In this interview from the American Society for Microbiology with Jonna Mazet, PhD, you can hear about how experts are keeping watch in our environment for dangerous microbes that we don't really know about, but which could present a threat to pubic health. Mazet is the Director of PREDICT, which was created to "improve global detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses of pandemic potential," according to UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.
The project has focused on areas with high amounts of biodiversity, and places where there is a lot of disturbance to the environment, because they are locations seen as "hot-spots" for emerging pathogens. The basic techniques of PCR and sequencing have been used as the basic toolkit for discovering new pathogens, a method that has proven effective. Beyond simply identifying these pathogens, Mazet also wants to dig deeper and learn more about how these viruses are working.
Our interconnected world highlights the importance of projects like this one, which may seem like they aren't important to us on a local level. But the nature of transportation and globalization has meant that many things don't stay in one place for a long time. It is to everyone's benefit to understand more about viral threats, and it's cheaper to learn more about pathogens before they start impacting health on a large scale. Mazet also reminds us that unforeseen benefits often arise from this type of broad research as well.