Scientists have made it possible for yeast cells to sniff out explosives. Masur @ wikimedia" alt="Yeast Cells" />
Writing in Nature Chemical Biology, Danny Dhanasekaran and colleagues, from Temple University school of medicine in Philadelphia, describe how they "borrowed" the chemical smelling system from a rat and successfully inserted it into a yeast cell. They located a receptor (a chemical docking station) that recognises a breakdown product (known as DNT) of the explosive TNT. This receptor was coupled on the surface of the yeast cell to a signalling molecule which could switch on a green coloured gene whenever the explosive chemical was picked up by the receptor. As a result, the cells would turn themselves green whenever they were exposed to TNT.
This is just proof of principle, because the same trick could be used to pick up a range of important chemicals. Detectors based on yeast like this would also be a fraction of the size of the man-made equivalent.
"This could be of immense value in the detection of environmental toxins and chemical warfare agents, even at sublethal levels," said Dhanasekaran.