Dogs are already capable of sniffing out drugs, bodies, fugitives, but they may soon be able to join with a mouse partner to sniff out diseases.
“Based on our results, we believe dogs, as well as mice, could be trained to identify a variety of diseases and health conditions,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Bruce A. Kimball, Ph.D.
“In fact, we envision two broad, real-world applications of our findings,” Kimball said. “First, we anticipate use of trained disease-detector dogs to screen feces, soil, or other environmental samples to provide us with an early warning about the emergence and spread of flu viruses. Second, we can identify the specific odor molecules that mice are sensing and develop laboratory instruments and in-the-field detectors to detect them.”
Kimball said there is a likelihood that a suite of chemicals, rather than a single compound, are responsible for producing the difference in fecal odor between healthy and infected ducks.
Kimball’s team is investigating the use of instruments in detecting these volatile, or gaseous, metabolites in animal feces. Once accomplished, they can use statistical techniques to sift through the data to determine the pattern of volatiles that indicate the presence of infection.
At the beginning of the investigative process, Kimball and colleagues from the Monell Chemical Senses Center trained inbred mice to navigate a maze and zero in on infected duck feces.
In the experiment, the mice got a reward of water every time they correctly identified the infected sample and no reward when they zeroed in on feces from healthy ducks. Eventually, the mice became experts at identifying feces from infected ducks.