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Published on Mar 21, 2008
Members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Stealthy Insect Sensor Project team have been able to harness the honeybee's exceptional olfactory sense by using the bees' natural reaction to nectar, a proboscis extension reflex (sticking out their tongue) to record an unmistakable response to a scent. Using Pavlovian techniques, researchers were able to train the bees to give a positive detection response via the PER when exposed to vapors from TNT, C4, and TATP explosives.
The Stealthy Insect Sensor Project was born out of a global threat from the growing use of improvised explosive devices or IEDs, especially those that present a critical vulnerability for American military troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as an emerging danger for civilians worldwide. Current strategies to detect explosives are expensive and, in the case of trained detection dogs, too obtrusive to be used very discreetly. With bees however, they are small and discreet, offering the element of surprise. They're also are inexpensive to maintain and even easier to train than dogs. As a result of this need, initial funding for the work was provided by a development grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.