Questions for Cool Jobs: Saliva offers a spitting image of our health

Lots of saliva helps contestants get good distance at Purdue University’s annual cricket-spitting contest in West Lafayette, Ind.

Rebecca McElhoe/Purdue University

To accompany feature “Saliva offers a spitting image of our health


Before Reading:

1.  What do you think your spit is made of?      

2.  What might make one person’s saliva different from another person’s? 

During Reading:

1. How much spit does the average adult produce each day? According to the story, how much does that add up to across someone’s lifetime?    

2.  What is spit made up of?  

3.  What are three important jobs that saliva does?  

4.  What do mucins in saliva do?  

5.  According to research done at the SPIT Lab, how does the food we eat affect our saliva?  

6.  What are polyphenols and what are some common sources? What taste tends to clue us in to their presence? 

7.  What did the chocolate milk study show about food’s effect on saliva?

8.  What are miRNAs, and how do Steven Hicks and colleagues use them to screen people for concussion?

9.  In addition to COVID-19 and concussion, what are three other health issues that saliva can help researchers and doctors detect?   

10.  What is cortisol and how might measuring its presence in saliva be useful?

After Reading:

1.  If you were a researcher with expertise in “spit science,” what scientific or medical questions do you think you might try to use saliva to answer?

2.  Imagine that scientists discovered that they could simply test someone’s saliva and predict with 75-percent accuracy what diseases that person was more likely to develop in the future. Should everyone get such a test? Why or why not?