Bees utilized in fight against bioterror

Bees are becoming a vital part of the nation's defense against biological and other weapons as their sense of smell can be exploited as a cheap, effective method of detecting odors within an environment.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Controlled Biological Systems Program, since at least 1999, has funded a bee-training program to detect buried landmines.

The bees are trained to extend their probosci when encountering the smell of TNT. Small diodes are attached by trainers onto the backs of the trained bees and handheld radar tracking devices chart the bees' paths.

Inscentinal Ltd. has taken the trained bee program a step further with its VASOR 136 handheld device, which is a trace vapor detection unit that translates bee responses into an electronic response.

Thirty-six bees are held in the VASOR 136's cartridges, which are filtered in by a standard gas mask cartridge supplying constant clean air. When a button is pushed, a sample of the environment's air is taken, exposing the bees to unfiltered air. The bees, trained to respond to vapor, will then exhibit a response which is translated by the VASOR into a result that can be shown on a PDA screen display.

The VASOR can also be created so that each cartridge contains a bee trained to identify a different biological or chemical threat, allowing the system to trace as many as 36 environmental threats.