Mice genes tweaked to sniff out explosives

Scientists are genetically tweaking mice to sniff out explosives and save lives in war zones.Using genetically modified technology, scientists at the City University of New York have created mice that have up to 500 times more of nose cells that detect trinitrotoluene (TNT)-like chemicals. They have been trained to make a clicking noise when they smell the explosive, the Daily Mail reported.

Researcher Charlotte D’Hulst said: “mice have some advantages as mine detectors because they are cheaper to manage and house and easier to breed.”

Besides, it is relatively easy to manipulate the key cells in the mouse nose. It is hoped that the animals’ inbuilt sensitivity to TNT-like chemicals means they will not have to be trained. Instead, they will naturally home in on explosives.

The possibilities include planting a chip under their skin that will sense changes in their behaviour that indicate that they have spotted a mine.

The animals were chosen because they have an acute sense of smell, yet are small and light enough not to detonate the mines. The project has been highly successful, with teams of two mice and two handlers who clear the mines after they are detected, covering more than 3,000 square feet of land in an hour.

In comparison, it would take two men using conventional detection equipment two full days to cover the same area.

D’Hulst, who describes the mice as biosensors or biological sensors, said: “This is only for detection purposes. You’d still need the human handlers to take the mine out. There are about 72 nations contaminated or affected by mines.”

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“Mine removal is a very expensive, very lengthy and hard business and there is a critical need for a TNT biosensor,” said D’Hulst.

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