SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA—Fifteen-year-old Wesley Wolf’s foray into scientific research began 2 years ago with a simple question: Does the type of litter my cats use affect how many bacteria they traipse around the house? Wolf, then a 7th-grader in Georgetown, Ohio, asked his mom, a veterinarian, if he could run an experiment with some of the animals in her clinic. With the permission of their owners, he placed three different kinds of litter into the cages of 30 cats: clay litter, clumping litter, and torn-up newspaper. Then, after 24 and 48 hours, Wolf pressed a paw from each cat onto a petri dish filled with nutrients and waited to see what grew. The type of litter didn’t make a difference, he reported in a poster presentation here today at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science); all cats harbored about the same number of bacteria on their paws. (Wolf says he wasn’t able to assess their virulence.) “So if owners are worried about which litter to use, they should just go with what’s cheapest or most convenient,” he says. Wolf’s finding may not seem like a revelation, but it has impressed judges nationwide. His was only one of 139 student posters selected from state competitions to appear at the meeting, as part of the American Junior Academy of Sciences. The work has inspired him to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology after he graduates high school. As for the appeal of his kitty litter study, he chalks some of it up to the relatively rigorous science—and the rest to his chosen test subject: “Cats are a common pet, so it’s relevant to many peoples’ lives.”
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