Genetically Modified Bomb Sniffing Mouse Apodemus nasus x GM
More than 70 countries and their populations are affected by landmines left over from long dead wars. The logistics of clearing these violent landscape contaminants have long been a challenge. Individuals seeking to clear the bombs have had to walk through minefields with detectors, risking life and limb to find the mines. Another means of finding mines are biosensors – usually highly trained dogs, or in some cases rats. But these trained animals still go into the field with their human trainers, and should there be an accidental trigger, and the animal is blown up, months of training are destroyed along with the animal. Charlotte D’Hulst, a scientist at Hunter College, is leading a team of researchers to develop a bomb-sniffing mouse. This mouse, the MouSensor, has been genetically modified so its olfactory receptors specifically sensitive to DNT (which is chemically similar to TNT, yet less explosive) have been increased 500 fold. This large proportion of DNT receptors will surely send the mouse into a seizure when it comes upon the landmine, so Hunter has suggested implanting a small device in the MouSensor. This would allow wireless reporting of the finding, ensuring a bomb expert to easily find and safely neutralize the landmine. The researchers hope to work with the NGOs involved in landmine disposal to develop the best way to use the technology and they say the MouSensor could be ready for the field in the next five years. Assuming Hunter’s MouSensor is a genetically modified success, she has proposed other uses for the creature, such as sniffing tuberculosis in patients. The bacteria that cause TB emit compounds that can be sniffed by the mice in saliva samples. Using the same technique, the olfactory receptors that are keyed into TB would be increased, allowing for another version of MouSensor to make our lives healthier and safer. What this does for the mouse, however, has yet to be determined.