The Use of Biological Sensors and Instrumental Analysis to Discriminate COVID-19 Odor Signatures

Biosensors (Basel). 2022 Nov 11;12(11):1003. doi: 10.3390/bios12111003.


The spread of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, is difficult to control as some positive individuals, capable of transmitting the disease, can be asymptomatic. Thus, it remains critical to generate noninvasive, inexpensive COVID-19 screening systems. Two such methods include detection canines and analytical instrumentation, both of which detect volatile organic compounds associated with SARS-CoV-2. In this study, the performance of trained detection dogs is compared to a noninvasive headspace-solid phase microextraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (HS-SPME-GC-MS) approach to identifying COVID-19 positive individuals. Five dogs were trained to detect the odor signature associated with COVID-19. They varied in performance, with the two highest-performing dogs averaging 88% sensitivity and 95% specificity over five double-blind tests. The three lowest-performing dogs averaged 46% sensitivity and 87% specificity. The optimized linear discriminant analysis (LDA) model, developed using HS-SPME-GC-MS, displayed a 100% true positive rate and a 100% true negative rate using leave-one-out cross-validation. However, the non-optimized LDA model displayed difficulty in categorizing animal hair-contaminated samples, while animal hair did not impact the dogs' performance. In conclusion, the HS-SPME-GC-MS approach for noninvasive COVID-19 detection more accurately discriminated between COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative samples; however, dogs performed better than the computational model when non-ideal samples were presented.

Keywords: COVID-19; SPME-GC-MS; VOCs; canine detection; odor signatures.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asymptomatic Infections
  • Biosensing Techniques
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • Dogs
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Odorants* / analysis
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Solid Phase Microextraction / methods
  • Working Dogs*