Can machine-learning techniques identify disease-carrying species and predict epidemics?

Photo: Joe McDonald/Getty Images Culprit Creature: Humans catch zoonotic diseases through contact with infected animals. This fruit bat is a known carrier of Nipah virus, a potentially deadly disease first identified in Malaysia in 1999.In April 2014, just after world health officials identified a series of suspicious deaths in Guinea as an outbreak of Ebola, 10 ecologists, 4 veterinarians, and an anthropologist traveled to a Guinean village named Meliandou. Theirs was a detective mission to determine how this outbreak began. How had “patient zero,” a 2-year-old boy named Emile, contracted the Ebola virus? Because we believe people catch Ebola through contact with infected animals, ecologists have long sought the animal “reservoirs” that harbor the virus and pass it along (often without getting sick themselves). With every new outbreak of a zoonotic…


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