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Old 11-19-2001, 12:32 PM   #1
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Drugs Stings May Soon Be Down to... Wasps!

Drugs Stings May Soon Be Down to Wasps

By Paul Gallagher

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch scientists say they have found a way of using wasps to detect drugs and bombs more cheaply and effectively than sniffer dogs can -- and even dream of using them to hunt chemical and biological weapons.

Wasps have been conditioned in laboratory tests to give a specific response after smelling substances ranging from marijuana to explosives, Netherlands Institute of Ecology biologist Felix Waeckers said on Saturday.

A particular smell the insects have been conditioned to associate with food prompts them to move their heads in a feeding motion, a sign which could be used to alert police searching for explosives or drugs at ports and airports.

``Everywhere we are now using dogs for investigations we might be able to use wasps in the future,'' Waeckers said.

The feeding motion is too slight to observe with the naked eye but can be monitored with electronic sensors.

The wasps, carried in special containers, could be fed air samples taken from suspect areas to test for the head movement which scientists believe could be used to detect anything from land mines to chemical and biological weapons.

While sniffer dogs can take around six months to train, the humble Bracon wasp, a parasite which lays its eggs in the larvae of other insects, can be trained in less than an hour.

``The antennae of wasps are more sensitive to certain substances than a dog's nose. They have proven to be very good learners,'' said Waeckers, who has worked with U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites) biologist Joe Lewis in spearheading the research.

The two scientists have worked alongside the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to research the potential use of wasps in fighting crime.

Waeckers, who has spent a long time working in the United States, said using insects in such a way had seemed incredible when he embarked on the project about four years ago: ``I thought this was pure science fiction.''

Although wasps have not yet been used outside the laboratory to detect hazardous or illegal substances, Waeckers believes it might be only a couple of years before they are ready to replace sniffer dogs around the world.

``It's cheaper and they can be trained more rapidly. The training of these wasps can take less than an hour -- and the procedure for training a dog is more complex,'' Waeckers said.

But even in front-line policing, a wasp is never likely to become man's best friend.

``The downside is that they live for just a couple of months. And dogs have a personality. Wasps don't have that.''


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Every time you take the water and you swim against the flow
The world is all around us, the days are flying past
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[This message has been edited by Sledgehammer (edited 11-19-2001).]

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Old 11-19-2001, 08:40 PM   #2
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Insects rock. Thanks for sharing this article. I had a few jobs at the University of Arizona, and one of them was in a lab where they were working on this same kind of thing, only they were using male White-lined Sphinx Moths, Hyles lineata. They are "training" these moths to detect land mines. The males' large antennae are very sensitive. They use them to locate females by detecting their pheromones in the air, and then homing in on the source of that plume.
There is plenty of funding for research on these moths because the larvae are pretty big agricultural pests, especially on tobacco. I remember one of the professors saying they were also getting some support from the department of defense.
My work in that lab had very little to do with that research, though. My main job was maintaining 2 colonies of another kind of moth.

"Moth delivers her message
unexplained on your collar."

[This message has been edited by travu2 (edited 11-19-2001).]
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