"Chemical senses: Sniffing out disease" by Katherine Whalley
Since the first discovery of the odorant receptors, several families of receptors that detect odorants or pheromones have been identified. Rodriguez and colleagues now report the discovery of a new class of chemosensory receptor and show that these receptors can detect disease-related molecules.
Many animals detect pheromones and other social cues through sensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ (VNO). ...
Katherine Whalley concludes her article at http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v10/n6/full/nrn2657.html"
"These findings suggest that the VNO can detect molecules related to disease or inflammation. How this information is used is unknown; however, the authors speculate that it could help animals to avoid rotten food or identify unhealthy members of their own species in order to aid effective social interactions. Further work may investigate these hypotheses as well as identify additional ligands for this receptor family."
I am discussing this topic on my blog, because of the fact that recently I have read articles online and in Science and Medical magazines which indicate that house-hold pets (dogs) have been able to smell that one of their owners is suffering from cancer! (See: Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer?)
According to the "Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer link above:
"In an actual scientific study, six dogs, including Bee, had to distinguish the cancerous sample from the six non-cancerous samples. Dr. Carolyn Willis, a research dermatologist who assisted in the study, says that neither the researchers nor the dogs had any way of knowing in advance which sample was cancerous.
"All the way along, it was blinded so that I would code the samples. And then they would be taken to a completely different building, and those coded samples would be put in a certain position along the line-up," says Willis. "Nobody at any one time knew which was the bladder cancer sample."
Not until after the dogs made their choices. One dog failed completely, but two picked out the cancerous sample 60 percent of the time. The overall average was 41 percent success. That percentage may seem small, but Willis says it amounts to a major success for the dogs.
"The 41 percent, as far as I'm concerned, was a remarkable result," says Willis. "And it was highly statistically significant."