Sunday, May 07, 2006

UK: Honey Bees Taught to Detect Explosives

Sniffer Bees: New Flying Squad in War Against Terror
By Martin Hodgson, The Independent (UK), 5/7/2006

Terrorists, beware the ultimate sting: a British company has developed a device to detect explosives at airports with the help of specially trained honey bees…

The prototype under trial consisted of a shoebox-sized device nicknamed the "buzz box", containing three trained bees harnessed into a removable drawer. An electric fan draws air into the box, while a video camera records the bees' response, which can alert the handler to even the faintest trace of explosives.

According to the researchers, bees are able to detect the scent of explosives at concentrations as low as two parts per trillion. "It's the equivalent of finding a grain of sand in a swimming pool," said Rachael Carson, general manager of Inscentinel, the company behind the research.

"If you give them the smell, and then reward them with a sugar solution, they quickly make the association between the smell and the food," she said…

Unlike dogs, however, bees are quick to learn, and relatively cheap to maintain. Furthermore, the insects do not need a dedicated handler and cannot be distracted from their task…

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