A Scottish university has been awarded nearly £1 million to study the history of man’s war with the rat.

The research project at the University of St Andrews will examine the way scientists came to understand the role of the rodent in spreading disease and how that shaped our knowledge of public health.

Medical anthropologist Dr Christos Lynteris will lead the £990,164 study after being given an Investigator Award by the Wellcome Trust. The five year project will look at efforts to control rats around the world once their role in spreading diseases was known.

A ‘global war’ was launched against the rat at the turn of the 19th century when scientists discovered they could carry fatal diseases such as plague, leptospirosis and murine typhus, Dr Lynteris said.

Research into the spread of diseases led to public efforts to trap and -poison rats, but much of what was learned then still applies to the way animals and insects help to spread diseases such as ebola, zika and malaria today.

Beginning next month the new study will particularly focus on the way animal epidemics can lead to human infection, how a population of animals can act as a ‘reservoir’, keeping a pathogen alive and potent and the way diseases can spread as a result of changing territories in the animal world.

Dr Lynteris said: “Knowledge acquired during the development and application of public health measures (rat-proofing, rat-catching and rat-poisoning) contributed to our understanding of the way in which diseases harboured by animals are transmitted to humans and the role that different forms of animal-human contact play in this process of animal – a key driver of global health risk today.”