Tech and the science of dogs’ olfactory receptors combat avalanche threats

Tech and the science of dogs’ olfactory receptors combat avalanche threats

Avalanche rescue dogs train to find and dig out people buried in snow slides

Sarah McLear

Two-and-a-half year-old Huckleberry, a blue merle Australian shepherd, pulls hard at her leash; her yelps can be heard by skiers and boarders high above on the chairlift that carries them over the ski patrol hut to the top of the mountain. Huckleberry is an avalanche rescue dog — or avy dog, for short. She lives and works with her owner and handler, a ski patroller at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. As she watches the trainer play a game of hide-and-seek with six-month-old Lume, a golden retriever and avy dog-in-training, Huckleberry continues to strain on her leash; she loves the game. Hide-and-seek is one of the key training methods for teaching avy dogs the rescue skills they need to find someone caught in an avalanche — skier, snowmobiler, hiker, climber.

Lume’s owner waves a T-shirt in front of the puppy. While another patroller holds him back, Lume’s owner runs away and hides. About a minute later — after a lot of barking — Lume is released and commanded to “search.” He springs free, running around the hut to find his owner who reacts with a great amount of excitement and fanfare. Lume’s scent training will continue for the rest of the ski season (Breckenridge plans operating through May or as long as weather permits) and through the off-season. “We make this game progressively harder by not allowing the dog watch the victim run away,” explains Dave Leffler, Breckenridge's ski patroller and head of the avy dog program, who has owned, trained and raised many of them. Eventually, the trainers “dig an open hole in the snow to duck out of sight and gradually turn the hole into a cave where the dog has to dig to get the victim,” explains Leffler.

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Cari Shane
Cari Shane is a freelance journalist (and Airbnb Superhost). Originally from Manhattan, Shane lives carless in Washington, DC and writes on a variety of subjects for a wide array of media outlets including, Scientific American, National Geographic, Discover, Business Insider, Fast Company, Fortune and Fodor’s.
Scientists redesign bacteria to tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis

Probiotic bacteria can be engineered to fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs by releasing chemicals that kill them.

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In 1945, almost two decades after Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, he warned that as antibiotics use grows, they may lose their efficiency. He was prescient—the first case of penicillin resistance was reported two years later. Back then, not many people paid attention to Fleming’s warning. After all, the “golden era” of the antibiotics age had just began. By the 1950s, three new antibiotics derived from soil bacteria — streptomycin, chloramphenicol, and tetracycline — could cure infectious diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, meningitis and typhoid fever, among others.

Today, these antibiotics and many of their successors developed through the 1980s are gradually losing their effectiveness. The extensive overuse and misuse of antibiotics led to the rise of drug resistance. The livestock sector buys around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. every year. Farmers feed cows and chickens low doses of antibiotics to prevent infections and fatten up the animals, which eventually causes resistant bacterial strains to evolve. If manure from cattle is used on fields, the soil and vegetables can get contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another major factor is doctors overprescribing antibiotics to humans, particularly in low-income countries. Between 2000 to 2018, the global rates of human antibiotic consumption shot up by 46 percent.

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Anuradha Varanasi
Anuradha Varanasi is a freelance science journalist based in Mumbai, India. She has an MA in Science Journalism from Columbia University in the City of New York. Her stories on environmental health, biomedical research, and climate change have been published in Forbes, UnDark, Popular Science, and Inverse. You can follow her on Twitter @AnuradhaVaranas
Meet Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, the first Director of President Biden's new health agency, ARPA-H

Today's podcast guest, Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, directs ARPA-H, a new agency formed last year to spearhead health innovations. Time will tell if ARPA-H will produce advances on the level of its fellow agency, DARPA.

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In today’s podcast episode, I talk with Renee Wegrzyn, appointed by President Biden as the first director of a health agency created last year, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H. It’s inspired by DARPA, the agency that develops innovations for the Defense department and has been credited with hatching world-changing technologies such as ARPANET, which became the internet.

Time will tell if ARPA-H will lead to similar achievements in the realm of health. That’s what President Biden and Congress expect in return for funding ARPA-H at 2.5 billion dollars over three years.

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Matt Fuchs

Matt Fuchs is the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org and Making Sense of Science. He is also a contributing reporter to the Washington Post and has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, WIRED and the Washington Post Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him @fuchswriter.