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SARID, December 9, 2006

Bees have an extraordinary sense of smell, developed to find pollen in the wild. Now this ability has been harnessed by British scientists to detect explosives.

Honeybees can be trained in much the same way dogs are: through rewards. A bee will stick out its proboscis – its tongue or feeding organ - when it smells something it likes. Scientists exposed bees to the odor of a particular explosive, giving sugar water when it reacted positively. The bees soon learnt to stick out their tongues in anticipation at the smell of the explosive.

A small, portable sensing unit was then designed to hold three strapped down bees whose “proboscis extension reflexes” could be recorded by camera and analyzed on a laptop computer.

The device was extensively tested over the past 18 months through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which studies original and occasionally bizarre technology that could potentially be useful.

The trained bees could find explosives in a concentration of parts per trillion, even when mixed with other smells and were successful at detection in various simulated situations, including on a on a person rigged like a suicide bomber.

Despite the positive outcome of the study, there are no plans to deploy bomb-detecting bees in the US military, the agency said, as they did not consider the bees to be reliable enough for military tactical use at the present time.

However, agency thought that the sniffer bee technology could be refined and developed for use at airports, train stations and other terror targets and situations where dogs would be a disadvantage.

Sources: Agencies, Los Alamos National Laboratories


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