Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hilarious Journal Articles #26: Trained Wasp Hounds

From the Washington Post:
A team in Georgia has built a tiny device that uses trained wasps to detect specific odors -- a prototype "biological sensor" capable of sniffing out anything from chemical warfare agents to corpses.

Five fly-size parasitic wasps -- which don't sting -- are placed in a disk-shaped chamber about the size of two stacked checkers, with a hole in the bottom and a tiny fan that sucks air into the disk. If the wasps detect the suspect odor, they gather around the hole, creating a cluster of pixels for a tiny webcam that sends an alarm signal.

Entomologist W. Joe Lewis of the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service said he and colleagues have known for nearly 20 years that, with a reward of sugar water, wasps can be trained in as little as five minutes to respond to almost any odor.
From Biotechnology Progress:
Behavioral Monitoring of Trained Insects for Chemical Detection

A portable, handheld volatile odor detector ("Wasp Hound") that utilizes a computer vision system and Microplitis croceipes (Cresson) (Hymenoptera: Braconidae), a parasitoid wasp, as the chemical sensor was created. Five wasps were placed in a test cartridge and placed inside the device. Wasps were either untrained or trained by associative learning to detect 3-octanone, a common fungal volatile chemical. The Wasp Hound sampled air from the headspace of corn samples prepared within the lab and, coupled with Visual Cortex, a software program developed using the LabView graphical programming language, monitored and analyzed wasp behavior. The Wasp Hound, with conditioned wasps, was able to detect 0.5 mg of 3-octanone within a 240 mL glass container filled with feed corn (2.6 × 10-5 mol/L). The Wasp Hound response to the control (corn alone) and a different chemical placed in the corn (0.5 mg of myrcene) was significantly different than the response to the 3-octanone. Wasp Hound results from untrained wasps were significantly different from trained wasps when comparing the responses to 3-octanone. The Wasp Hound may provide a unique method for monitoring grains, peanuts, and tree nuts for fungal growth associated with toxin production, as well as detecting chemicals associated with forensic investigations and plant/animal disease.
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