Going batty

A flying fox Credit: Right: courtesy of Australian Animal Health Laboratory" />A flying fox Credit: Right: courtesy of Australian Animal Health Laboratory Taking a saliva sample from the world's largest bat is not easy under ordinary circumstances, but obtaining that same sample from a SARS-infected flying fox — while using a 4-foot cotton swab and wearing a pressurized biosafety suit with double-layered rub

Brendan Borrell
Apr 1, 2008
<figcaption>A flying fox Credit: Right: courtesy of Australian Animal Health Laboratory</figcaption>
A flying fox Credit: Right: courtesy of Australian Animal Health Laboratory

Taking a saliva sample from the world's largest bat is not easy under ordinary circumstances, but obtaining that same sample from a SARS-infected flying fox — while using a 4-foot cotton swab and wearing a pressurized biosafety suit with double-layered rubber gloves — can be downright infuriating. "There comes a point where you just have to say 'that's enough,'" says Gary Crameri, a technician at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, about an hour's drive south of Melbourne.

When I visit him in late November, Crameri had just exposed half a dozen flying foxes to the virus that causes SARS. The hope is that this tricky experiment will shed light on a molecular receptor that SARS seems to be using to get inside cells. If this hunch about receptors is correct,...