Bomb Detecting Honey Bees

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Bomb Detecting Honey-Bees


Police and military personnel have been using dogs to sniff out explosives for decades. According to scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mexico who have been working with honeybees since 1999, believe that bees can actually challenge dogs when it comes to sense of smell. The buzzing insects that seek out molecular hints of the pollen to make honey can easily detect other minute particles in the air, including traces of materials used to make bombs. Inscentinel Ltd. has developed “Vapour Detection Instrumentation” where trained bees are used for detecting explosives, drugs etc. This approach couples trained honey bees with advanced video computer software to monitor the bee for their strategic reaction.


So how are the ordinary bees trained to respond to TNT (explosives) to the way they respond to pollen? In the same way you train any animal to do almost anything i.e. by associating a particular stimulus with a reward. With Pavlov's dog, the sound of a bell was associated with the smell of food which caused the dog to drool whenever the bell rang. Similarly, by associating the smell of bomb ingredients with sugar water it caused the bees to extend their proboscis, as if they were about to extract sweet nectar from a flower. This is Pavlovian training technique.

Process in Laboratory

Stealthy Insect Sensor Project:
The bees are trained and then they are harnessed into a special cassette to aid in the process of biochemical molecular recognition. Trained bees are then carefully strapped into a cartridge. With the bees strapped into small tubes, scientists release the chemical components which are used to make explosives like dynamite, C-4 and liquid bombs. Expecting the sugar water to follow, each trained bee extends its proboscis, which starts waving in the air, searching for nectar. A digital camera watches the bees carefully; if the bees are able to detect a trace of the odor that they have been trained to recognize, image recognition software will see the bees extend their proboscis in the camera image. The machine then reports a "positive" finding of that chemical substance to the human operator. Once the bees have finished their "shift," they are returned to their hive. The bees can detect the target chemicals in the air in concentrations as low as a few parts per trillion.


Second Approach
Jerry B., a researcher with the University of Montana, is one of the pioneers of bee detection systems. He has trained bee colonies to detect explosives, meth labs, and dead bodies, but with a different approach. Jerry works with freely-flying bees that are allowed to roam in large, outdoor spaces. When the bees detect the target scent, they tend to slow down and circle the area. Using audio, video, and laser systems, Jerry and his colleagues can analyze the flight patterns of thousands of trained bees and produce a density map indicating the most likely locations of the target substance. With tens of thousands of bees searching, they can quickly canvass an area of a mile. But he believes that the former approach of “bee in a box" detecting explosives still has its place as "Free-flying bees won’t be allowed in airports.” Technology

VASOR136 (Volatile Analysis by Specific Olfactory Recognition) [pic]
Instrument which is used for trace vapor detection is a hand held device:  the VASOR136. It contains 36 bees and can be used by any operator. Bees are gently restrained in bee holders and loaded into six cassettes. The cassettes slot into the VASOR136 where clean air, filtered by a standard gas mask cartridge, is constantly passed over the bees. On the press of a button a sample is taken that exposes the bees to ambient unfiltered air. If the sample contains the substance the bees are trained to, the odor elicits a Proboscis Extension Reflex response (PER) - the bees stick their tongue out in expectation of food. The individual response of all 36 bees...
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