To detect explosives, experts use dogs that have been trained for this purpose, as their sense of smell is one of the best for this task. However, training canines is an arduous task that requires time and dedication. Something that, apparently, would no longer be a problem if these insects, which could perform the same function with great success, were used.
That said, a study by the University of Washington in Missouri, USA, found that the grasshopper, also known as the grasshopper or Schistocerca americana, by its scientific name, can be the ideal detector of explosive substances.
Insects require less training than dogs
As you well know, the human sense of smell is located in the nose. However, in insects the olfactory receptor neurons are located specifically in the antennae. And, it is thanks to them that they are able to detect odors in the air, which can range from food, predators or chemicals.
Then, when this happens, olfactory neurons send electrical signals to a part of the insect brain known as the antennal lobe. And, each antenna of a grasshopper has about 50,000 of these neurons.
Hence, the researchers saw this as an opportunity and set about the task of implanting electrodes in the insects‘ antennal lobes. Then, they released various vapors near their antennas, (some with explosives and others with benzaldehyde or hot air). With this they discovered that each scent activated different neurons in the antennal lobes.
Thus, the researchers were able to discover when the insects detected explosives and when they did not. How did they do it?
They equipped the insects with backpack-like sensors on the back of their bodies, which recorded signals and transmitted them to a computer. When they did the experiment with a single grasshopper, the accuracy of explosive detection was 60%, but when they tested with several it was 80%.
The researchers commented that:
“Our system provides the first demonstration of how biological olfactory systems can be hijacked to develop a robotic chemical sensing approach.”
However, the insects ‘ ability to detect explosives, which lasted for seven hours, came to an unfortunate end. They ran out of energy and died.
Finally, this is just the beginning of the research and the next step will be to evaluate how they behave and how effective they are in detecting explosives in environments with multiple odors, i.e. in a real situation.
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