The aim is to create a new generation of rodents that can sniff out drugs or explosives, with the scientists saying the experiment is a proof of concept.
In the future, rats, mice, and perhaps dogs, could be genetically altered to track down certain scents, they report in the scientific journal Cell Reports.
"What we think we can do is make 'super sniffers' for particular odours," said co-researcher Dr Paul Feinstein.
Typically, ∼0.1% of the total number of olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the main olfactory epithelium express the same odorant receptor (OR) in a singular fashion and their axons coalesce into homotypic glomeruli in the olfactory bulb. Here, we have dramatically increased the total number of OSNs expressing specific cloned OR coding sequences by multimerizing a 21-bp sequence encompassing the predicted homeodomain binding site sequence, TAATGA, known to be essential in OR gene choice. Singular gene choice is maintained in these “MouSensors.” In vivo synaptopHluorin imaging of odor-induced responses by known M71 ligands shows functional glomerular activation in an M71 MouSensor. Moreover, a behavioral avoidance task demonstrates that specific odor detection thresholds are significantly decreased in multiple transgenic lines, expressing mouse or human ORs. We have developed a versatile platform to study gene choice and axon identity, to create biosensors with great translational potential, and to finally decode human olfaction.