outstanding ecological interest that face anthropogenic challenges. It studies the adaptive value of traits in the life cycle of wildlife, wildlife diseases and clarifies the biological basis and development of methods for the protection of threatened species. Such knowledge is a precondition for a scientifically based approach to conservation and for the development of concepts for the ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. The IZW belongs to the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (


The Leibniz Association connects 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural, engineering and environmental sciences via economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. Leibniz Institutes address issues of social, economic and ecological relevance. They conduct knowledge-driven and applied basic research, maintain scientific infrastructure and provide research-based services. The Leibniz Association identifies focus areas for knowledge transfer to policy-makers, academia, business and the public. Leibniz Institutes collaborate intensively with universities – in the form of “WissenschaftsCampi” (thematic partnerships between university and non-university research institutes), for example – as well as with industry and other partners at home and abroad. They are subject to an independent evaluation procedure that is unparalleled in its transparency. Due to the institutes’ importance for the country as a whole, they are funded jointly by the Federation and the Länder, employing some 17,500 individuals, including 8,800 researchers. The entire budget of all the institutes is approximately 1.5 billion EUR.