How do you make a giraffe spit?

July 16, 1999

Heriot-Watt University materials chemist Christopher Viney this week had the tall order of getting a giraffe to dribble into a glass jar.

He is investigating natural lubricants in a research project that has implications for human health and medicine.

"Mucus isn't generally a popular subject for polite conversation, but in its various forms it's vital for all of us," Professor Viney said.

"It is mucus that allows us to breathe, or, in cases like cystic fibrosis, causes problems with breathing. It also allows us to digest food without digesting our own stomachs and plays a vital role in procreation and fertility."

Professor Viney, who has also studied slug slime, was intrigued by stories that giraffes on the edge of African towns have a taste for garden roses. He wanted to study giraffe saliva to see if it had properties that helped the animals tackle such prickly delicacies.

"By studying how mucus, such as saliva, helps giraffes to eat dry, sharp and spiky food, or allows slugs to glide over the sharp edges of razor blades, we are building a picture of the molecular structure that enables it to perform these different functions," he said.

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