Donald McNeil, Jr., has written up some background detail about last week’s story that falciparum malaria came from gorillas: “A finding on malaria comes from humble origins”. It’s one of many research findings coming out of a systematic collection of fecal samples from African ape field projects:
Dr. Hahn, a virologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is an expert not in malaria but in S.I.V., or simian immunodeficiency virus, the precursor to the virus that causes AIDS in humans. But she has made deals with primate researchers all across Africa who collect fecal samples for their own projects, to have them take extras for her. They go into vials with a special solution, called RNAlater, that preserves the nucleic acids of all the cells in the sample which includes not only what apes eat, but cells sloughed off their gut linings, which contain all the things infecting them. She has systematically sequenced the genes of many of those infective agents: S.I.V., simian foamy virus, hepatitis and now malaria parasites.
Poop metagenomics. I wonder to what extent pathogens in meat may pass through the gut with DNA intact. Probably not a big issue with African apes, as meat consumption is fairly sporadic even in chimpanzees. But you’d want to be cautious doing certain things with carnivores.