Scientists have developed an artificial “robot nose” device made from living mouse cells that could be used instead of dogs to sniff out narcotics and explosives.
The researchers from Duke University in the US developed the prototype based on odour receptors grown from the genes of mice that respond to target odours.
“This idea of an artificial nose has been present for a long time,” said Hiroaki Matsunami, a professor at Duke and corresponding author of the work published in Nature Communications. “The receptors were identified in the 1990s, but there are significant technical hurdles to produce all these receptors and monitor the activity so that we can use that in an artificial device.”
“E-noses” that exist now use various chemical compounds to detect smells instead of receptor stem cells, Matsunami said. He said those devices are “not as good as a trained dog.” “The idea is that by using the actual, living receptors, maybe we can develop a device similar to animals,” Matsunami said. “Nobody has achieved that yet, but this study is moving toward that goal,” he said.
Human, dog and mouse genomes contain around 20,000 genes, which contain instructions to create proteins that smell, taste, feel, move and do everything that our bodies do. About 5% of mouse genes have been identified as instructions to make odour receptors, Matsunami said. In contrast, humans only use about 2%of their genes to make odour receptors.