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Bomb-Sniffing Bees


Photo: Inscentinel


For a few years, a British company called Inscentinel has been developing chemical-detecting honeybees for security and sanitation purposes. Bees are trained to respond to certain smells and then are loaded into cartridges that suck in air from an object. When they alert, the user knows that the chemical is present in the sample. From the company website:

Our "sniffer bees" are honeybees trained to recognise a specific odour. They are trained using a well known Classical Pavlovian conditioning protocol - a simple association of a smell with a food reward. The insect is exposed to the odour in controlled pulses and simultaneously rewarded with sugar syrup. After three to five presentations and rewards the bee is trained. When the bee detects the odour it expects a food reward and extends its tongue (proboscis). This response is a reflex action (Proboscis extension Reflex, PER) and is not consciously controlled by the bee. A "panel" of bees can be trained in as little as a few hours to remember a particular odour for several days.


Although there are a variety of newspaper articles about this invention, I haven't found the company's claims supported by respected scientific periodicals.

Link via CrunchGear

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WOW!! Amazing i cant believe people can actually train bees to find drugs and stuff. It is a great invention (if it works) and the world ca nuse this more and more!! im so excited!! How do the bees actually know that it is a bad chemical/drug? ...
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not to be the token bunny hugger or anything- but poor little bees! the just wanna be outside toodling about in the flowers!

they do look like they're getting ready for launch...it's so pathetic it's kind cute :)
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This is relatively old tech; bees have been used to sniff out various things for almost 40 years. Their bomb-sniffing application was pioneered by a team of geeks in Montana over a decade ago. I don't know whether the article I've linked to in my name qualifies as "respected," but the science is definitely there for bee-sniffers.

I know that in one of the Montana team's first trials, they were initially disappointed by the bees' response to a certain area of a test minefield where they knew there were no munition chemicals planted. However, subsequent inspection of the area turned up materials from WW2-era bomb tests. Really, they're incredibly accurate!
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