UXO, Bomb Mouse

Paul Raven @ 04-02-2011

I’ve double-checked the calendar, so I’m sure it’s not April yet, and New Scientist are a reliable publication… but even so, I can’t help but hoist an eyebrow over the idea of deploying bomb-sniffing mice in airports. Well, at least it’s safer than being X-rayed by the controversial nuddie-scanners, right?

Along one side of an archway, a detection unit contains three concealed cartridges, each of which houses eight mice. During their 4-hour shifts in the detector, the mice mill about in a common area in each cartridge as air is passed over people paused in the archway and through the cartridge. When the mice sniff traces of any of eight key explosives in the air, they are conditioned to avoid the scent and flee to a side chamber, triggering an alarm. To avoid false positives, more than one mouse must enter the room at the same time.

“It’s as if they’re smelling a cat and escaping,” Eran says. “We detect the escape.” Unlike dogs, which are often trained for explosives and drugs detection, mice don’t require constant interaction with their trainers or treats to keep them motivated. As a result, they can live in comfortable cages with unlimited access to food and water. Each mouse would work two 4-hour shifts a day, and would have a working life of 18 months.

Those are pretty decent working conditions by current standards – folks, if you can train me up to do the same work, I’ll take a ten year contract on the condition I can renegotiate a larger daily helping of mixed seeds at each feeding. And if you promise a few cigarette breaks per shift, I promise not to unionise…

[ Snark aside, we’ve mentioned bomb-sniffing rodents before… why exactly no one thought of using them for airport security before is unclear, but my money would be on “didn’t want to get laughed out of the briefing room”. Additional: “cartridges… housing mice” made me think instantly of a certain musical instrument. ]


To sleep, perchance to dream…

Edward Willett @ 26-03-2008

labmice A long-time staple of science fiction has been the concept of suspended animation. It’s one of the ways to get around the immensely long travel times astronauts heading to the outer planets or other solar systems must endure. The usual SFnal approach has been “cold sleep,” where the suspended animation is achieved by means of extremely low temperatures: a kind of cryogenic suspension, with undefined futuristic technology somehow prevent cell damage and death in the human icicles.

Turns out, there just might be another way: low doses of hydrogen sulfide, the stinky gas that is responsible for the unpleasant odor of rotten eggs, and which is fatal in large doses, can, in small, controlled doses, safely and reversibly depress both metabolism and cardiovascular function in mice, producing a suspended-animation  like state (Via EurekAlert):

In all the mice, metabolic measurements such as consumption of oxygen and production of carbon dioxide dropped in as little as 10 minutes after they began inhaling hydrogen sulfide, remained low as long as the gas was administered, and returned to normal within 30 minutes of the resumption of a normal air supply. The animals’ heart rate dropped nearly 50 percent during hydrogen sulfide adminstration, but there was no significant change in blood pressure or the strength of the heart beat. While respiration rate also decreased, there were no changes in blood oxygen levels, suggesting that vital organs were not at risk of oxygen starvation.

Of course, it’s always a large and fraught step from mice to humans, but if this discovery is transferable to humans, it could be used to allow organ function to be preserved when oxygen supply is limited, such as after a traumatic injury, the researchers say. the next step will be to study the use of hydrogen sulfide in larger mammals. It’s possible, they say, that in larger mammals hydrogen sulfide could be delivered via intravenous drugs, which would prevent lung toxicity.

Warren Zapol, MD, the chief of Anesthesia and Critical Care at Massachusetts General Hospital and senior author of the study, sums it up: “This is as close to instant suspended animation as you can get, and the preservation of cardiac contraction, blood pressure and organ perfusion is remarkable.”

Start booking those flights to Alpha Centauri!

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[tags]medicine, suspended animation, mice, space travel[/tags]


Bad news for cats: scientists make a better mouse

Edward Willett @ 02-11-2007

An ordinary mouse If Jerry had been one of these, Tom would never have had a chance: Case Western Reserve University researchers have bred a line of genetically modified "mighty mice" that can run five to six kilometres on a treadmill for up to six hours, at a speed of 20 meters per minutes, without stopping. Not only that, they live and breed longer than mighty mice, and though they eat more, they remain fitter and trimmer than their unmodified cousins. And as if that wasn’t enough to concern cats, the new mice are also markedly more aggressive. (Via Science Daily.)

But don’t go getting any ideas about creating your own line of super soldiers for world domination. Richard W. Hanson, lead author of the newly published paper about the achievement, is quick to squelch any such science fictional thoughts:

"The technique used to create the animal model reported in our study is not appropriate for application to humans. The ethical implications are such that this approach should not be used in humans, or is it technically possible at this time to efficiently introduce genes into human skeletal muscle, in order to mimic the effect seen in our mice" said Hanson. "Any attempt to tamper with the metabolic processes in human muscle will surely do more harm than good. We believe that this mouse model will provide important insights into the impact of prolonged exercise on the development of cancer in the animal, the effect of diet and exercise on longevity and will increase our knowledge of the factors that regulate energy metabolism in skeletal muscle."

You can view a video of a wild mouse and a mighty mouse on a treadmill here. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]genetic engineering, biology, mice[/tags]