Friday, May 30, 2008

Uberschnabel - Dogs with a nose for Bugs

The canine snout is an amazing thing. I often wonder what exactly our dog is thinking as he starts every morning with a good sniff.

I've heard of dogs trained to sniff out drugs, explosives, money, truffles and corpses. The beagles used by US Customs to sniff out that contraband fruit from South America. I've even heard of dogs being trained to detect melanoma by scent. A recent paper describes the use of household dogs with minimal training being able to detect lung and breast cancer by sniffing a person's breath. Apparently there are volatile biochemical markers that the dog can detect.

This morning I came across a new one for me, sniffing out bedbugs and termites! Yes, there is even an association - The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association. I guess, given a distinctive scent and training a dog can sniff out a lot of things.

The mad scientists want a piece of the action and have for years been trying to mimic the canine snout. This article from IEEE Spectrum describes some of the progress.