News Stories

Sniffer Dogs

And sniffer mice - We're all familiar with dogs that sniff out illicit drugs, but the sniffer dogs you see at airports are generally used to detect food brought in from other countries and states. But here's a new one: Sniffer dogs that detect DISEASE. Could they sniff out eggs tainted with Salmonella? Maybe we should all just change our diets.

Scientists have trained mice to identify feces of ducks infected with bird influenza. Migrating ducks, geese, and other birds can carry and spread flu viruses over wide geographic areas, where the viruses may possibly spread to other species. The next step: training dogs to do the same job. In some cases, they may work WITH the sniffer mice.

Researcher Bruce A. Kimball and his team trained inbred mice to navigate a maze and zero in on infected duck feces. 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.

Kimball says, "Based on our results, we believe dogs, as well as mice, could be trained to identify a variety of diseases and health conditions. 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."

Maybe we can train these dogs to sniff out tainted eggs, like the kind that cause the recent Salmonella outbreak. Eggs have been exonerated, but NOT if they carry bacteria. The factory farm in Ohio where tainted eggs recently came from was finally tracked down, but not before many people got sick. We clearly need a FASTER product tracing system.

Product safety expert Will Fisher says, "Product tracing is a critical part of the food safety legislation that is currently under review because it serves to protect and improve the food supply, not only here in the United States but the throughout the global food system."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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