The Saliva Diaries

You’ve heard of scout camp, church camp, even fat camp. But spit camp? That’s where scientists like Sarina Rodrigues go to study the practical applications of using saliva in the lab. A company called Salimetrics, a spin-off from Pennsylvania State University, offers workshops on using oral fluids as biological specimens for the behavioral, social and health sciences.

“It’s a boot camp on how to study biomarker fluctuations in people’s saliva — the best way to collect it, best time of day, best way to store it, best way to measure it — so I can get it just right,” she explains. “These are tricky things to get from saliva.”

Rodrigues signed up for the Salimetrics Spit Camp because, in her quest to unravel the mysteries of oxytocin, saliva has several advantages over blood (“I don’t want to be pricking people”) and cadavers (“I don’t want to be in the business of collecting fresh human brains”). First, needles aren’t needed. Second, subjects must be alive. And third, people can spit in a cup anytime, anywhere, making it handy and practical.

Saliva diaries are another tool Rodrigues is sharpening up for her research program. She wants to track biochemical changes occurring during varying emotional states. “I want people to take a little saliva sample when they feel really depressed and when they feel really warm and fuzzy to see how that might correlate how the body and brain react to various emotions.”

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