Kaylee Seo / Portola HS 11th
Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Malinois dogs are the common types of dogs we see at airports sniffing around luggages. These helping dogs are called K-9 police dogs. The K-9 police dogs have a variety of jobs such as sniffing any explosives, bombs, or illegal substances or finding missing people for the army.
However, the program to train the K-9 police dogs and the K-9 officers is definitely not cheap. According to USA Today, “TSA maintains 1,047 teams of bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers for about $152 million per year, which includes buying dogs and training them and their handlers.” In addition, the K-9 police dogs have a limitation in the amount of energy in which they can perform and function well before they get tired.
As a result, Duke researchers went ahead and took the, “first steps toward building an artificial ”robot nose“ device made from living mouse cells that officers could use instead of dogs,” (Duke Today). Until 1990, when the receptors needed for the robot nose were found, the proposal of a robot nose by scientists was just an idea mentioned around for many years according to senior study author Hiroaki Matsunami, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the Duke School of Medicine.
The robot nose works by using, “various chemical compounds to detect smells instead of receptor stem cells,” (Duke Today). However, the robot nose is not as good as the nose of the K-9 police dogs because the chemical compounds in the device cannot compare to the 20,000 genes in a dog used to perceive the five senses.
There were two different processes done by Duke research in order to create a robot nose. In the first process, the researchers had to test different odor receptors to see which one had the most response to scents of drugs. In order to find the best odor receptor, they, “created a liquid medium primed with molecules that could light up from reactions,…copied about 80 percent of the odor receptors from mice, and mixed those receptors with seven target odor chemicals in the medium,” (Duke Today).
Whichever receptor luminesced the most was then used for the second part of the research. Since our noses cannot perceive scents underwater, the researchers decided to, “mimic how we use our noses by exposing odorants to vapors and a few enzyme,” (Duke Today).
Mucus has also been found to play a key role in how a nose perceives scents. We may have learned in our biology classes how a chemical just simply needs to bind to the receptor of the nose in order for us to smell scents, but that is not exactly the entire process.
The unwatered down version of the process sounds more like this: “‘When the chemical dissolves in the nasal mucus before binding to the receptor, it might be converted to another chemical by enzymes in the nasal mucus, ’” (Matsunami). Consequently, the researches have been trying to recreate mucus in order for the robot nose to function more like a real nose.
Although, there are still improvements need to be made to the robot nose, we still look forward to seeing officers start using an official robot nose device in the near future.
<Kaylee Seo / Portola HS 11th