Trained wasps to sniff out chemicals and ulcers

Scientists at a Georgia laboratory have developed trained wasps that could check for hidden explosives at airports and monitor for toxins in subway tunnels.

Joe Lewis and others at the University of Georgia developed a handheld Wasp Hound to contain the wasps while they sniff out chemicals and other substances.


Scientists started working with a type of parasitic wasp called Microplitis croceipes, decades ago.

Biological engineer Glen Rains says the wasps can be trained –with sugar water by using the Pavlov’s conditioning techniques– to detect fungal diseases on crops while the damage is still below ground. This method would help farmers avoid having to spread toxic fungicide over an entire crop after the disease spreads.

The wasps may also be trained for medical uses, including detecting cancer or ulcers by smelling someone’s breath. They probably can also be trained like dogs to find bodies buried in rubble.

Five wasps are placed in a plastic cylinder that is 15 inches tall. This Wasp Hound has a vent in one end and a camera that connects to a laptop computer. When the wasps pick up an odor they’ve been trained to detect they gather by the vent — a response that can be measured by the computer or actually seen by observers.

The scientists say their device is ready for pilot tests and could be available for commercial use in five to 10 years.

Via las insolitas aventuras del pez USA Today.