Scientists have been working on genetically modifying mice to make them sensitive to the smell of explosives in the hope that they can be used to help detect landmines.
The genetically modified mice that researchers have been working with are 500 times more sensitive to the smell of explosives than your standard mouse.
The GM mouse is called a MouSensor and was developed by a team of researchers led by Charlotte D’Hulst of Hunter College, New York.
“Long after wars have ended, communities are still impeded from going back to their normal, daily activities because of all these mines still affecting their land.”
It is hoped that the MouSensor can assist to the rapid location and clearing of landmines in areas that have previously been plagued by conflict.
Another method of clearing landmines was the use of HeroRats which were developed by the Belgian NGO, Apopo. These giant pouched rats were trained to sniff out landmines and 2 rats with accompanied with their human handler could clear an area of 300sqm in under 2 hours. By contrast, it would take 2 people, 2 whole days to complete the same task. One drawback of using HeroRats however, is the fact that they need 9 months of training before they are ready to go out into the field.
D’Hulst said she wanted to advance the HeroRats concepts with her GM ‘supersniffer’ MouSensors that were created to be incredibly sensitive to the smell of TNT – the explosive used in landmines.
Scientists were able to modify the mice by altering a receptor in the olfactory bulb located in the nose. They discovered that this receptor recognized a chemical called DNT – which is a less explosive but similar version of TNT. D’Hulst’s team modified the mouse’s genes to make the proportion of the DNT receptors much bigger.
A normal mouse’s olfactory bulb has 10m neurons in total. Approximately 4,000 of these are specialized to pick up a specific odor. D’Hulst’s modified mouse has 10,000 to 1m neurons that are specialized to pick up the odor of DNT thus increasing the mammal’s ability to detect explosives 500 times!
D’Hulst will present the findings of her work at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans this week.