Over the next few months, New York area high school students will gather samples from the city’s birds as a part of the Virus Hunters program, hosted by the nonprofit science outreach organization BioBus. Their goal is to catalog the flu viruses that often lurk in urban fowl, some of which might have the potential to someday hop into humans.
The surveillance program, which was developed in partnership with virologists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is one of several outreach efforts that have emerged in recent years to equip young scientists with hands-on experience in outbreak preparedness — a quest that has only gained urgency since the new coronavirus started its tear across the globe.
For many months to come, Covid-19 will continue to shutter schools and thwart efforts to gather. The changes have forced educators and researchers to change their teaching tactics. But several groups have met the challenge head on, not merely weathering the pandemic’s inconveniences but transforming them into opportunities for scientific growth.
Flu viruses are fairly cosmopolitan pathogens that are capable of jumping into a wide range of animals, including birds, and changing their genetic material along the way. Only some of these viruses pose a possible threat to people, experts said. But which ones? Researchers won’t know unless they check.
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