Body scanners stuffed with mice could be the TSA's next weapon

If those TSA body scanners make you uncomfortable, don't worry. The next generation scanning systems won't be able to see you naked, instead they may simply be filled with teams of super smart explosive-sniffing mice.

Israeli company BioExplorers has developed a body scanning system designed to detect explosives using a bunch of fluffy little mice. It sounds slightly nutty, but we're already doing the same thing with dogs, and rats have also proven their usefulness at sniffing out land mines.

The mice detector works by using groups of mice that have been trained (best not to ask how) to flee from specific smells. 24 of them live in three cartridges inside what looks like a regular metal detector, continually sniffing the air as people walk through. If they catch a whiff of any explosives, they panic and run into a side chamber, and the detector sounds an alarm. In a trial in Israel, the mice successfully smelled out all 22 planted explosives in a group of over 1,000 people, with a false positive rate of less than 0.1 percent.

This system is essentially the same as a bomb-sniffing dog, except with mice, which offer a bunch of advantages. Mice actually have more olfactory receptor genes than dogs, and they don't require constant supervision, instruction, or bacon strips. Instead, they just live in a comfortable cage with food and water inside the detector for two four-hour shifts per day. They're easy to train and cheap to replace, and unlike more conventional scanning systems, the mice don't generally emit harmful radiation and can't see you naked. And even if they could, well, they're mice, so who cares.

BioExplorers' system is ready to go, so next time you go through one of those sniffers at the airport, listen for tiny squeaking noises and make sure that the bomb you've got stuffed down your pants has been pre-slathered in Cheez Whiz.

BioExplorers, via New Scientist

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