Mice Genetically Engineered to be Super-Sensitive to the Smell of TNT, Will Be Used to Clear Landmines
A Belgian organization called APOPO already uses giant African pouched rats as a cheaper way to sniff out landmines. The rats are not genetically modified, but their sense of smell is sharp enough to detect TNT.
…While the furry minesweepers are effective (with two handlers, they can cover a field in one hour that would take two full days for metal detectors), they need nine months of training to become reliable, a process that costs around 6,000 euros per rat.
The genetically engineered mice, however, are so sensitive to TNT that encountering the molecule is likely to change their behavior involuntarily, so they would need little to no training.
[Molecular Neurobiologist} Charlotte D’Hulst… used genetic modification to ensure that the mice have 10,000 to 1,000,000 odor-sensing neurons with a TNT-detecting receptor compared with only 4,000 in a normal animal, “possibly amplifying the detection limit for this odor 500-fold,” she says.
Each odor-sensing neuron in a mouse’s nose is spotted with one kind of odor receptor. Usually, each specific receptor is found in one out of every thousand odor-sensing neurons, but about half the scent-detecting neurons in D’Hulst’s mice have the TNT-detecting receptor.
(via Genetically Modified Mice Could Be Tiny Landmine-Sniffing Heroes | MIT Technology Review)
We’ve been doing this to animals for as long as we’ve been around, the technology is different but the game remains the same. I’m interested in seeing where this ends up and mice become an avenue for potential technological fixes for other problems.