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Isn’t it wonderful! More and more reasons to collaborate with the animal kingdom!

Genetic aspect

African elephants have more than double the number of genes associated with olfactory reception compared with dogs: about 2000 versus dogs’ 811. This suggests that olfaction must play an enormous role in elephants’ lives. In fact, elephants have the highest count of any species tested to date, meaning that they could quite possibly be the best smellers in the animal kingdom.

Not only were we eager to find out whether they could detect TNT using olfaction, but also how their abilities compared to those of highly trained, TNT-detection dogs.

The elephants missed only one out of 97 TNT samples during our trials. This translated into a phenomenal sensitivity score of 99.7%. Sensitivity is the propensity to indicate whenever a target substance (in this case TNT) is present. In comparison, sensitivity scores for TNT-detection dogs have been reported as 93.7%.

Other areas to explore

Elephants’ ability to correctly identify and discriminate a learned scent from other odours suggests that they may also be useful in other biosensor fields such as early disease detection.

Detection dogs are used in medical and biological settings. I have used them myself as a biologically-relevant model to demonstrate that puff adders are undetectable via olfaction.

Specially trained dogs already screen for cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, alien invasives, harmful microbes and pests. Some scent-matching dogs are even able to match collected samples to individuals, forgoing the need for expensive and time-consuming genetic testing. The dogs’ performance in these fields is, in most cases, proving more reliable than mechanical devices.

Elephants could rival dogs’ sensitivity abilities in these fields, as they did for TNT-detection. They require less maintenance training than dogs to keep them on the target scent. Our elephants were able to repeat the same tests with high success a year after their last trial, with no intervening maintenance training.

In addition, given their longevity – they can live to around 60 years in the wild – elephants, once trained, could serve as long-standing biosensors that far outlive any of their current biosensor counterparts.

Read the full article: http://theconversation.com/how-african-elephants-amazing-sense-of-smell-could-save-lives-85626

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