Ratting out landmines and tuberculosis


Thanks to John Stevenson for drawing my attention to this one: Giant African Pouched Rats are trained as detectors; a good solution for low-income countries and communities. HeroRATS, as they are called, come in two “models”: landmine detectors and tuberculosis detectors. Rats born in captivity (captured rats are impossible to train) are trained to sniff out  landmines in historically war-ravaged zones where many landmines are laying unmapped, and using other detection or disposal techniques is too expensive. Their light weight is insufficient to trip the mines. Their veterinary requirements are less than those of dogs, and the rats are not dependent upon a single handler.

Tuberculosis is a serious public health problem affecting both developing and developed countries. But while developed countries may employ several molecular-based detection techniques (although see here for a new initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), the method of choice for developing countries is detection of the bacillus in the patient’s sputum using microscopy.  This can yield many false negatives (undetected infections), since the bacillus is slow growing, and may be present in an infected person’s sputum in undetectable amounts. The rats have been able to accurately detect infected sputum in concentrations that are normally missed by humans. Also, rats do it faster, and they work for bananas.

APOPO is the organization training people and rats to better detect tuberculosis and landmines.

Poling, A., Weetjens, B., Cox, C., Mgode, G., Jubitana, M., Kazwala, R., Mfinanga, G., & Huis in ‘t Veld, D. (2010). Using Giant African Pouched Rats to Detect Tuberculosis in Human Sputum Samples: 2009 Findings American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 83 (6), 1308-1310 DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.2010.10-0180

Alan Poling, Bart J. Weetjens, Christophe Cox, Negussie W. Beyene, & Andrew Sully (2010). USING GIANT AFRICAN POUCHED RATS (CRICETOMYS GAMBIANUS) TO DETECT LANDMINES The Psychological Record, 60 (4), 715-728 Other: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/tpr/vol60/iss4/11/



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