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  Scientists work on rat rescuers
Updated 22 September 2004, 21.39
Rats could be used to hunt for earthquake survivors
US scientists are working on a new idea that could see rats used to help find people buried after earthquakes.

Dogs are already used after disasters to search for people, but rats could prove to be even more useful.

Like dogs they've got a great sense of smell, but because they're smaller they can get into spaces too tiny for dogs.

But the scientists still need to train the rats to sniff out people and also to carry a special radio transmitter to let them know when a survivor is found.

During the experiment the scientists put three electrodes into the brains of the rats and used them to train them.

One electrode makes the rats feel pleased when they detecte the smell of a human, so finding people actually makes the rats happier.

Bomb detectors too

The second creates a signal when the rat smells what it is looking for and the third helps it plan how to get there.

A report in New Scientist magazine revealed the scientists hope to have the scheme working in nine months, and adds that the rats may be able to find bombs or explosives too.

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