Dr. Alex Ophir in the Department of Zoology at Oklahoma State University, has been awarded a research grant for $740,000 from the Army Research Office at the Department of Defense. He and his graduate students will study behavioral and genetic variation in African Pouched rats. This species offers a great potential value to the U.S. military because it has been used effectively to detect explosives.
The term ‘personality’ is traditionally reserved for humans. However, non-human animals demonstrate consistent behavioral differences that could be loosely described as ‘animal personality’. Understanding the differences in individual behavior is of scientific importance because it can reveal much about the evolution of social dynamics, alternative behavioral tactics, and personality (and personality disorders).
This research will examine the behavior of African giant pouched rats in the wild and evaluate individual differences in behavior in the laboratory. This will aid in effectively identifying animals that are predisposed toward detecting explosives. This research will also investigate the genetic variation that is associated with behaviors involved in enhanced explosives detection and ideally identify genetic signatures that can be used for animal screening. Profiling the behavior of this species and identifying genetic markers that can predict behavior will not only enhance the selection and utilization of these animals as efficient explosives biodetectors, but will offer insight into the source and expression of individual differences in behavior in general.