Scientists have successfully engineered a group of mutant “super sniffer” mice who can identify the most subtle hints of jasmine in a cup of water, or the faintest undertones of mint. But scientists aren’t training their mutant mice to be sophisticated sommeliers—rather, they believe that by learning to genetically modify mouse odor receptors, they can eventually breed animals—including dogs, rats, and mice—who are better at sniffing out explosives, diseases, and drugs.
Popular Science explains that the experiment, which is described in a study in Cell Reports, was designed as a proof of concept. Scientists wanted to show that it was possible to engineer mice to sniff out specific odors. In this case, scientists created two groups of mice: The first was given extra smell receptors for the detection of acetophenone, which smells like jasmine, while the second received additional receptors that picked up carvone, a minty aroma. In the first group, 1–2 percent of the animals' olfactory receptors were for acetophenone, while in the second, a full 13 percent of receptors were for carvone.
Researchers found that mice with acetophenone receptors were approximately twice as successful as mice without additional receptors at identifying trace hints of the aroma diffused in water. Those with carvone receptors, meanwhile, were an amazing 100 times more adept at identifying carvone than other mice.
Researchers believe that these results will not only aid scientific understandings how smell works but could have a wide range of practical applications.
"We have these millions of years old receptors that are highly tuned to detect chemicals," researcher Paul Feinstein told the BBC. "We think we can develop them into tools and use them to detect disease."
[h/t Popular Science]
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