Biology experiments are usually done under very clean conditions, with scientists carefully observing what happens when they infect one species of animal with one kind of bacteria, for example. The artificial ecosystems that Richard Bowen and Alan Rudolph write about are way messier, with animals like ducks, chickens, pigeons, blackbirds and rats all living together and interacting.

And that’s the point. The Colorado State biologists aim to emulate the barnyards and live-animal markets where new pathogens – like the coronavirus currently spreading outward from Wuhan, China – emerge. They hope these more chaotic and realistic lab environments will yield important insights into disease transmission, and how to stop it.

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Places where lots of animals come into contact can help pathogens move from species to species. Baloncici/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Re-creating live-animal markets in the lab lets researchers see how pathogens like coronavirus jump species

Richard Bowen, Colorado State University; Alan Rudolph, Colorado State University

In the real world, new diseases emerge from complex environments. To learn more about how, scientists set up whole artificial ecosystems in the lab, instead of focusing on just one factor at a time.

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