Scientists have successfully developed a robotic alternative for trained dogs known for using their sensitive sense of smell to detect the presence of explosives and narcotics. Researchers from Duke University used genes from the nose of mice to develop the olfactory organ which they hope will soon replace the dogs. Sniffer dogs are always expensive to train and get tired very soon.
“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.
'We have a panel of receptors so we can monitor how different receptors respond differently to various smells, including ones that are similar to each other in chemical structure or ones that might be related to real-world use, like something associated to explosives or drugs,' Professor Matsunami 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 per cent of mouse genes have been identified as instructions to make odour receptors, Matsunami said.
Humans only use about 2 per cent of their genes to make odour receptors but the organ is more important to other animals and includes more genetic coding.