Injecting Wastewater Into Monkeys

Leor Grebler
2 min readMar 18, 2024
Generated by author using Midjourney

So, yeah, we used to do that.

Forget the poor canary in the coal mine. He had it easy. Too much gas, he’d just lose consciousness and die. Not the monkey.

In the first days of wastewater surveillance in the late 1930s, monkeys were injected with sewage to test if there were outbreaks of the polio virus. If the monkeys developed polio, it meant there was polio in the area.

Read all about it…

Now there are PCRs and RATs that each provide orders of magnitude accuracy and speed improvements, but in the 1930s, you could always rely on a good monkey to help you out. While the use of monkeys or other beings is an article of itself, what the eventually testing of a new data sources and the subsequent refinement of the process shows is how these transformations occur.

New data source -> early, slow testing -> better testing -> new types of data that can be extracted -> accuracy improvements -> more data types.

Using wastewater, we can now check for new COVID strains and dozens of other diseases. We can get daily results made public and even follow them up the sewage line to the toilet from which the suspect deuce was dealt. DNA can be analyzed and soon publicly gathered poop might become PII (if that’s not TMI already).

What else are we putting out there publically that will soon become personally identifiable? At some point, if you analyze enough data, everything becomes a signature.

Hat tip to Freakonomics for their latest episode on this topic. It’s worth a listen: .



Leor Grebler

Independent daily thoughts on all things future, voice technologies and AI. More at