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Trained wasps may be used to detect bombs, bugs, bodies and more

An unusual device that uses trained wasps, rather than trained dogs, to detect specific chemical odors could one day be used to find hidden explosives, plant diseases, illegal drugs, cancer and even buried bodies, according to a joint study by researchers at the University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The trained wasps are contained in a cup-sized device, called a "Wasp Hound," that is capable of sounding an alarm or triggering a visual signal, such as a flashing light, when the insects encounter a target odor. The sensor is cheaper to use than trained dogs and more sensitive than some sophisticated chemical detection methods, including electronic noses, the researchers say. Their experimental device is described in a study slated to be published in the Jan.-Feb. issue of Biotechnology Progress, a joint publication of the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

The idea of using unconventional biological sensors to detect target odors is not new, according to study leaders Glen C. Rains, Ph.D., a biological engineer with the University of Georgia in Tifton, Ga., and W. Joe Lewis, Ph.D., a research entomologist with the USDAs Agricultural Research Service, also in Tifton. Rats, honeybees, fish and even yeasts have all been used experimentally to detect various explosives or toxins, they say.

"Weve now developed a prototype device that puts the idea of using chemical-sensing wasps into a practical framework and its possibilities are astounding," says Rains, who believes that the device could be ready for commercialization in five to ten years. Like batteries in a smoke detector, the trained wasps wont live forever and will eventually have to be replaced, he says.

In the current study, the researchers used Microplitis croceipes, a species of tiny parasitic wasps that can be trained to detect certain odors by associating the odors with a food reward. The wasps are not
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Contact: Michael Bernstein
m_bernstein@acs.org
202-872-4400
American Chemical Society
20-Oct-2005


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