Early animal farming and zoonotic disease dynamics: Modelling brucellosis transmission in Neolithic goat populations

Guillaume Fournié, Dirk U Pfeiffer, Robin Bendrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Zoonotic pathogens are frequently hypothesized as emerging with the origins of farming, but evidence of this is elusive in the archaeological record. To explore the potential impact of animal domestication on zoonotic disease dynamics and
human infection risk, we developed a model simulating the transmission of Brucella melitensis within early domestic goat populations. The model was informed by archaeological data describing goat populations in Neolithic settlements in the Fertile Crescent, and used to assess the potential of these populations to sustain the circulation of Brucella. Results show that the pathogen could have been sustained even at low levels of transmission within these domestic goat populations. This resulted from the creation of dense populations and major changes in demographic characteristics. The selective harvesting of young male goats, likely aimed at improving the efficiency of food production, modified the age and sex structure of these populations, increasing the transmission potential of the pathogen within these populations. Probable interactions between Neolithic settlements would have further promoted pathogen maintenance. By fostering conditions suitable for allowing domestic goats to become reservoirs of Brucella melitensis, the early stages of agricultural development were likely to promote the exposure of humans to this pathogen.
Original languageEnglish
Article number160943
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2017


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