Electronic ‘nose’ detects udder inflammation

8 January 2009

The cause of udder inflammation in cows can now be quickly diagnosed by means of an electronic ‘nose’. Wageningen University’s Kasper Hettinga has developed a device that can ‘smell’ the presence of the pathogens causing mastitis from the scents they emit.

Hettinga based his research on the ‘headspace analysis’, a technique used in the medical world. He began by identifying the seven different types of aroma released by healthy milk. He then analysed the scent patterns of milk in cows suffering from mastitis. These turned out to have a characteristically different scent pattern. Thanks to special software, Hettinga can even identify which bacteria has caused the mastitis. Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, E. Coli, three of the leading pathogens, emit three unique scent patterns. These were identified by Hettinga, who th en compiled a ‘fingerprint’ for each. The cause of an inflammation can also be identified in a laboratory. However, this requires the infected milk to grow a culture, which takes several days. Hettinga’s method is faster. To obtain a good scent pattern, the bacteria must be allowed to grow for eight hours at 37 degrees Centigrade, he found. Hettinga, who is now attached to the Special Chair in Dairy Science and Technology, is now investigating whether his method can be applied routinely and on a larger scale.