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Chemosensory Tools for Wildlife Damage Management

Project Factsheet: 

NWRC scientists investigate the role of chemicals on animal behavior, such as foraging preferences, locating food and mates, and flavor aversion. Through a basic understanding of chemosensory science, NWRC research develops new or improves existing wildlife damage management tools, such as diagnostic methods for detecting diseases in wildlife, and novel baits, lures and repellents.

The NWRC Philadelphia, PA, field station is located at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Monell is the world's only non-profit scientific institute dedicated to basic research on taste and smell. It provides access to specialized research opportunities focused on the development of nonlethal wildlife repellents and attractants. Chemical ecology research involving olfactory, taste, and chemoreception senses are emphasized.

Recent research

Recent avian influenza (AI) infection outbreaks have resulted in global biosecurity and economic concerns. In previous NWRC studies, trained mice correctly discriminated the health status of individual ducks on the basis of fecal odors when feces from AI post-infection periods were paired with feces from AI pre-infection periods. More recently, NWRC scientists and colleagues at Monell trained domesticated male ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) to respond by scratching/pawing at the ground when detecting acetoin (a fecal compound previously determined to be related to AI infection) in presented test samples. Ferrets rapidly generalized this learned response to the odor of feces from AI-infected mallards. These results suggest that a trained mammalian biosensor could be used in an AI surveillance program, resulting in significant savings over current laboratory testing methods.

In a study with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), NWRC and Monell researchers found that volatile metabolites were specifically altered by brain injury in a manner differing from general inflammation. Thus, monitoring changes in the volatile metabolome may be a useful for the rapid diagnosis of brain trauma and recovery. Additionally, researchers collaborating with Case Western Reserve University discovered differences in urinary volatiles between healthy mice and mice with human mutations of an Alzheimer's disease gene. These findings in animal models show that mutant gene expressions cause identifiable urinary odors, which if uncovered in clinical Alzheimer's patients, may serve as additional biomarkers for the disease.

Project Leader:
c/o Monell Chemical Senses Center
Philadelphia, PA 19104

 Interested in the history of chemistry at the NWRC? Visit our online exhibit!

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