Airbus will soon test a “bio-electronic nose” to replace bomb-sniffer dogs at airports and planes. This mysterious device would notably consist of genetically modified cells.
While commercial flights around the world are still extremely limited during this period of sanitary confinement, France’s largest airline, Airbus, is already thinking about the future. The aircraft manufacturer recently announced funding for a project developed by a Silicon Valley biotechnology start-up, Koniku. Airbus even has the ambition to test a first prototype in a limited number of planes and airports. The idea is to achieve detect traces of explosives without using sniffer dogs, or detection. The project is formulated in the form of a “Bio-electronic nose”. It sticks to any surface, like a luggage compartment or the wall of an airport corridor, and analyzes the air that passes through its artificial pores and nostrils. Traces of chemicals in the air are “sniffed” and then identified by the device. “Our technology is able to detect an exact odor by breathing the air”, explains Oshiorenoya Agabi, director of the young American start-up, in an interview with Financial times.
A mysterious “nose”
This “bio-electronic nose” consists of multiple microprocessors connected by silicone to living biological cells. These cells can be astrocytes – cells of the central nervous system in the brain, which act as a sort of intermediary between certain populations of neurons – or renal embryonic stem cells which have been genetically modified. Koniku inserted olfactory receptors into them. However, this technology remains in the prototype state and above all remains very secret. The start-up absolutely does not detail how the connections (probably by electrical signals) between genetically modified cells of olfaction, electronic processors, detection and signal occur. Nothing is said, either, about the source of such cells (human or not?), The process of modification, or how they are supposed to stay alive on an inert electronic device. Despite these many unknowns, Airbus seems completely ready to invest in the development of this device that the company judges “Revolutionary in security.”