A group of engineers at UC Davis recently developed a breath-test for dolphins which can help analyze dolphin health.
The device was created by a group of engineers from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and was led by Professor Cristina Davis. The team hoped to create a device that could diagnose dolphin health through a breath sample.
“We hope that [the breath-test device] could be used to monitor health non-invasively in many animals, to give us health assessment information on wild populations,” Davis said.
Davis said that the team began work on the project four years ago.
“We initially started this project in 2010, and we built our first devices by designing them to capture the exhaled breath from the dolphins,” Davis said.
She said that her research team members were inspired to create this breath-test from their research on human and plant metabolites.
“My research group here at UC Davis focuses on chemical sensing and metabolite identification in biological systems,” Davis said. “Our work so far has primarily focused on human metabolites and plant metabolites — both for non-invasive health monitoring. When I began interacting with scientists at the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, we quickly realized our approaches could be adapted to monitor marine mammal health.”
The team worked with the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego as well as the Chicago Zoological Society’s Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., to test out the breath-test on dolphins.
“I heard about this from NOAA personnel, and they asked if the device could be tested during one of my bottlenose dolphin health assessment projects,” said Randall Wells of the Chicago Zoological Society. “We provided opportunities for testing this device with wild dolphins.”
Davis said the breath-test device collects the breath in a way that scientists can turn the breath into a liquid sample that they take back to the lab and biochemically measure.
“The breath collection device is a tube that condenses the warm exhaled breath onto a chilled service,” Davis said. “We are excited about using this approach to non-invasively monitor animal health.”
Moving forward, Wells also believes that the invention of this breath-test for dolphins will change the way scientists analyze dolphin health.
“This could become a very important tool in our toolbox for evaluating the health of wild dolphins,” Wells said. “The more diagnostic capabilities we have, the better.”