Landmines have been a familiar part of the theatre of war for close to a century, and although they may well be effective as weapons, they bring with them a legacy which frequently outlives the conflict which caused them to be deployed.
The task of removing landmines is hazardous at the best of times, and is the focus of much research, the latest of which concerns the humble honey bee, Apis melifera.
Behaviour of A. melifera has been the subject of research for many years, and now it is understood that the sensory apparatus of bees is well suited to the detection of explosives.
U.S. Defence reseachers began tests on bees in order to find alternatives to such diverse technologies as
ground-penetrating radar, polymer-based detectors, seismic shockwaves and something called quadropole magnetic resonance technology.
Tests have shown increasing promise in the detection of 2, 4-dinitrotoluene, a telltale ingredient in TNT and other explosives.
Eventually, it is expected that the bees will be fitted with micro transmitters, which will enable bomb disposal experts to locate explosives with minimal risk to personnell.
Predictability will be an issue, according to Alan Rudolph, of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. "It is not straightforward to move from watching bees hovering around a box to watching trucks parking in a weigh station for a minute," he said. "This is not a capability until we know how predictable it is."
A team at the air force research laboratory at Brooks airbase in Texas has now confirmed that bees - trained with sugar as a reward - can sniff out and pinpoint an explosive chemical 99% of the time. Coupled with existing microtransmitters the size of a grain of salt, it would seem likely that this technology will progress.
likely outcomes include better understanding of insect behaviour, and possible applications for pest management.
It has already been demonstated that cockrach behavior may be modified using electronic prosthetics - potentially, remote control of insects will offer more exact targeting of pesticide products!