"Dressed head-to-toe in protective gear, Peggy Eby crawled on her hands and
knees under a fig tree, searching for bat droppings and fruit with telltale
Another horse in Australia had died from the dreaded Hendra virus that winter
in 2011. For years, the brain-inflaming infectious disease had bedeviled the
country, leaping from bats to horses and sometimes from horses to humans.
Hendra was as fatal as it was mysterious, striking in a seemingly random
fashion. Experts fear that if the virus mutates, it could jump from person to
person and wreak havoc.
So while government veterinarians screened other horses, Eby, a wildlife
ecologist with a Ph.D., got to work, grubbing around the scene like a
detective. Nobody knew flying foxes, the bats that spread Hendra, better. For
nearly a quarter century, she’d studied the furry, fox-faced mammals with
wingspans up to 3 feet. Eby deduced that the horse paddock wasn’t where the
bats had transmitted Hendra. But the horse’s owners had picked mandarin oranges
off the trees across the street. The peels ended up in the compost bin, where
their horse liked to rummage. “Bingo,” Eby thought. Flying foxes liked
mandarins. The bats’ saliva must have contaminated the peels, turning them into
a deadly snack.
Eby, however, longed to unlock a bigger mystery: Could she, with the help of
fellow scientists, predict when the conditions were prime for Hendra to spill
over from bats, before it took any more lives? What if they could warn the
public to be on guard — maybe even prevent the virus from making the leap? It
would be painstaking work, but it wasn’t a pipe dream; Eby was already spotting
patterns as she crawled around infection sites.
But when she pitched her research to a government funder the following year,
she got a flat no. She proposed starting small, gathering basic data on flying
foxes that could be used to figure out when and why they spread the virus. Her
work, she was told, wasn’t considered a “sufficiently important contribution.”"
Via Doug Senko, who wrote "This is a great story…"
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics