Nigerian Oshi Agabi has unveiled a computer based not on silicon but on mice neurons at the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania.
The system has been trained to recognise the smell of explosives and could be used to replace traditional airport security, he said.
Eventually the modem-sized device – dubbed Koniku Kore – could provide the brain for future robots.
Experts said that making such systems mass-market was challenging.
All of the big tech firms, from Google to Microsoft, are rushing to create artificial intelligence modelled on the human brain.
Mr Agabi launched his start-up Koniku over a year ago, has raised $1m (£800,000) in funding and claims it is already making profits of $10m in deals with the security industry.
Koniku Kore is an amalgam of living neurons and silicon, with olfactory capabilities — basically sensors that can detect and recognise smells.
“You can give the neurons instructions about what to do – in our case we tell it to provide a receptor that can detect explosives.”
He envisages a future where such devices can be discreetly used at various points in airports, eliminating the need for queues to get through airport security.
As well as being used for bomb detection, the device could be used to detect illness by sensing markers of a disease in the air molecules that a patient gives off.