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In Wild Animals, Charting the Pathways of Disease

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- High in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon, Raina K. Plowright and other researchers blindfolded and hobbled a herd of bighorn sheep in a corral so blood samples could be taken and their noses and throats swabbed.

"There's lots of places for pathogens to hide in the nasal cavity," said Dr. Plowright, a wildlife scientist with the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State who is based in Bozeman.

Peering into the nostrils of wild sheep is part of the nascent field of eco-immunology, which seeks both to understand the immune systems of wild animals and to use that knowledge to gain a better understanding of human immune systems. Until recently, this kind of knowledge has been gleaned almost exclusively by studying pampered, genetically similar lab animals, which don't reflect a real-world scenario.

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