It’s not every day you find a headline reporting that Israel has developed mice capable of detecting contraband like narcotics and explosives. If you had to read that twice to make sure you read it right the first time, I understand. Startup firm BioExplorers, based in Herzeliya, Israel has done just that. By carefully selecting the “picks of the litter” and then providing a ten-day training program, BioExplorer says their mice have hypersensitive olfactory senses that may be better at detecting explosives and contraband than machines or dogs, and with greater reliability. CNN posted a nice video of a BioExplorer company representative explaining how all of this works. Rodent control seemingly revised to rodents in control.
This is certainly an interesting development in the world of contraband scent detection as the need for highly effective security measures is an ever growing and ever changing necessity of modern life. The system works using cassettes to capture and filter odors to the mice, and uses 4 to 8 “biosensors” (mice) kept in a mechanical enclosure. The odors are delivered via a mechanized system that streams air through the chamber holding the bomb and contraband sniffing mice. When mice detect a contraband odor, something the mice are trained to respond to, the mice run away from the compartment with the odor (a fear response) and into a compartment that is equipped with special signals that transmit the mice fear response (data) that is then captured in a computer and then analyzed and reported as good odors or bad odors (contraband) and alerting the operator.
The system was tested in a mall with 1,000 volunteers, many of which were outfitted with clothing items that carried the scent of explosives. The results speak for themselves as the test produced only one false positive. Those are good numbers by any measure! Rodent control has a new meaning with the advent of this cutting edge technology and if it is widely accepted, that’s even better.
Because most of us respond to mice in pretty much the same way, a loud gasp or shriek, the mice are not visible to the public. This is a very important job usually performed by bomb sniffing dogs and or expensive detection systems, so mice in a mechanical box, producing similar or better results than dogs or detection machines should garner a lot of attention and hopefully save a lot of lives.
Incidentally, the mice used for this work are bred and maintained in a sterile environment and cared for quite well. Bedding, food and water are all replaced on regular schedules, and the mice are retrained when and if necessary. The mice also work four hour shifts (not a bad deal if they get paid for eight hours) and are swapped out with a fresh workforce. While we normally dispense advice on how to get rid of mice in your home or getting rid of mice in your business, it’s nice to see that some mice have a higher calling than that of common pests.