Researchers at the University of Georgia-Tifton have been exploring an interesting way to check for trace amounts of explosives or chemical toxins — they’re using wasps of all things.
The wasps, Microplitis croceipes in this case, is trained using conditioning methods to detect a chemical odor. According to USA Today,
To do their work, five wasps — each a half-inch long — are placed in a plastic cylinder that is 15 inches tall. This “Wasp Hound,” which costs roughly $100 per unit, has a vent in one end and a camera that connects to a laptop computer.
When the wasps pick up an odor they’ve been trained to detect they gather by the vent — a response that can be measured by the computer or actually seen by observers.
The wasps are able to detect chemicals when exposed to concentrations as low as four parts per billion.
Researchers hope to go to pilot testing soon and could have commercially available applications of their wasp research available within 5 to 10 years.
Just don’t tell activists like Joan Dunayer who think even insects should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rights.
Scientists recruit wasps for war on terror. Mimi Hall, USA Today, December 27, 2005.