Scientists are working to genetically modify mice to amp-up these already present sensors in the mouse nose. Non-modified mice have about 4,000 odor-sensing neurons that can detect TNT. The engineered mice would have between 10,000 and 1,000,000 of those neurons.
As strange as it sounds, using rodents to detect landmines isn’t an uncommon practice. Belgian organization APOPO trains non-modified giant African pouched rats to scratch at the soil when they find a mine. Even though the rats are considerably bigger than mice, they’re still too small to set off the mine. It’s highly specialized training, and it takes nine months and nearly $8,000 to properly prepare each rat.
According to neurobiologist Charlotte D”Hulst, who is researching the genetic engineering project, modified mice wouldn’t need training. The scent of the TNT would result in an unmistakable reaction, possibly a seizure.
And the mouse mine squad wouldn’t be foolproof. Some landmines are sealed so they don’t release any odor of explosive material, while the soil quality and weather conditions can alter the smell as well.