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Eek, a (bomb-sniffing) mouse!

System out of Israel employs smell-sensitive rodents to detect drugs or explosives in public venues like airports and malls. Don't worry: they won't crawl all over you.

bomb-sniffing system
People walk through a passageway in the BioExplorers machine as a fan pushes air to the highly smell-sensitive mice nearby. BioExplorers

Move over, bomb-sniffing dogs and bees. You've got some serious competition in bomb-sniffing mice (the kind with four legs, not the kind you use with a mousepad).

Israeli start-up BioExplorers has created a system that relies on the rodents' keen sense of smell to detect explosives or drugs.

The system is aimed at airports, government buildings, malls, mass transit, and other public venues, though it fortunately does not require that mice scamper all over you or your bags to ascertain whether you're carrying contraband.

Instead, the person being screened walks through a passageway in the BioExplorers system, which looks a lot like a standard airport metal detector.

A fan pushes air into a biosensor receptor, and delivers the air to a chamber inhabited by four to eight mice that have been specially trained at the Bomb Sniffing Academy for Rodents. If they smell something they've been taught to recognize, they move into another chamber, which sets off an alarm. Security officials can then move in and take whatever steps they need to take next.

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"The mice rarely make an error, and the entire procedure is far less invasive or intimidating than the alternatives, like using dogs or X-ray machines," BioExplorers CEO Eran Lumbroso told Israel 21c. "There's no radiation, and no concern about being seen naked."

Nor does the public need to worry about mice-transmitted disease, Lumbroso stresses, as the mice are raised in clean labs and don't come into any contact with the humans they are monitoring. Plus, mice are cheaper to employ than dogs, the company says.

The security system has been tested around Israel, and BioExplorers hopes to have it up and sniffing within a year or two. The company promises that its mice employees enjoy better-than-average work conditions for a rodent workforce--they are housed in a climate-controlled enclosure that insulates most of the noise and radiation, for example. We also like to think that after their standard 18-month shifts, the mice receive impressive severance packages that include cat-repelling suits and lots of cheese.