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News from the Future! Mankind’s new best friend? – Giant trained rats

Reviled as vermin through the ages, rats are becoming unlikely soldiers in the struggle against two scourges of the developing world: land mines and tuberculosis.

In Mozambique, special squads of raccoon-size rats are sniffing out lethal explosive devices buried across the countryside, remnants of the country’s anticolonial and civil wars of the last century.

In neighboring Tanzania, teams of rats use their twitchy noses to detect TB bacteria in saliva samples from four clinics serving slum neighborhoods. So far this year, the 25 rats trained for the pilot medical project have identified 300 cases of early-stage TB – infections missed by lab technicians with their microscopes. If not for the rodents, many of these victims would have died and others would have spread the disease.

“It’s fair, I think, to call these animals ‘hero rats,’ ” said Bart Weetjens, the Belgian conceiver of both programs.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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