Monday, October 31, 2005

Wasps trained to recognize specific odors, volatile compounds

Wasps can be trained to recognize and respond to odors. More to the point, someone has figured out how to make them stick around and use this ability when wanted. The Wasp Hound is a device with a cup, a fan, a camera, and contained wasps. If the conditioned wasps congregate around the pinhole letting the sample into the device, then tah dah - you've probably found what they've been trained to associate with sugar water, or whatever other goodie has been used to train them.

Now comes the fun part of figuring out all the ways this discovery might be useful. Trained wasps have already been used to detect aflatoxin, a fungi-produced poison that attacks crops in storage. They can be trained to detect explosives. They might be useful in forensics. Who knows? It's early days yet.

For a kid's version of this news, see Wasps trained to sniff out trouble.

For articles written at the adult level, see:

'Wasp Hound' uses tiny insects to track scents (University of Georgia)

Drug-Sniffing Wasps May Sting Crooks (National Geographic)

Sting Operation Targets Terror (

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