The events of the past year have underscored the serious and rapid threat that emerging viruses pose to global health. However, much of the rapid progress in understanding and combating SARS-CoV-2 was made possible because of the decades of important groundwork laid from researchers studying other emergent infectious diseases. The 2021 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health award recognizes the contributions of Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris and Yi Guan toward understanding the origins and options for control of newly emerging infectious disease outbreaks in Asia, notably zoonotic influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Cell's Nicole Neuman corresponded with Yi Guan about his path to becoming a viral infection sleuth and the challenges of understanding emerging pathogens and their origins. Excerpts of their exchange are included here.