A red-tailed guenon in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest region of Uganda nibbles on a jam-covered rope. It’s sweet treat with purpose — the rope will later be collected, the saliva left behind analyzed. This clever, non-invasive sampling technique was developed a few years ago by researchers at the University of California, Davis.
Data from these samples helps scientists track the emergence of zoononic diseases — pathogens in wildlife that could spread to humans. Before the jammy rope hit the scene, monkeys would had to be captured and anesthetized to snag samples. It was a time-consuming and challenging process.
Other pathogens like Zika and West Nile are found in blood, not saliva. So, for that, scientists are building comprehensive datasets of potential hotspots to narrow down regions and hosts, a topic we covered in depth in Discover December story “Outsmarting Outbreaks.”