Nosing around prevents fungal damage, as described in an article in New Scientist, 2 April 2005, p45. Staining and damage caused by fungal infestation of books, manuscripts, paintings, and other objects stored in libraries and galleries is a constant problem and is often not noticed until it is too late to restore the object to its original state. To help prevent such damage Naresh Magan and colleagues of the Institute of BioScience and Technology, Cranfield University (UK) have invented an early warning device that detects the presence of fungi in storage areas. The device is an “electronic nose” that detects volatile chemicals given off by fungi using an array of polymers whose electrical properties change when exposed to specific chemicals. Each different type of fungus releases a unique combination of chemicals so the “e-nose” can be designed to identify presence of species of fungi that are known to cause damage in libraries and galleries. The device is very expensive – around ten thousand pounds, and most libraries or galleries would need several to monitor their collections effectively.

A New Scientist reader wrote in with a suggestion for a cheaper, more flexible vapour detecting device that can move around the collections and identify precise sources of infestation, and can also be used as an intruder alert. “The device is known as a ‘dog'”, writes John Davies of Croydon (Australia), who also points out that such a useful mobile vapour detector wouldn’t cost ten thousand pounds, each institution would only need one, and “it can, subject to a certain procedure, reproduce itself if required.”

Editorial Comment: If the scientists who designed and built the e-nose were to develop their device so it had all the extra capabilities that a dog has, they will have to apply much more creative design and clever engineering. The reason a dog can do much more than the e-nose already, is that the dog was designed and built by a much smarter engineer. (Ref. design, olfaction, bio-engineering)