NEW YORK – Mice genetically modified to have ‘super noses’ could help detect land mines in the very near future.
NDJ World | Published: Oct 16 2012 Lifestyle
Scientists have altered the ‘smelling’ sensory of mice such that they become highly acclimated to detecting any trace of TNT; the explosive chemical used in land mines.
The same scientists accidentally discovered that mice were already able to smell DNT, a similar compound to TNT but less explosive.
The team of scientists spearheaded by Charlotte D’Hulst of the New York Hunter College, began to genetically alter the mice’s smelling ability allowing them to smell DNT even stronger.
Scientists accomplished this feat by increasing the specialized odor sensory in mice.
Standard mice have ten million neurons in their noses. 4,000 of those are assigned to detecting a specific odor. The genetically altered mouse now has 10,000 to one million neurons specific to detecting DNT. This modification improves the mouse’s smelling ability to detect DNT 500 times.
More than sixty countries have problems with land mines still being stuck in the ground, posing a threat to people, long after the wars have ended.
D’Hulst is hopeful that the mice can be tested soon and be employed to detect these mines.
Presently mice go in a sort of trance when they smell DNT. D’Hulst says they plan to implant under the skin chips that can send the mice’s behavior patterns to computers thus allowing specialist to know when the mice detect mines.
Once a change in behavior pattern is signaled, people can then disarm the bomb. Mice will never be in danger because they are too lightweight to set off the mines, according to D’Hulst.
Using mice to detect mines isn’t really anything new. In Belgium, special rats called ‘Hero Rats’ are already being used to smell out mines.
Two rats and one person can clear a 300 square meters mine field in just one hour. Without the rats it would take two people two days to accomplish the same goal.
The Hero Rats are currently being used to sniff out mines in Mozambique and Thailand.
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