Rodents that excel at detecting land mines could make a difference in a widespread disease
What do land mines and tuberculosis have in common? Both kill people in developing countries — and both can be sniffed out by rodents that grow up to 3 feet, head to tail.
Since 2000, the international nonprofit APOPO has partnered with Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture to train African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) to pick up the scent of TNT in land mines. By 2016, the animals had located almost 20,000 land mines in Africa and Southeast Asia.
To help more people, Georgies Mgode, a zoonotic disease scientist at Sokoine, and colleagues began training the rats to recognize tuberculosis, an infectious disease that killed about 1.6 million people in 2016. The most common diagnostic tool — inspection of patients’ sputum under a microscope — can miss infections more than half the time. More accurate