Bats and the origins of outbreaks

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 02/03/2021

Credit: Julia Janicki, Simon Scarr, Catherine Tai


The Reuters graphics team publishes visual stories and data. We typically cover all areas of the news, with content ranging from climate to financial markets. The team conceptualises, researches, reports, and executes many of the visual stories published.

Project description:

As the WHO reached its findings on the origins of the novel coronavirus, we explained why bats make such ideal hosts for disease-causing viruses. 

Reuters visualised the universe of bat species and connected the dots to show the history of viruses harboured by bats, the intermediate hosts and the connection to humans. A deep data dive into the relationship between body mass and lifespan of various animals also shows how bats have relatively long life spans for their body size, which can make it easier for viruses to persist leading to more common instances of chronic infection.

Impact reached:

Setting up ground displacement tool for mega quakes. Have been meaning to get into this with Manas for a couple years now but want to do it this year. Would give us a major technology and project win in teh event of a quake. Could reuse this a bunch of times too.

Members of the WHO team tasked with traveling to Wuhan to study the origins of the virus shared the project with the scientific community on social media. Prof. Dr. Marion Koopmans, DVM PhD (Netherlands) and Dr. Peter Daszak, Ph.D (USA) of the WHO origins team called it a “great piece” with “excellent graphics”. 

Techniques/technologies used:

The most noteworthy technique throughout this page is the detailed hand-drawn illustration. All illustrations were done in-house and really helped set the tone for the page.
D3 and Javascript were used to analyse and visualise the data initially. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop were used to further style the visualisations before being placed on the custom web page using ai2html.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult challenge was simply digesting complex scientific information and ensuring that it was accurate and properly displayed. Seeing the scientific community share the work, including the WHO origins team, really helped confirm that we got this part 100% right.

Another challenge was crafting such large data visualisations, illustrations, and text in a cohesive way with such a distinctive visual identity. 

What can others learn from this project?

Complex scientific data can be delivered in fun and interesting ways, while also maintaining accuracy and sophistication.

Project links: