ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.--Bees dutifully going about their daily business -- gathering nectar and pollen and taking it back to the hive -- may one day help protect the lives and limbs of people, literally, if a landmine-detection demonstration at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories is successful.
Sandia chemists are working with entomologists at the University of Montana to see if foraging bees can reliably and inexpensively detect buried mines and safely return hundreds of thousands of acres of uncharted land back to productive use. The work is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Controlled Biological Systems Program.
Landmines have been called the worst form of pollution on earth. Some 60 people are maimed or killed by buried mines every day. The Red Cross estimates that 80-120 million landmines currently are deployed in 70 countries worldwide, with an average 40,000 new landmines deployed each week.
In many developing countries, thousands of acres of land lie unused because farmers are afraid to work their fields. Streams and other sources of water are littered with mines. In some countries professional mine prodders are paid a few dollars a day to carefully poke the soil every few inches with a metal probe checking for buried mines. 'Flying dust mops'
In the bee demonstration, Sandia is working with Jerry Bromenshenk at the University of Montana, Missoula to see if bees can be trained to find residues of TNT, the primary ingredient of most landmines, and bring the evidence home.
The project builds on three decades of explosives-detection
work at Sandia and 25 years of biosystems research at the
University of Montana. Bromenshenk and his colleagues
have shown that as bees forage for nectar and pollen, they
attract particles of dust, soil, and pollen to their fuzzy,
statically charged bodies and bring samples back to the
hive. In doing so they provide a chemical survey of an area
extending a mile
Contact: John German
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories