Nature and Biodiversity

Here's why dogs really could be our best, and smartest, friends

Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois dogs have especially good noses. Image: ebbe ostebo/Flickr

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how United States is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

United States

  • Dogs detect diseased trees with about 99% accuracy.
  • 'Citrus greening' has caused 70% drop in Florida's orange output.
  • The disease has spread to the majority of the world’s citrus-producing areas.

Dogs, of course, possess an incredible sense of smell. They can be trained to sniff out bombs, drugs and even diseases such as cancer, malaria, diabetes and tuberculosis.

Have you read?

Now, scientists in the United States are training dogs to detect a disease that is destroying the world’s orange trees.

Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening, prevents fruit from ripening and eventually kills the tree. It is spread by a tiny insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.

First documented in Guangdong Province in southern China in the early 1900s, HLB is now found in the majority of the world’s citrus-producing areas.

In Florida, where the disease emerged in 2005, it has caused a more than 70% drop in the production of oranges. It has spread to Texas, California, Georgia and Louisiana and is threatening to wipe out the $3.35 billion US citrus industry.

Paw patrol

Currently, there is no cure. Early detection is vital; and farmers try to find and destroy infected trees as quickly as possible.

The problem is, trees can have HLB for months, or years, without showing symptoms. Meanwhile the disease spreads undetected through citrus groves.

But it turns out that canines are much more adept than humans at identifying the sick trees.

Plant epidemiologist Timothy Gottwald and colleagues at the US Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida trained 20 dogs to sniff out Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, the bacterium that causes HLB.

Dogs tracking diseases in trees
The 20 dogs in the study picked out infected trees with 99% accuracy. Image: Gottwald et al., (2019) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Every time the dogs correctly identified the bacterium in a tree and sat down next to it the researchers rewarded them with play time with a toy.

The dogs were able to detect diseased trees with about 99% accuracy – within two weeks of infection, according to a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

By comparison, a DNA-based test – the only US Department of Agriculture-approved method for confirming the presence of HLB – detected less than 3% of infected trees at two months.

Gottwald’s research suggests using sniffer dogs combined with removal of infected trees is the most effective way to suppress the spread of the disease, and would allow the US citrus industry to remain economically sustainable for another 10 years.

Vital protection

About 80% of the world's food comes from plants. But, as with Florida's citrus trees, they're under constant threat from pests and disease, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Some 40% of global food crops are destroyed by this threat every year. And such problems can be impossible to wipe out once they've taken hold.

The UN has named 2020 its International Year of Plant Health to raise awareness of how protecting plants from disease can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment and boost economic development.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Court says rich countries must cut emissions faster than developing nations, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

Michael Purton

May 30, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum