SCOTS coffins are working on a project that trains giant rats to spy on deadly microbes like Covid-19
Scientists from the University of Glasgow support a UK government sponsored offer to teach rodents to discover a disease that is devastating ranchers in the world’s poorest countries.
Professor Rudovick Kazwala trains giant rats in pouches that can grow up to 3 feet long
Brucellosis is a highly contagious zoonotic – meaning it can spread between animals and humans like Covid-19, which allegedly made the jump from a bat to a human in China.
Professor Dan Haydon said: “It is estimated that six out of ten known infectious diseases in humans are from animals.
“Three quarters of new or emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals, of which Covid-19 is a particularly devastating example.”
One of the giant rats at work sniffs out deadly diseases from animal samples
Prof. Haydon – Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the university – works with colleagues from Sokoine University in Morogoro, Tanzania.
Professor Rudovick Kazwala from the African university said: “Rats have shown that they are very effective at tracking down land mines in Angola and Mozambique. That is why we turned to disease detection.
“We’d successfully trained rats to help diagnose tuberculosis, and now we’re using their incredible sense of smell to fight brucellosis.
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“The rats are conditioned for four to six months to sniff samples. When a rat finds a positive sample, it will hear a click and be rewarded. The rat learns that finding Brucella means a reward for the food. “
The researchers are working with nine giant rats in their pouches that can grow up to 3 feet long and are named Hawking, Skinner, Sloth, Stewart, Zhang, Angela, Aung, Jane and Pipp on the project funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
The rodents are a cheaper alternative to expensive and often inaccessible testing equipment in developing countries.
Rat training at Sokoine University in Morogoro, Tanzania in Africa
The person can then become infected with the disease, which causes flu-like symptoms, problems in the bones, joints and heart, and in rare cases death. Professor Haydon came up with the idea after discovering that sniffer dogs were doing their job in the United States.
He explained, “I spoke to someone who worked in Yellowstone National Park where they had a Brucella problem with moose, bison and cattle, and they use dogs to smell it.
“I described this to my colleague and Professor Kazwala in a somewhat carefree manner and said, ‘Aha, we already have this facility where rats are trained to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis. ‘
“We thought if they can smell land mines and smell TB, we can safely get them to smell brucellosis. The long and the short of it is, it turns out you can. “
Professor Haydon – Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the university – works with colleagues from the African university.
Sniffer rats are already an invaluable tool in the fight against tuberculosis in Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia, where they have helped increase the detection rate in partner clinics by around 40 percent.
It takes nine months and around £ 5,000 to train a rat, which can then rattle through 100 samples in 20 minutes.
This equates to £ 13,000 and about two hours to analyze a single sample in a laboratory.
Prof. Haydon said, “The World Health Organization estimates that the global human exposure to brucellosis is 264,073 years lost to disability or early death, although there is tremendous uncertainty about this number that is likely to greatly underestimate the actual burden of disease.
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“We hope that sniffer rats will help diagnose infected individuals and lead to faster and more effective treatment.”
African Minister James Duddridge said: “These scientists at the University of Glasgow are leading the way in using innovative ideas to detect disease faster and at a fraction of the previous cost.”
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