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Training Ferrets to Recognize Virus Odor in Duck Droppings

The effort to train ferrets to recognize virus odor in mallard duck droppings may be paying off, suggests a new study.

The study is: “Biodetection of a specific odor signature in mallard feces associated with infection by low pathogenic avian influenza A virus,” Glen J. Golden, Meredith J. Grady, Hailey E. McLean, Susan A. Shriner, Airn Hartwig, Richard A. Bowen, and Bruce A. Kimball, PLoS ONE, vol. 16, no. 5, 2021, e251841. The authors report:

“Domesticated male ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) were trained to display a specific conditioned behavior (i.e. active scratch alert) in response to feces from AIV [Avian Influenza Virus]-infected mallards in comparison to feces from healthy ducks….

“A final experiment revealed that trained ferrets could detect AIV infection status even in the presence of samples from mallards inoculated with Newcastle disease virus or infectious laryngotracheitis virus. These results indicate that mammalian biodetectors are capable of discriminating the specific odors emitted from the feces of non-infected versus AIV infected mallards, suggesting that the health status of waterfowl can be evaluated non-invasively for AIV infection via monitoring of volatile fecal metabolites.”

Improbable Research